The Swedish education system
Last updated: 4 10 2021
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.
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.
Going to school – a right as well as an obligation
Going to school is both a right and an obligation. Sweden has compulsory school attendance from the year in which a child turns 6 until the child finishes the last year of secondary school or turns 18.
Compulsory school attendance means that children have to go to school unless there is a valid reason not to. Both parents and the school have a responsibility to ensure that children go to school. Attendance at upper secondary school and special needs upper secondary school is voluntary.
Preschool class, compulsory (primary and secondary) school, special needs compulsory school, special needs school, upper secondary and special needs upper secondary school are all free of charge.
There are laws that dictate how schools should be in order for all children and young people to be able to develop optimally. Schools have to take the different needs of pupils into consideration. The government agency responsible for ensuring that all children and pupils in Swedish schools receive an education of good quality in a safe environment is the Swedish National Agency for Education.
Questions to think about
What are some valid reasons not to be at school, do you think?
Assessment of pupils' previous knowledge
Children who arrive in Sweden at the age of between 6 and 18 and who have attended school in another country are assessed by school staff. This assessment allows the school staff to understand what the child already knows.
The assessment takes age, previous knowledge and personal circumstances into consideration. Within two months of your child starting school, the head teacher at the school must determine which year and class your child should join. The assessment is also used for continued planning of your child's education. An interpreter or a teacher who speaks the child's native language is always present during the assessment.
Children who are already living in Sweden when they reach the age for starting school are not assessed – instead, they simply begin attending school.
If your child needs to attend special needs compulsory school or special needs school
If the school staff suspect that a child belongs to the target group for special needs compulsory school or special needs school, the child's abilities will be analysed in greater depth before a decision is made on what form of schooling is most appropriate. Your child cannot attend special needs compulsory school or special needs school until your municipality and the National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools (Specialpedagogiska skolmyndigheten, SPSM) make a decision to that effect.
Preparatory class is a class for children who have recently arrived in Sweden in which they are taught Swedish and other subjects. The object is for the pupils to move on to an ordinary compulsory school class as soon as possible. The programme can vary from pupil to pupil depending on their age, native language and previous knowledge. There are preparatory classes in many of Sweden's municipalities.
The head teacher of the school determines whether a pupil should attend preparatory class.
Assessments for upper secondary school
Recently arrived pupils who begin the language introduction programme in upper secondary school also have their knowledge assessed. Earlier school experience, language and subject knowledge, and occupational experience are all assessed.
Contact your municipality
Your municipality is obliged to offer your child a place in school. If you have a child who needs a place in preschool, preschool class, compulsory school or special needs compulsory school, special needs school, upper secondary or upper secondary special needs school, contact your municipality. They will be able to give your more information about what to do.
Your child must be offered a preschool place within four months of you having contacted the municipality and notified them that your child needs a place in preschool. If you choose a private preschool for your child, you may have to wait longer than four months to get a place.
If your child is aged 6–18, she or he must be given a place in compulsory school, compulsory special needs school, special needs school, upper secondary or upper secondary special needs school as soon as possible.
Before children start school they are entitled to childcare. Childcare is an umbrella term for pedagogic activities for younger children. Childcare services include preschools, family day nurseries and day recreation centres. These are all places where the children can be while their parents work or study.
There are public childcare services run by municipalities as well as independent childcare services run by private companies or organisations.
Preschool and family day nurseries
The most common form of childcare is preschool. Preschools are staffed by people with teaching qualifications, and preschools have a curriculum just like schools do. A curriculum describes what the children have to learn.
Some childcare is known as pedagogic care or family day nurseries. These are the private homes of people with teaching qualifications who receive children in their home and provide care as well as preschool activities and learning. Children who attend school can spend time after school in a family day nursery, in which case it serves as a day recreation centre.
Children between the ages of 1 and 5 are entitled to attend preschool or a family day nursery before they begin preschool class at the age of 6. If you are a jobseeker, your child or children are entitled to 15 hours of childcare a week. If you are on parental leave with a younger sibling, the older siblings are entitled to 15 hours of childcare a week as well.
Parents are important in childcare. They are the ones who know their children best. When a child begins preschool or family day nursery, one parent accompanies the child until the child feels safe. This is known as acclimatisation and usually continues for about two weeks. In preschools and day recreation centres, staff usually invite parents to progress meetings. At these meetings, the staff describe how the child is doing at preschool and how the child is developing. Parents are also asked to describe how they think things are working at preschool.
In Sweden, children attend school from the year in which the child turns 6 until the child completes the final year of compulsory school or turns 18. The school year begins in August and ends in June.
Questions to think about
For how many years do children attend school in the country or countries where you lived previously?
A child begins preschool class the year the child turns 6. The single year of preschool class is intended to stimulate the child's development and learning and prepare the child for school. Lessons include lots of creative elements, exploration and play. Attending preschool class is free of charge.
