Geographical accessibility of education in Finland is relatively high, although the number of educational institutes providing primary and lower secondary education has been diminishing in the 2000s.
The numbers decreased as follows
- In 2021 there was 2 173 schools
- in 2011 there was 2 859
- and in 2000 there was 4 009 schools
These numbers includes
- primary and lower secondary schools
- special schools
- combined primary and lower secondary schools and general upper secondary schools
The diminishing trend is likely to continue also in the future due to the demographic development. Accessibility is, however, ensured by free school transport. Municipalities are obligated to offer a child free school transport if the distance between the home and the school is over five kilometres or otherwise difficult or dangerous.
Admission requirements and choice of school
The local authorities, mainly municipalities, must organise single structure primary and lower secondary education for school aged children living in their area. Primary education starts in the year that a child turns 7, unless the child needs special needs education (see Chapter 12. Educational Support and Guidance). Age is the only admission requirement as compulsory education applies to every child aged between 6 and 18 permanently living in Finland.
Children have the right to start primary education one year earlier, if their readiness to attend school has been proved in psychological tests and if necessary, medical. Based on these tests, the education provider can also grant permission to start school one year later.
A municipality with both Finnish and Swedish-speaking inhabitants is obligated to organise primary and lower secondary education separately for both language groups.
Local authorities assign a school place to each pupil close to their homes. However, parents or guardians are also free to apply for a place in another school of their preference, where the pupil can start if there is room for them.
Some schools offer instruction according to weighted curriculum in addition to general curriculum. It means instruction that emphasises a certain school subject, for example music, physical education, mathematics, or a language. In weighted curriculum instruction, the school week can be 1 to 2 hours longer than in standard instruction.
The Basic Education Act gives schools and education providers much freedom to decide on the arrangements for teaching, consequently teaching provision and practices may vary. Therefore, education providers decide also on the way they organise weighted teaching, there is no uniform way or practice. There is variation, for example, at which year grade the weighted curriculum instruction begins.
To have access to weighted curriculum instruction schools may organise aptitude tests for pupils. The aim of the aptitude test is to find out the pupil’s ability in the applied subject.
If parents or guardians are not satisfied with the school assigned to the child, they can address complaints on to the State provincial offices.
Age levels and grouping of pupils
Primary and lower secondary education is provided within a single structure and is given in comprehensive schools. Comprehensive schools have grades 1–9.
Instruction is usually given by one class teacher in most subjects in grades 1–6, and in grades 7-9 mainly by specialised teachers for each subject. In grades 7-9 the pupils also have a tutorial teacher, that is, one of the teachers assigned the overall responsibility of one group.
However, there is local autonomy regarding the organisation of education and therefore individual schools may also determine their provision in another way.
Teaching groups are composed according to grades. Due to the local autonomy, it is also possible to make different arrangements and there can, for example, be different kinds of combined classes. Except for special needs education, there are no provisions governing the size of teaching groups.
Organisation of the school year
The school year is divided into autumn and spring semesters. School year begins in mid-August and ends on the last working day of week 22.
The school year has 190 working days. The number of days can vary between 187 and 190 days depending on whether Epiphany, May Day and Independence Day happen to be a weekday.
The summer holiday is approximately 10 weeks. In addition, schools have autumn, Christmas and winter breaks.
The length of the school year is regulated by the Basic Education Act (in Finnish)
The maintaining body of the school has the power to decide on the precise starting date of the school year, only the last day is set to be the same everywhere. Therefore, there is local variation concerning timing and duration of the holidays.
Organisation of the school day and week
The maximum length of a school day and the minimum number of lessons per week are regulated by the Basic Education Act (in Finnish) and Basic Education Decree (in Finnish). The minimum number of lessons for different subjects during the whole nine-year-period is set by the government.
School is usually attended five days a week. Saturdays and Sundays are generally free. Unless the maintaining body of the educational institution makes an exception; a Saturday may be a school day, if there is, for example, a public holiday on a weekday or a longer or extra holiday.
The length of the pupils´ school days and the number of lessons during a working week depend on the year class. The approximately minimum length of the school week is following:
Minimum number of 45 minutes lessons per week
1 – 2
5 – 6
|7 - 8||29|
The duration of a lesson is defined as 60 minutes of which instruction must account for at least 45 minutes. Typically, one lesson is 45 minutes followed by a 15-minute break. However, it is also possible to have 90 minutes teaching sessions as, according to the acts and degrees, the teaching must be divided into appropriate teaching periods. The municipalities and the schools decide themselves how education hours are allocated in weekly and daily timetables.
In the year grades 1 and 2, a school day may have maximum 5 lessons, in the other grades, the maximum number is 7 lessons per day.
School meals and organised activities
All pupils are offered free school meals every day. For more information, see School Meals for All -brochure.
Morning and afternoon activities are provided for children in grades 1–2 of primary education and for children admitted or transferred to special needs education in all grades. The local authorities are not obliged to organise these activities but can be granted state subsidies for the provision.
If the local authorities offer morning and afternoon activities, they must follow the requirements set by the Finnish National Agency for Education. These requirements define a minimum of 570 hours to be offered during the school year. The recommendation is that an average of 3-4 hours of activities is provided for on all weekdays, primarily between 7.00 and 17.00.
More information about the morning and afternoon activities from the website of Ministry of Education and Culture.