Irrespective of where they live, all children and young people in Sweden must have equal access to the public education system. In all of the 290 municipalities there are schools that provide compulsory education. However the distance from the home to the school varies greatly between, and within, municipalities. The municipality must provide daily transportation if compulsory school education cannot be given within a certain distance from where a child lives, or due to traffic conditions or other circumstances. In places outside Sweden where a relatively large numbers of Swedes live there are Swedish schools, or instruction in Swedish in for example so called international schools, funded by special state grants.
Admission Requirements and Choice of School
Under the Education Act (Skollagen, SFS 2010:800) all children between the ages of 6 and 16 have a right to education in the public school system and compulsory school attendance applies. As a rule, compulsory schooling starts in the autumn term of the calendar year the child turns 6 and ends at the end of the spring term of the tenth year. However, children may enrol the one-year compulsory preschool class at the age of five or, if special grounds exist, a child may enrol preschool class at the age of seven. Children may fulfil the compulsory school attendance in compulsory school at the age of six if the child has finished the preschool class or if the child's guardian requests that the child be allowed to start compulsory school without first having finished the preschool class and the child is deemed to have the prerequisites for it. Such decisions are made by the school head. Compulsory schooling may finish earlier if the child demonstrates possession of a level of knowledge corresponding to a completed compulsory schooling. Compulsory schooling is ten years, irrespectively of when the child starts school. A pupil who has not finished school-year 9 when compulsory schooling normally would have ended, compulsory schooling ends instead one year later, but no later than when the pupil reaches the age of 18.
Children who are not able to attain the knowledge goals of the compulsory school can attend education for pupils with intellectual disabilities (anpassad grundskola). Pupils who are unable to attend compulsory school or school for pupils with intellectual disabilities due to impaired hearing, deafness or severe language disturbance or visual impairment in combination with additional functional disorders, are accommodated in a special school (specialskola). For more information on special educational support, see 12 - Educational Support and Guidance.
Normally, children are placed in the school nearest their home; however, parents may choose another school, either municipal or a grant-aided independently organised school. The home municipality bears the cost of the pupil's schooling regardless which school the parents choose, but it has no obligation to pay for transportation to another school than the one proposed by the municipality. The extent to which parents can choose schools, as well as the administration of these choices, differs between municipalities. In some municipalities all parents must actively choose school, before the child starts, in other municipalities the child is placed in a school and parents can then apply for a place in a different school if they so wish. The right to choose school does not guarantee that there will be places available in the chosen school; the school may be full and the municipality may also have other restrictions, such as priority for children who live closer to the school or for siblings of pupils. If the choice of school creates major financial or organisational problems for the municipality it can also be denied.
Decisions on placements cannot be appealed against, providing the grounds on which the decision is based are not incorrect, e.g. if the proximity principle has not been applied correctly. Pupils cannot be excluded from the compulsory school – attendance is compulsory and a right by law.
Pupils with parents who work or study also have the right to school age childcare, in a leisure-time centre (fritidshem), family day care home (familjedaghem) or open leisure-time activities (öppen fritidsverksamhet). For more information, see 4 - Early Childhood Education and Care.
Age Levels and Grouping of Pupils
Normally children receive the major part of their compulsory education in the same school. Children are usually grouped by age. Integrated classes (1-2, 1-3, 2-3, 4-5 etc.) are common where there are few children and can be used as a pedagogical tool. The number of pupils per teacher or pupils per class is not nationally regulated.
A new teacher training with four new pathways to different teacher specialisations has come into force in the autumn of 2011. For further information on teacher training, see 9.1 - Initial education for teachers working in early childhood and school education. Teachers are trained to teach in different aspects of the education system depending on the path they choose to study:
- The preschool teacher programme (Förskollärarprogrammet)
- The primary school teacher programme (Grundlärarprogrammet) prepares teachers for the preschool class (förskoleklass), the lower years of the compulsory school (grundskolan) or the leisure-time centre
- The secondary school teacher programme (Ämneslärarprogrammet) prepares teachers for the higher years of the compulsory school or the upper secondary school (gymnasieskolan). Subjects can be combined in various ways
- The vocational teacher programme (Yrkeslärarprogrammet)
It is most common that the class teacher teaches all subjects in year 1-3, but there may be teachers specialised in some subjects such as music and physical education. In year 4-5 pupils often meet new teachers and specialist teachers often teach languages (Swedish and English) and mathematics, as well as craft, physical education and health, art and music. From year 6-7 pupils often change to a bigger school. Teachers who are oriented towards the higher years of the compulsory school are specialised in two or three subjects.
Organisation of the School Year
For compulsory school (grundskola) and upper secondary school (gymnasieskola) the school year is divided into two terms, spring and autumn, with a minimum of 178 school days and a minimum of 12 days of holidays. The school can choose to let the pupils have days off when the teachers get professional development or work with administrative tasks such as setting the schedule. This right is extended to five days per school year. The school year starts normally in mid August and finishes in early June. The education committee within the municipality decides the exact dates for the beginning and end of terms. The teachers' term often begins one week prior to the start of school and ends one week later. During such weeks teachers work on planning, administration and/or take part in professional development. It is the employer who offers teachers professional development as the employer sees fit. The leisure-time centres (fritidshem) are open during holidays as well as before and after the school day.
One-day holidays occur during both autumn and spring terms and usually there are two one-week holidays in the spring term: A winter sports holiday in February/March and the Easter holiday. In many municipalities, the autumn term contains a week's holiday for pupils in connection with All Saints' Day when teachers can take part in professional development.
The municipalities and the schools decide themselves how education hours should be allocated in weekly and daily timetables. However, there are regulations on the maximum length of the school day and the minimum number of teacher led instruction time for different subjects set up by the parliament (riksdagen). These regulations are not specified for each school year but given as a minimum number of hours which the pupil has the right to receive through all nine years of compulsory schooling and gives the school the possibility to be flexible on for example when to introduce a certain subject.
Under the Education Act (Skollagen, SFS 2010:800) pupils in year 4 – 9 should be offered to voluntarily participate in education in the form of extra study time. The offer shall cover at least two hours per week and should not be included in the minimum total education time to which compulsory school pupils are entitled. The teaching must be arranged during or in direct connection with the school day at the school unit to which the student belongs. The extra study time is education aimed at helping pupils with homework and other schoolwork, and in this way gives the pupils the opportunity to catch up, consolidate or deepen their subject knowledge. The study time can also give students the opportunity to develop and use different learning strategies as well as plan, implement and develop their own learning.
Organisation of the School Day and Week
In compulsory and upper secondary education there is a five-day week from Monday to Friday. The weekly workload should be distributed as evenly as possible over the whole week. Each school decides the length of the school day and the school’s opening and closing hours. Normal hours are from 8 – 13.30 in the lower years of compulsory school (grundskolan); the length of the school day increases with the pupils’ age. The Education Act restricts the school day to six hours in years one and two and eight hours thereafter. Usually, pupils have lessons both in the morning and in the afternoon, with 40 – 60 minutes break for lunch. All pupils are offered free school meals every day. Each school decides how the workload is distributed over the day. There are no regulations regarding homework, except that mandatory school-work cannot exceed the restricted maximum amount of hours allowed in a school day.
The leisure-time centres (fritidshem) are open before and after school, normally from 7 – 17.30, for more information about school-age childcare (skolbarnomsorg) see chapter 4 - Early Childhood Education and Care.