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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of general and vocational secondary education


6.Upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary Education

6.1Organisation of general and vocational secondary education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Types of Institutions

Vocational and general upper secondary education is provided within the same institutions run by municipalities, county councils or independent organisers in grant-aided independent schools (fristående skola). There are 1,313 upper secondary schools in Sweden and 428 of those are independently managed. In the school year 2016/2017 343 900 pupils attended upper secondary education. Approximately 27 per cent of the pupils studied one of the 12 vocational programmes and 54 per cent attended one of the 6 general programmes that prepare pupils for higher education.

Upper secondary education is free of charge for pupils. Independent schools at upper secondary level are generally grant-aided and are not allowed to charge fees as opposed to private schools. The upper secondary school consists of different types of programmes:

18 national programmes each lasting three years, 12 of which are vocational programmes and six of which are preparatory programmes for higher education. The preparatory programmes for higher education provide basic eligibility for further studies within higher education at undergraduate level. Pupils in vocational programmes can obtain eligibility for higher education by studying a few extra courses. The programmes are divided into upper secondary foundation subjects, subjects common to a programme, orientations, programme specialisations and a diploma project.

There are also five introductory programmes for pupils who are not eligible for a national programme. Examples can be pupils that need to pass several courses or pupils that have recently moved to Sweden. There are also education forms that deviate from the national programme structures, examples are special variants, programmes based on national recruitment and nationally approved sports programmes.

Examples of organisational variations and alternative structures are in the form of the three International schools at upper secondary level. These are grant-aided independent schools. For more information about international schools and grant-aided independent schools see 2.4- Organisation of private education.

The main rule is that distance education is not allowed. However, there is one upper secondary school in Sweden that does offer distance education to pupils regardless of where they live in Sweden (Förordning om distansundervisning på gymnasial nivå i Torsås, SFS 1992:1261). If the pupil has obvious difficulties which cannot be overcome in any other way it is possible to follow a reduced programme. Pupils may, after a decision from the school head, be exempted from courses corresponding to a maximum of 10 per cent of the upper secondary school credits. It is also possible to receive instruction in a national programme over a period of more than three years; for pupils in municipal schools the educational board of the municipality makes such decisions. 

Geographical Accessibility

There are 1,313 upper secondary schools in Sweden. The 428 independently managed upper secondary schools are distributed  across the country. They are concentrated in 115 municipalities, typically in the bigger cities and towns. Irrespective of place of residence all children and young people in Sweden should have equal access to the public education system. Pupils may have to commute to a school in a bigger town, or stay accommodated during the school week to attend upper secondary school. The home municipality of the pupil is responsible for the pupil's daily travelling costs between home and school if the distance is at least six kilometers. If a pupil chooses a different kind of transport the municipality is not obliged to meet the additional costs. A municipality can choose to provide financial support for board and lodging, instead of covering costs of transport between a pupil's home and school. For information on financial aid for commuting and accommodation, see 3.1 -Early childhood and school education funding.


Admission Requirements and Choice of School

The Education Act (Skollagen, 2010) states that all municipalities are obliged to offer upper secondary education to young people who have completed compulsory school (grundskolan) or who have acquired equivalent qualifications. The right to upper secondary education is restricted, the course of study must begin no later than the first half of the calendar year in which the pupil reaches the age of 20. Upper secondary education above 20 years of age is offered within the public adult education system through municipal adult education (kommunal vuxenutbildning), see 8 - Adult Education and Training.

In order to be eligible for the preparatory programmes for higher education, pupils must have achieved a minimum of a pass grade in Swedish, English, Mathematics and in at least nine other subjects. To be eligible for the vocational programmes, pupils must have obtained a pass grade in Swedish, English and Mathematics and in at least five other subjects. Pupils who do not meet the qualification demands may follow an introductory programme. Nearly all pupils continue to upper secondary school after finishing the compulsory school.

