Municipalities are responsible for primary and lower secondary education. Norway has a scattered population and the school system is adapted to local demographic patterns. There are a relatively large number of small schools situated in rural remote and sparsely populated areas. The few pupils in different grades are taught in the same classroom.
In rural municipalities, children living far from their schools daily commute to their schools by free bus services. Along the coast, children go by boat from remote islands to schools in larger islands or on the mainland. Remote areas may have local schools that cater only for the youngest children in grades 1-4.
Admission requirements and choice of school
All pupils shall start primary education in the calendar year of their sixth birthday. If, exceptionally, a child enters school at age 5 or 7, the decision is taken by municipal authorities based on parental consent and expert assessment.
There are no admission requirements. According to the Education Act, pupils attending the primary and lower secondary school who have a mother tongue other than Norwegian or Sami have the right to special education in Norwegian until they are sufficiently proficient in Norwegian to follow the normal instruction of the school. If necessary, such pupils are also entitled to mother tongue instruction, bilingual subject teaching, or both.
The general rule is that pupils attend the public school that is closest to where they live, or the school designed for the area where they live. On application, a pupil may be accepted for another school if there are available places.
Compulsory education (grades 1-10) in public institutions is provided free of charge and school materials are free. Fees are charged in private schools, which usually receive public funding (approx. 85% of total expenses).
Age levels and grouping of pupils
The compulsory education is organised in two stages:
- Primary stage: grades 1-7 (age 6 to 12)
- Lower secondary stage: grades 8-10 (age 13 to 16)
Some schools have pupils at all stages. Dividing compulsory education between two schools is often done for practical reasons, such as the number of pupils, the size of the buildings and traditions in the local area.
Norway has a scattered population and the school system is adapted to local demographic patterns. Some schools may have very few pupils, and it is therefore inappropriate to divide pupils into grades according to the year they were born. These schools have mixed-age classes, teaching being adapted to the levels of the pupils. These schools have been approximately one third of all schools, but with less than one tenth of all pupils.
Compulsory education is comprehensive and coeducational. The aim is to offer all children an education that is adapted to their individual abilities. This principle applies just as much to the education of children with learning difficulties or other handicaps as to children with exceptional abilities, be these theoretical, practical, physical or aesthetic. Extra resources, mostly extra teachers, can be allocated to pupils with learning difficulties or other special educational needs. (See chapter 12. Educational Support and Guidance)
Flexibility on local level in organising learning activities is the norm since the school year 2004/2005. The earlier understanding of the term class does formally not exist any more, children in the same grade belong to groups. A group may also have pupils from different grades. There are no regulations as to group size, but the size shall be pedagogically justifiable. Two or more teachers may cooperate in teaching a group of pupils. A contact teacher shall have the same functions as the earlier class teacher.
Organisation of the school year
Regulations for lessons per year in each subject are given in the National Curriculum. The organisation of the school year is the responsibility of the municipality or the local school.
The minimum number of teaching hours at primary level has been increased in later years by the Ministry of Education and Research, especially in the first four grades. Physical activity is introduced as a compulsory activity and allocated a minimum numbers of hours (grades 1 – 7).
The school year of primary and lower secondary education consists of 38 weeks (190 days) for pupils and 39 weeks for teachers. The school year starts in mid-/late August and ends approximately in mid-June in the whole education system. There are usually four short vacations during the school year. These are one week in late September/October, two weeks at Christmas, one week in February, and one and a half weeks at Easter. The summer vacation lasts around 8 weeks.
Organisation of the school day and week
The school week is five days. Teaching hours are given in 60-minute units. The organisation of the school day is the responsibility of the local school.
One main concern in primary education has been providing day-care facilities (SFO) before and after school hours for pupils in grades 1-4. Since 1999, all municipalities are required by law to provide such facilities, and they receive state support for this purpose. In addition, parents pay a monthly fee. Day-care facilities must provide amenities for play and participation in cultural and recreational activities appropriate for the age, level of physical ability and interests of the children. They must also provide satisfactory development conditions for children with physical disabilities. In many schools, there is co-operation with local organisations within sports, music and other areas. Opening hours are generally from 8.00 am to 5.00 p.m., but not during school hours. Both opening hours and the monthly fee vary between municipalities.
From the chool year 2010 homework assistance is organised free of charge for pupils in grades 1-4; compulsory for the municipality to organise, but voluntary for the pupils to attend. Homework assistance will normally be organised through cooperation between school and SFO.