Compulsory school (primary and secondary school)
After a year in preschool class, the child begins compulsory school. In compulsory school, pupils study many different subjects, including history, religion, home economics, arts and crafts, sports, mathematics and languages.
There are descriptions of what pupils have to learn in the various subjects and what they need to know when they finish school. These descriptions are known as syllabuses. For example, in order to get a Pass grade in Sports and Health in Year 6, a pupil has to be able to swim 200 metres, of which at least 50 metres using the backstroke.
Special needs compulsory school and special needs school
Children with functional impairments are not always able to attend ordinary compulsory school. These children can instead attend a special needs compulsory school or a special needs school. These schools adapt teaching to each individual pupil's circumstances and needs.
Sami school is intended to give Sami children an education with a Sami emphasis. Sami school should convey the norms and values of Sami society, its traditions and cultural heritage, and teach the pupils to read, speak and write the Sami language. Sami school is the equivalent of Years 1–6 in compulsory school. There are Sami schools in five locations in northern Sweden.
Day recreation centres
Day recreation centres are places where school pupils can go before and after the school day, while their parents are working or studying. Day recreation centres receive pupils from preschool class up to the age of 13 and are usually located within school premises. Day recreation centres are open during school holidays as well. The Swedish word for day recreation centres is "fritidshem", which is often shortened to "fritids".
All municipalities have to provide day recreation centres for pupils attending its preschool classes, compulsory schools, special needs compulsory school and independent schools that do not have their own day recreation centres.
The state is responsible for providing day recreation centres to children who attend special needs schools and Sami school.
All pupils in compulsory school are assessed and given grades beginning in the autumn term of Year 6, but the head teacher at a school may decide to give the pupils grades already from Year 4. The pupils then get graded at then end of every term until the spring term of Year 9, when they receive their final grade.
Grades are given on a scale comprising A, B, C, D, E and F, with A being the highest grade. An F grade in a subject means that the pupil has not passed that subject.
Native language lessons
Children whose native language is not Swedish may be entitled to lessons in that language. The requirement for receiving native language lessons is that the pupil has a basic knowledge of the language and uses it at home every day.
Swedish as a second language
Children whose native language is not Swedish may be entitled to lessons in Swedish as a second language. These lessons adapt the way Swedish is taught.
Extra adaptations and special support
Schools have to adapt teaching if a pupil needs this in order to learn. Examples of extra adaptations include:
- Help in planning the school day
- Instructions that are extra clear
- Adapted teaching materials
- A special needs teacher who supports the pupil for a predetermined period
If extra adaptations are not enough, a pupil may be given special support. This might include:
- Regular contact with a special needs teacher over a longer period
- Placement in a special teaching group
- A pupil's assistant who supports the pupil during the school day
Children can also be given study guidance in their native language or in a language in which the child has previously been taught. Study guidance is used to make the most of what the child already knows in different subjects.
Upper secondary school
When pupils are in their final year of compulsory school, they can apply to upper secondary school. Studying in upper secondary school is voluntary in Sweden, and it is also free of charge. Young people aged between 16 and 20 can study in upper secondary school if they have passed compulsory school. Almost all young people in Sweden choose to continue studying in upper secondary school.
There are many different programmes to apply for. There is usually a study counsellor in compulsory school who can provide help and advice.
In order to get into a vocational programme or a preparatory programme for subsequent higher education, you have to have Pass grades in a certain number of subjects. If you fulfil these requirements, you are said to be qualified for applying to upper secondary school.
If you are not qualified to apply for upper secondary school, you can attend an introductory programme instead. These are programmes intended to give pupils the possibility of getting into a national programme or the opportunity of getting a job.
Upper secondary school programmes can lead to various jobs, such as in the construction industry, in childcare and recreational activities, crafts, nursing and care, among many others. Other programmes qualify pupils for further studies, such as at a university or university college. The grading system in upper secondary school is the same as in compulsory school.
Upper secondary school pupils are also entitled to native language lessons, to study Swedish as a second language and to extra adaptations and special support.
Special needs upper secondary school
Special needs upper secondary school is intended for young people who do not meet the knowledge requirements of upper secondary school due to an intellectual impairment or a brain injury.
Special needs upper secondary school offers programmes that prepare pupils for a specific profession. There are also programmes that prepare pupils for further studies, such as at a folk high school.
There are also apprenticeships, which allow pupils to practise a profession. This means that part of the programme is spent in a workplace. Pupils on apprenticeships in special needs upper secondary school spend at least half of their time in one or more workplaces. All special needs upper secondary school programmes are four years.
If you choose to do further studies after upper secondary school, there are several alternatives, including folk high schools, higher vocational education, university colleges, universities and municipal adult education. If you want to supplement your grades or finish compulsory or upper secondary school, you can do that in municipal adult education, Komvux.
A study and work guidance counsellor can help assess the level of a previous education in another country.
Questions to think about
Why is it important that young people themselves get to choose what programme to study in upper secondary school?