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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of single-structure education


5.Single-structure primary and lower secondary education

5.1Organisation of single-structure education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Organization of Single Structure Education

The years that children study at compulsory school are an important formative period for them as individuals and citizens. School should give pupils an opportunity to acquire knowledge, skill and competence that prepares them for studies upon the completion of compulsory school and for lifelong education. In compulsory school the basis is laid for the participation of individuals in democratic society and for the human values that are to encourage their overall development, enhance their awareness of Icelandic culture and respect for the culture of other nations.

According to the Compulsory School Act of 2008, the compulsory school is10 years in duration as a single structure education. Pupils are to start their compulsory education the year they reach six years of age and conclude their compulsory study the year they reach sixteen years of age. Pupils move automatically from Grade 1 to Grade 10 irrespective of study progress or status in other respects.

On this page

1 Geographical Accessibility

2 Admission Requirements and Choice of School

3 Age Levels and Grouping of Pupils

4 Organisation of the School Year

5 Organisation of the School Day and Week

Geographical Accessibility

It is the duty of the local municipalities to ensure that all children from the age of six to sixteen can attend school. Children living in rural areas are bussed to and from school every day, free of charge, and the municipalities are responsible for this service in line with a regulation of 2009. All schools at that level, like other schools in Iceland, are co-educational.

Admission Requirements and Choice of School

The Compulsory School Act of 2008 stipulates that all children and adolescents between the ages of six and sixteen are required to attend school, and consequently there are no admission requirements for Icelandic compulsory schools. It is the duty of the local municipalities to ensure that all children from the age of six to sixteen attend school. Under the law, compulsory education begins in the calendar year that the child turns six and ends at the close of the spring term the year in which the child reaches the age of 16. Parents can apply for their child to begin its schooling earlier or later than its peers or they may be asked to give their consent that the child begins its schooling earlier or later than its peers, which is very uncommon.  Under the Compulsory School Act, head teachers of compulsory schools have the authority to grant such exemptions after referring the case to the local education office and receiving its assessment.

Parents are to look out for the interests of their children at compulsory school age. Children attend the school closest to their home. In local municipalities where there is more than one compulsory school, parents may request that their children be allowed to attend a school that is not in the school district where they live. Parents have the right to choose a compulsory school for their children within their municipality according to the municipality’s rules. They shall also have the right to information about school activities and their children’s education. Pupils who are thought not capable of attaining the goals of compulsory schooling due to disabilities are provided with education in accordance with their abilities, either within the general mainstream school or with special support in divisions in some mainstream schools or even in special schools. There are very few special schools in Iceland, with only 0.3% of the pupils. Deaf, blind and otherwise disabled pupils are generally accommodated within a compulsory school or in in special divisions within a school.

There are schools all over the country for children of compulsory school age. How long children remain at school varies from one area to another, but according to law there is a minimum weekly and annually time decided centrally for schooling

Age Levels and Grouping of Pupils

Compulsory education is organised in a single structure system, i.e. the primary and lower secondary education form part of the same school level and usually take place in the same school. Schools are organised into classes by age from grade one to ten. Officially there is no selection or streaming by ability and children automatically go up from one grade to the next according to age. In the larger schools there are several classes for each yearly intake. In smaller schools, mostly rural schools, several grades are grouped into a single class with one teacher. This method is increasingly being used in larger schools. Classrooms are generally allocated to individual classes, i.e. each class has its own classroom and teachers move from room to room. More and more schools are however built with more possibilities for flexibility to have pupils in open spaces or divided into mixed size groups, with increased possibilities for individualized teaching and learning. Certain subjects in most compulsory schools, for example arts and crafts, home economics and physical education, are taught in classrooms that are specially intended for them. 

Organisation of the School Year

Compulsory schools operate for nine months a year. They usually start the third week of August and end in the first or second week of June. There are 180 school days each year and at least 170 of these days are meant for whole day instruction, but the 10 remaining days can be used in a more flexible way according to the operational plan of each school. Classes are held five days a week. Division between days of instruction and other school days is the responsibility of the head teacher in consultation with the School Council and with the consent of the School Board.

Under the Compulsory School Act, the weekly instruction time a pupil is to receive per week at compulsory schools are as follows:

Grades 1-4: 4,800 minutes per week

Grades 5-7: 4,200 minutes per week

Grades 8-10: 4,440 minutes per week.

There is a Christmas holiday of two weeks and an Easter holiday from Palm Sunday and up to and including the first Tuesday after Easter. The individual school may plan the holidays differently. If a school chooses to do this, it must be announced in the school working guide and it must be ensured that the pupils’ holidays never amount to less than 15 weeks over the school year. Compulsory schools may also take a winter holiday, which is usually in February and lasts for 1-3 days.  Schools at the compulsory level have a day off on 1 December (Independence Day), and 1 May, if these holidays fall on a weekday.

Compulsory school teachers must work for 12 days at school at various task allocations during the months June and August. These 12 days are included in the yearly workload of the compulsory school teachers.

Organisation of the School Day and Week

Decisions about how daily workload is distributed over the day are taken by each head teacher in consultation with the School Council. Each lesson in a compulsory school normally lasts 40 minutes, but schools can plan their teaching around longer or shorter units. In determining daily and weekly working hours of compulsory school pupils, care shall be taken to ensure continuity and that the total daily workload does not exceed a reasonable workload considering the age and maturity of the pupils.

An Example of the school day, each day of the week:


Out of hours provision 

(before lessons) 

Lessons (starting time in the morning)
Lunch break 
Lessons (finishing time in the afternoon) 
 Out-of-hours provision
(after lessons)
Monday 8:00 9:00 40 min. 14:30 17:00
Tuesday  8:00 9:00 40 min. 14:30 17:00
Wednesday 8:00 9:00 40 min. 14:30 17:00
Thursday 8:00 9:00 40 min. 14:30 17:00
8:00 9:00 40 min. 14:30 17:00


Schools at the compulsory school level organise their timetable Individualy. They generally start between 8.00 and 9.00 a.m., and how long into the day they operate varies from school to school. Most schools will have finished their school day between 14.00 p.m. and 16.00 p.m. All compulsory schools operate on a single shift system and pupils 1st to 4th grade remain at school after regular teaching is over. Municipalities may charge for extended stay outside of daily teaching hours and for extra-curricular activities based on their special rate. Municipalities are increasingly organizing extra curricular activities, music schools and other art schools, participation in sport clubs and other clubs in that way that pupils will have finished all such activities during normal hours between 8-17.