The Board of Appeal for Education (Skolväsendets överklagandenämnd) is an independent authority similar to a court of law to which students or their guardians can turn to appeal certain decisions made in connection with preschool classes, compulsory schools, upper secondary schools and adult education. One can only appeal certain types of decisions such as those concerning action programmes, placement in particular teaching groups and admission into a school for students with learning difficulties, an upper secondary school or into Swedish tuition for immigrants. 

In the ninth year of compulsory school, pupils choose which programme they wish to follow at the upper secondary school. The municipalities provide a broad range of education and match the number of places in different programmes to pupils' choices as far as possible. If the number of applicants is higher than the number of places available, selection is made on the basis of the pupil's final marks/grades from the courses finished during compulsory school. There is no end-of-school exam.

Pupils wishing to study a national programme which not offered by their home municipality are entitled to be accepted onto this programme in another municipality that does offer it. These candidates have the same priority as applicants from that municipality. Pupils from another municipality can apply to a municipal upper secondary school even if it is offered in the home municipality but the pupils from the municipality itself, or pupils living in another municipality where the programme is not offered, are prioritised. If accepted to an upper secondary school in another municipality, the home municipality must pay the cost. Pupils from the Nordic countries can attend upper secondary school in any Nordic country.

For those who are not eligible for national programmes, there are five introductory programmes that are adapted to the individual: preparatory education, programme-oriented individual choice, introduction to a profession, individual option and language introduction.

A grading scale with six levels and a seventh coding was introduced for upper secondary school and compulsory school in the autumn of 2011 see 5.3- Assessment in Single Structure Education and 6.3 Assesment in Upper General and Vocational Secondary Education).

The old Swedish system of Pass, Pass with Distinction, Pass with Special Distinction and Did Not Pass was replaced by a  grading scale with six grades from A to F. The grades A to E are passing grades, with F as a failing grade. A limited number of places at upper secondary school are set aside for pupils from schools where grades cannot be compared with those obtained from the compulsory school. These can be pupils from independent grant-aided schools with a Waldorf/Steiner profile where no grades are given or  pupils who should be given preferential access for social or personal reasons.

An appeal may be made at the The Board of Appeal for Education (Skolväsendets överklagandenämnd)  if a school organiser decides not to admit an applicant to a national, specially designed or individual programme.

Age Levels and Grouping of Pupils/Students

The course-based system together with the absence of a nationally decided timetable gives the upper secondary schools great freedom to organise the education. The groups of students studying a course may be put together from different year groups and programmes, thus students of different ages can study together. There are no national regulations concerning the pupils/teacher ratio. It is decided locally whether a teacher stays with the same class for several years, however it is common that one teacher teaches a specific subject to a class throughout their upper secondary education. 

Organisation of the School Year

The municipalities and the schools themselves decide how the school year is organised. The school year is divided into two terms, spring and autumn, and consists of a minimum of 178 school days and at least 12 days of holidays, distributed over 40 weeks. The school year in the compulsory school and upper secondary school starts in the end of August and finishes in June. Each municipality decides the exact dates for starting and finishing school. However there are regulations regarding the number of weeks and the minimum number of days and hours to constitute a school year. All pupils have the right to a minimum guaranteed number of teaching hours (calculated as 60 minutes), for the whole of the three-year education, of at least 2180 hours for general programmes, and 2430 hours for vocational programmes. Pupils are free from school when teachers participate in training and planning activities. Teachers start work earlier than the pupils each semester and finish later.

Upper secondary school is not divided into courses for specific years and is regulated by a national system of points for the whole three year programme (Appendix 2, Education Act), see 6.2 - Subjects. The education system is decentralised and the education is governed by the Education Act decided by the Parliament, by the national goals for education – set in the Curriculum for the upper secondary school, by the programme goals – specific for each programme, and by each subject's syllabus.

Organisation of the School Day and Week

A five-day week from Monday to Friday is applied. The weekly workload should be distributed as evenly as possible over the five days. The schools themselves decide how long the school day shall be and the school’s opening and closing hours. The school head is responsible for making a timetable, for one whole semester or for a shorter period, which states the teaching hours in different subjects and the names of the teachers. There is no regulation in educational statutes on maximum number of daily school hours.