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
This 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 the choice of school
Primary education starts in the year that a child turns seven, unless the child needs special needs education (see Chapter 12. Educational Support and Guidance) Age is the only admission requirement, because every child permanently resident in Finland is subject to basic education.
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. When pupils are admitted into education in a foreign language or with a special emphasis on music, entrance examinations can be used to assess the pupils’ competences related to the specialty. The pupils’ general school results cannot be used as criteria.
The local authorities must organise primary and lower secondary education for children of compulsory school age residing in their respective areas. A municipality with both Finnish and Swedish-speaking inhabitants is obligated to organise primary and lower secondary education separately for both language groups. The local authorities must assign a school place to each pupil and to organise the instruction so that the pupil’s travel to school is as safe and short as possible.
Pupils may also apply to a school other than assigned to them. Admission to these schools is at the discretion of the education provider. Complaints on the admittance to a school can be addressed to the State provincial offices.
Age Levels and Grouping of Pupils
Basic education is divided into grades and is organised as class instruction in grades 1–6 and as subject-specific instruction in the upper grades 7–9. However, there is local autonomy regarding the organisation of education and therefore an individual school’s curriculum may also determine its provision in another way. In grades 1-6 the pupils are mainly taught by one class teacher 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.
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 length of the school year is regulated by the Basic Education Act (in Finnish) and Basic Education Decree (in Finnish). In basic education, schoolwork begins in mid-August and ends on the last working day of week 22. The school year comprises 190 school days. 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. Because of that the duration of the holidays varies locally.
The school year is commonly divided into an autumn and spring term. There is an established practice in comprehensive schools to have summer and Christmas holidays, a one-week sports holiday in the winter and autumn holiday.
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 a public holiday on a weekday or a longer or extra holiday is decided on, for example.
The weekly number of lessons varies between 20 and 30, depending on the grade and subject choices of the pupil. The first two grades comprise an average minimum of 20 weekly lessons of instruction and educational guidance; the average minimum for the third and fourth grades is 23 lessons and the average for the fifth and sixth grades is 25 lessons.
In grades 7–9, instruction and educational guidance cover an average minimum of 30 weekly lessons. In addition, remedial teaching is available. In the first two grades, a school day may consist of no more than five lessons; in the other grades, the maximum number is seven lessons per day.
Table 5.3 Minimum number of weekly lessons by grades
Minimum number of 45 minutes lessons per week
1 – 2
5 – 6
|7 - 8||29|
A lesson is defined as 60 minutes of which instruction must account for at least 45 minutes. According to the statutes the teaching is divided into appropriate teaching periods and thus teaching sessions of 90 minutes are possible. The municipalities and the schools decide themselves how education hours are allocated in weekly and daily timetables.
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 basic 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.