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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation and governance


2.Organisation and governance

Last update: 27 November 2023


The public school system for children and young people includes:

Adult education is provided in the form of municipal adult education (komvux), education for adults with intellectual impairments (särskild utbildning för vuxna, särvux) and Swedish for immigrants (SFI). The municipalities are responsible for the preschool, the preschool classes, the compulsory school, the upper secondary school, the special school, municipal adult education, education for adults with intellectual impairments and Swedish for immigrants. County councils may be the responsible authority for upper secondary schools and adult education. The state is responsible for the special school (särskolan) and the Sami school (sameskolan). There are also grant-aided independent schools (fristående skola) that receive public grants. The grant-aided schools cannot charge tuition fees.

The Swedish parliament (Riksdagen) determines the laws and the government determines regulations for schools. Swedish schools are goal/learning outcome directed and the government steers the education by establishing goals/learning outcomes in the Education Act. These goals/learning outcomes relate to curricula and course syllabi. Within the framework set by the parliament and the government, the municipalities implement the steering documents in order for its pupils to reach the goals/learning outcomes set for a certain school stage.

Most of the municipal funding comes from municipal taxes although the municipalities also receive funds from the state budget for their various services. The municipalities are responsible for the follow up of and evaluation of their work. According to the Education Act, each municipality shall establish a local school plan (skolplan) describing the financing, organisation, development and assessment of the activities within each school. This local school plan should indicate how the municipality intends to fulfill the national goals for the school. The school administrator at each school is required to establish a local work plan (lokal arbetsplan) based on the national goals and the local school plan. The work plan should define issues that are not determined in the national regulations, i.e. course content, organisation and teaching methods. This should be done in consultation with the teachers and other staff. The school, or in most cases the teacher, decides what teaching material and method to use. The local work plan should also describe, in concrete terms, how the school intends to organise its activities in order to reach the centrally defined goals. The school head has the overall responsibility for ensuring that the national and municipal goals are shaped into concrete educational objectives. The grant-aided independent schools that provide education equivalent to that provided in the preschool, the preschool classes, the compulsory school and the upper secondary school, and that have been approved by the Swedish Schools Inspectorate, are entitled to grants from their pupils' home municipalities. The amount of the grant – which is determined on the basis of the school's undertaking and the pupil's needs – is to be paid according to the same criteria the municipality applies when distributing resources to the schools within its own organisation.

Schools at compulsory level are funded by municipal grants from the pupils' home municipalities and by state grants, i.e. are grant-aided, and free of charge. For more information on financing, see 3.1 - Funding.

The Education Act (Skollagen SFS 2010:800)

Historical Overview

During the 11th and 12th centuries each cathedral had a school for the clergy. In 1623 the upper secondary school was introduced and the cathedral schools became a lower secondary school to be followed by 4 years of upper secondary schooling. This was not a school open to all, and the nobility and rich farmers often had private tutors for their children.

From 1623 upper secondary schools were established in regional capitals. In the 1649 Education Act it was defined that lower secondary schools were 4 years and upper secondary schools 4 years as well, and in addition to this there were universities.

The Education Act of 1693 introduced the first matriculation exam to be passed before entering university. The Education Act of 1724 focused more on writing and mathematics, which reflects the development of the economy where higher skills were needed for future trade and manufacturing companies as well as for clerks. Geography teaching in the form of maps, and the science behind their development was introduced and the work of the Swedish botanist Linné inspired to more natural science teaching. Early in the 19th century Latin lost its position as international language and was replaced by English and French. During that century upper secondary schools mainly focused on the education of priests for the Lutheran state church.

1849 the upper secondary school was divided into two separate ‘lines’ – one classical and one modern – both to be followed by an formal exam. From 1905 two kinds of upper secondary schools were established: they lasted 6 years and 4 years, respectively. From 1905 girls were accepted to the shorter upper secondary schools and from 1920 to the upper secondary school leading to matriculation exam. In 1918 the first technical upper secondary schools were established.

The first proposals for a general elementary school (folkskola) were put forward in Parliament in 1779, and it was introduced in 1842. However, already the church law of 1686 stated that each priest was responsible for education within his parish and in a government resolution of 1723 parents were given the task to teach children to ‘read book’ and to understand central parts of Christianity. The parishioners’ literacy competence was regularly controlled by the priest and these evaluations were registered and reported to central level. Therefore literacy was quite widespread long before the introduction of the general elementary school. In 1895, a decision was taken to make the general elementary school the basis for further schooling and three years in general elementary school led to lower secondary school.

Large groups in society met the general elementary school with reluctance. Farmers were not convinced that it was needed, and the rich families continued having private tutors in their homes. From the start each parish had their own curriculum. The Government provided examples of such texts to function as a basis for the establishment of the local curricula. In 1914, a central board for the general school was established which was by 1920 followed by one single central board for the entire school system. That year saw the decision to start a 4 year teacher education being introduced.

By 1920 the 6 year elementary school was fully established and in 1949 it became 7 years long. In 1941 English was introduced as the first foreign language in the elementary school, replacing German.

In 1949, a general line of study was introduced at upper secondary schools as well and 1964 a new school with five 3 year lines: languages, natural science, social science, economic and technical (with an additional year) were created. In 1962 the Riksdag decided on the new 9 years compulsory school (grundskolan) was introduced as well as a shorter upper secondary school, 2 years of vocational training which lasted only until 1970, when this school form was included into the new upper secondary school (gymnasieskolan).

In 1968 Municipal Adult Education (kommunal vuxenutbildning) was established.

