Having children at school

Last updated: 4 10 2021

About Sweden – an orientation about Swedish society.

This text is about having children at school. It describes the responsibilities that parents have and those that schools have. It also talks about who the people that work in schools are and about the teacher’s role.

A teacher and pupils seated around a table talking.

The text further explains how schools have to be safe places and how all pupils have to have the same opportunities. It also talks about influence and how pupils can be part of making decisions in schools.

  • Children and young people’s right to an education

    All children are entitled to an education. Basic education must be compulsory and free of charge.

    Sweden has compulsory and free primary and secondary education from the year a child turns 6. Children are also entitled to preschool from the age of 1.

Schools' responsibilities

Schools are responsible for ensuring pupils' health and well-being when they are at school and for giving every pupil the same opportunity to learn. Schools are also responsible for making adaptations for all pupils who need them.

Schools have to act if a child is abused or mistreated in any other way. If you find that the school is not acting when your child is subjected to mistreatment, you must tell your child's teacher or the head teacher of the school.

Everyone who works in a school is obliged to notify the social services if they suspect that a child is having difficulties at home or is coming to harm in some other way. Schools have procedures for how to notify the social services.

Parents' responsibilities

As the guardian of a child at school, you are responsible for giving the child the support he or she needs to take in and benefit from teaching. There are many ways of giving your child support. It is important that you make sure they understand the importance of school, that they go to school and that they do their homework. It is also important that the child gets nutritious food, feels safe and gets enough sleep.

Who are the school staff?

Preschool

Preschools are staffed by preschool teachers and qualified child minders. The staff can also include art, drama and music teachers. The head of a preschool is known as the preschool manager and is the person with the ultimate responsibility at the preschool.

Compulsory school and upper secondary school

Many different types of teachers work in compulsory and upper secondary schools. In Years 1–3 (primary education), each class has a class teacher who teaches the pupils most subjects. There are also subject teachers who are trained to teach pupils in specific subjects. Subject teachers in primary education principally teach practical subjects such as arts and crafts, music, visual arts and sport.

In lower, intermediate and upper secondary education, there are subject teachers in academic subjects as well, such as Swedish, history and social studies.

School staff can also include special needs teachers and pupil assistants. Special needs teachers are trained to teach pupils who need special support. Pupil assistants help and support pupils with different things during the school day. Pupils at school also have to have access to a school doctor, a school nurse, a counsellor, a psychologist and special tutors.

Schools also have a lot of other employees, including caretakers, recreation leaders, study guidance counsellors, cooks and librarians.

The person in charge of a school is known as the head teacher and has the ultimate responsibility at the school.

The teacher's role

The teacher is responsible for planning and carrying out the teaching and for giving grades. But a teacher has many other tasks too.

A sense of trust must exist between the teacher and the pupils. Pupils must feel comfortable enough in the classroom that they are not reluctant to say if there is something they do not understand. If a pupil feels that the teacher cares, learning becomes easier. It also becomes easier to take on greater responsibility at school and to participate in decision making.

A teacher must be conscious of and pay attention to each pupil. By asking pupils how they are doing during the lesson, for example, a teacher can learn what they have and have not understood. The teacher can then adapt the teaching method, for instance, by explaining something in a different way.

A school for all
  • Equivalent teaching for everyone

    In Sweden, pupils are not limited to attending the schools in their immediate area. This means that guardians are entitled to apply for a place for their child in any compulsory school within their municipality. Guardians can also apply for a place in independent schools that are located outside the child's home municipality as well as within it.

    Schools have to be equivalent throughout the country. This does not mean that teaching has to be done in the same way everywhere. Pupils are different, and this is beneficial to a class. We all have different backgrounds, experiences and circumstances. Schools have to regard this as something positive and adapt teaching and the school environment to the differences between pupils.

    Schools have a special responsibility for those pupils who have difficulties achieving the education goals and have to offer extra support to those who need it. A school's goal must be for all pupils to be able to participate in lessons the whole time, but sometimes it may be better to teach smaller groups individually.

    The teacher and the school have high expectations on all pupils. They expect everyone to progress, not just those pupils who find school easy. Pupils who need more support must also make progress.

    Schools also have to ensure that all pupils have the same rights and opportunities for development, regardless of their gender, gender identity, religion or other doctrine of faith, functional impairment, ethnic background, sexual orientation and age. For some schools, this can be difficult, and there may be various reasons for that. It might be that there is a shortage of qualified teachers. It might also be that the school is segregated, or that parents or other adults in pupils' lives are not particularly engaged. Often, it is a combination of causes. A school with many problems, of course, also becomes less popular among pupils. Some pupils will seek out other schools if they have the opportunity. This can affect the school's finances negatively and thus make it harder for it to address the problems and improve the situation.

  • Every child is entitled to feel safe and secure at school

    School has to be a safe place for all pupils. Children can always speak to teachers or other adults at school if they feel they are being treated badly by other pupils or adults in school.

    No-one must be subjected to discrimination, sexual harassment or other abusive treatment at school. Schools do not permit this. Schools have an obligation to ensure that it does not happen.

