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In most European education systems, compulsory education starts at the beginning of primary education, often at 6. However, attending at least the last year of preprimary education is mandatory in many countries.
France and Hungary report the earliest starting age for compulsory education at 3 years. By contrast, in Estonia and Croatia, compulsory schooling starts at 7. Full-time mandatory education/training, as defined in this publication, refers to a period of full-time education/training that is compulsory for all students. This period is regulated by law and often determined by students’ age.
Usually, full-time compulsory education/training is provided in educational institutions/schools. However, mandatory specific education/training programmes can combine part-time school-based and part-time workplace courses (dual system) in some education systems. In such cases, students are assessed for their work in both places (workplace and school). Under certain conditions, compulsory education/training can be provided in some countries at home.
In slightly less than half of the European education systems, mandatory full-time education/training lasts 10-11 years and ends at 15-16. In the Netherlands, students aged 16 who have not obtained an essential qualification have to continue their education/training until they turn 18 or get a senior general secondary or pre-university or TVET diploma.
Education/training is compulsory for more than 11 years in 12 education systems. In eight education systems (Estonia, Poland, Slovenia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Liechtenstein, Montenegro and Serbia), full-time compulsory education/training is 9 years. In Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania, Finland and Turkey, mandatory full-time education/training is 12 years, while in Belgium (the three Communities) and Hungary, 13 years’ attendance is compulsory for all students.
In France, since September 2020, two more years of training have become compulsory between 16 and 18 years old. Still, different forms of exercise are eligible, which makes young people remain in some kind of education/training for 15 years (see country-specific notes).
The full-time compulsory education/training period includes at least primary and lower secondary education levels in all countries. In some countries, it also contains one or more grades of upper secondary education. In Germany, the mandatory duration of education varies between the Länder: 12 years and 13 years in 12 and 4 Länder, respectively. In North Macedonia, the time varies between 11 and 13 years depending on the programme followed during upper secondary education. In two education systems (Austria and Poland), full-time compulsory education/training is followed by additional part-time mandatory education/training.
All information in this article is from European Commission, European Education and Culture Executive Agency, Baïdak, N., Sicurella, A., Compulsory education in Europe: 2021/22, 2021, https://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2797/659411
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Lucubrate Magazine February 2022
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