Liberal Adult Education

For more than a hundred years adults in Sweden have come together to study on their own conditions, to listen to and take part in cultural projects etc. People meet to learn together as well as to strengthen their possibilities for influencing their life situation. This was the start of the popular non-formal voluntary educational system, 'Liberal Adult Education' (see 8 - Introduction).


The oldest university in Sweden and Scandinavia, Uppsala University, was founded in 1477 with faculties for philosophy, law and theology for those who did not want or could not afford to study at universities abroad. In the 17th century university education expanded to natural sciences as well as education for public officials. Natural sciences expanded further during the 18th century.

The Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket)

The Higher Education Ordinance (Högskoleförordningen SFS 1993:100)

The Higher Education Act  (Högskolelagen SFS 1992:1434)

Further Development of the Education System from 1900 to 1990

In 1905, the grammar school statutes were introduced regulating schooling by prescribing a six-year lower secondary school (realskola) – preceded by three years of elementary school (folkskola) – connected to a three-year upper secondary school (gymnasieskola). The lower secondary school certificate realexamen was introduced and girls gained admission to secondary education, at first only at the lower level. From 1928 lower secondary school comprised five years with four preceding years of elementary school. A four-year lower secondary school with six years of preceding elementary school was also introduced. In 1934, practical lines with focus within trade and industry were developed as complement to the previous ‘general’ lines. From the 1920s girls were admitted to upper secondary school, and this was codified with the introduction of rules for upper secondary education 1928 (1928 års läroverksstadga). The principle of equal salaries for male and female teachers was introduced in 1937.

In 1962 the Swedish parliament (Riksdagen) decided to establish a nine-year unified compulsory school. Two years later a new upper secondary school and technical-vocational school was introduced. The matriculation certificate (studentexamen) was abolished in 1969 and a system was introduced for assessing knowledge by means of central tests with grades relating individual pupils' performance in relation to the national average. In the 1960s pupil influence was incorporated into the Education Act and pupils were encouraged to participate in pupil councils to develop their sense for and experience of democracy.

In 1968, municipal adult education (kommunernas vuxenutbildning) was established to offer education to adults who lacked the equivalent of compulsory or upper secondary school education. Municipal adult education today includes basic and upper secondary education, as well as post-secondary training programmes (påbyggnadsutbildning).

The reform of 1970 brought the upper secondary school, the technical-vocational schools and vocational education together into a single administrative unit, integrating all forms of education into the upper secondary school (gymnasieskolan).

Higher education was reformed in 1977 with the aim of creating a unified higher education system. A new law and ordinance were introduced. The reform was preceded by a proposal by a committee that started its work in 1968 (U 68). The changes made in 1977 were characterized an increased central steering in details on number of students and educational content. Other aspects of the change were increased access to higher education for new groups of students, increased participation of students in the planning of education and a closer orientation of the education towards the needs of the labour market.

The Education Act (Skollagen SFS 2010:800)

Reforms since 1990

The school system has undergone a number of reforms since 1990. New curricula and syllabi and the right to choose grant-aided compulsory school were introduced in the 1990s. Steering by objectives/goals became the rule for schools as well as for Higher Education Institutions. To support integration between the preschool, the compulsory school and school age childcare, a number of changes have been implemented. Responsibility for the preschool and school age childcare was transferred from the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs to the Ministry of Education and Research.

As of 1998 the preschool has a curriculum and a new school form, the preschool class, has been introduced as an obligation for all municipalities to provide for all six year old children. Participation, however, is voluntary. The curriculum for the compulsory school has been amended to incorporate the preschool class (förskoleklass) and the leisure-time centres (fritidshem), the most common form of school-age childcare.

In the autumn term 2011, a new Education Act and new curricula came into force.

State regulation of the municipal appointment of teachers and school heads was abolished in 1991. This was the first step towards giving the municipalities overall responsibility for running the schools. Simultaneously, the role of the main authority within the school area, the Swedish National Agency for Education, changed from providing detailed rules into focusing on follow-up and evaluation of activities and a new central authority – the Swedish National Agency for School Improvement – was established in 2003. The responsibilities of that agency has since been moved to the Swedish National Agency for Education and the Schools Inspectorate has been established (see 2.6 - Administration and governance at central and/or regional level).

A new system for the upper secondary school was introduced in 1992. The old 'lines' (gymnasielinjer) were replaced by 16 national programmes (nationella program) that became 17 as of autumn 2000. A new curriculum for municipal adult education was introduced in 1994.

A new structure for the upper secondary school was introduced 1 July 2011. The former 17 national programmes were replaced by 18 national programmes; 6 higher education preparatory programmes and 12 vocational programmes. The former individual programme was replaced by five introductory programmes, individually adapted to the pupils.

The reform of the system for higher education in 1993 was accompanied by a new act and Higher Education Ordinance, whereby detailed prescriptions by the government were replaced by a system where decisions are made at each higher education institution. The regional level was already abolished and the resources were now given in a lump sum for all undergraduate education within an institution. Grants are allocated on basis of the number of students enrolled in different subject areas and the students’ achievements. By linking the allocation of funds to results, the institutions of higher education were given an incentive to make the most effective use of their resources. In the reform the government and the parliament emphasised the need to follow up educational outcomes as well as examine and promote quality enhancement at universities and university colleges. These are now priority tasks for the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education.

Mainly as a result of the Bologna process, legislation for a three-cycle structure of higher education has been applied since 1 July 2007. The new structure is the only structure for all higher education.This has improved international comparability of Swedish education in accordance with the Bologna process. A new credit point system in line with ECTS has been introduced.

The degree system has been reformed and restructured to fit the new three-cycle system (see 7.0 - Higher Education).

The Ministry of Education and Research (Utbildningsdepartementet)

The Higher Education Act  (Högskolelagen SFS 1992:1434)