    Abusive treatment might be that a teacher calls a pupil fat in front of the class, that a pupil takes another pupil's books or that someone makes nasty faces. Sexual harassment is an act which is sexual in nature and violates someone's dignity. This might be that someone looks at someone else in a sexual way or that someone touches someone else who does not want to be touched. It might also be comments someone makes, such as unwelcome compliments and sexual proposals.

    If a child or a pupil is subjected to abusive treatment, discrimination, or sexual harassment on repeated occasions, this is often referred to as bullying.

    It is important that you as a parent speak to your child about what is going on in their life – in preschool, in school or online, for example. If you learn that your child is being treated badly or bullied, there are several ways that you can help your child. You can contact your child's teacher or the school's head teacher. The school is obliged to help you. You can also contact the Child and School Pupil Representative, who is part of the Swedish government's Schools Inspectorate.

    Abusive treatment, discrimination and harassment can sometimes be serious enough to make them criminal acts. Criminal acts must always be reported to the police.

  • Practising a religion at school

    Children are entitled to freedom of religion. This means that children also have the right to practise their religion at school, preschool and their day recreation centre. There is nothing to prevent a child saying a prayer before a meal, for example.

    Schools have to try to make accommodations for pupils to practise their religion, but there are no fixed regulations for how this is to be done. Each school is free to determine how to fulfil this requirement.

    Under the Education Act, independent schools may be nominally religious. Municipal schools may not. In a nominally religious school, pupils may have morning prayers, for example, or specially adapted school meals. Participation by pupils in these religious elements of the school day must be voluntary. Teaching at religious schools must always be free of all religious elements.

  • School health services

    All school pupils have access to school health services, which means they can see a school nurse or a school doctor. There is also a counsellor and a psychologist to talk to if the pupil is sad or feeling mentally unwell. All staff in school health services are bound by professional secrecy. This means that they may not tell anyone else things about a pupil unless the pupil has allowed it. One exception is if school health services staff find out or suspect that a child risks coming to harm.

Participation and having an influence on decision making at school

Democracy features prominently in Swedish education. One of its goals is for pupils to grow to be adults that participate and take their share of responsibility in society. Pupils have to learn about living in a democracy and about their rights and obligations. Lessons therefore often feature tasks in which pupils get to practise democracy and learn what it involves.

Schools today have to teach pupils to think independently, and pupils are given the opportunity to have an influence on their education. The teacher remains the leader of the group, but contacts between pupils and teachers is more equal.

The values that underlie Swedish education come from the UN's General Declaration of Human Rights. These values have to do with how we treat each other as children, young people and adults. This means that no-one is allowed to treat anyone else badly in Swedish schools. All children must have the same opportunities.

It is not enough for a school to teach pupils about democracy. Teaching has to be done in a democratic way. Pupils must be invited to participate in planning and evaluation of the daily teaching programme and to choose courses, subjects, themes and activities. This give them the chance to practise being part of the decision making process.

Pupils are entitled to have an influence on their education and their working environment. Having that influence and the opportunity to take part in decisions increases pupils' desire to learn and to take responsibility.

There are different ways of having an influence. Class meetings and councils are two ways for pupils to have an influence in their own class. Most schools also have a pupils' council that deals with decisions affecting the whole school. Pupil's councils are a group of pupils from different classes and years at a school. They deal with issues that often affect all the pupils at the school, such as school rules, the location of bicycle stands or schedule related matters.

Cooperation between parents and school

In Sweden, parents are expected to be involved with their children's schoolwork. Parents, teachers and pupils work together to ensure the best possible situation for pupils at school. School staff want parents to be actively involved with their children's lives and to know and understand what pupils do at school.

As a parent, you will be invited to school progress conferences. During these meetings, the pupil and the teacher discuss how things are going in the various subjects and what goals the pupil should have for the coming term. There may also be questions that you as a parent are asked to consider in preparation for the meeting. If your native language is not Swedish, you are entitled to an interpreter during the meeting.

You will also be invited to parent–teacher conferences. At these meetings, the teacher, and sometimes the head teacher, will describe how the school operates, what the timetable looks like, how the class is working, the school's values and so on.

Another possibility for getting involved on behalf of your child's class might be to help out with a class party or a class trip. This type of involvement is much appreciated by the school and contributes to the entire family's understanding of the school.

Many schools and preschools communicate with pupils and parents using email and apps. Having a computer or a smartphone and an email address makes it much easier for you as a parent to receive information from the school.

Parents are always welcome to contact teachers, head teachers or the school health services team if you want to ask any questions or talk about your child.

If you have suggestions or are unhappy with something at school

If you have suggestions to make to the school, or if you are unhappy about something to do with your child's schooling, you should contact a teacher or the school's head teacher. If you find that the teacher or head teacher does not listen to what you have to say, you can contact the accountable authority. The accountable authority of a municipal school is the municipality, while the accountable authority of an independent school is the school's board of governors. If you still feel that your suggestions are not being taken seriously, you can file a complaint with the Swedish Schools Inspectorate, which is the supervisory authority for Sweden's schools. A supervisory authority is a government agency charged with overseeing an activity, such as a school, to ensure it is living up to the requirements imposed on it.

Moving

Bear in mind that if you are going to move and you have children who are in preschool or school, you may have to apply for a new preschool place or a new school for your child. Ask your municipality what the procedure is where you are.