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Free education from age 6 to 19

In Sweden, where equality, democracy and children’s rights are cherished, schooling is always a hot topic. Issues such as the growth of private schools (i.e. public in the UK), awarding grades to elementary school children, and education for the children of recent immigrants are rarely out of the headlines.

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Photo: Lena Granefelt/imagebank.sweden.se

Compulsory education

In recent years there have been many changes to the curriculum and the way Swedish schools are organised, but the basic premise of free education for all remains. Education is compulsory for all children aged 7 to 15/16, although nearly all start at age 6.

Students who pass exams in at least Swedish, English and mathematics at the age of 15/16 (the vast majority) go on to do three years in gymnasium – upper secondary school (high school) – while the others study educational programmes tailored to their needs.

Most of the responsibility for education rests with local municipalities. The majority of the education budget is financed by local taxes, and approximately half of the municipal budget is spent on education. Sweden is one of the few countries that still provide a free lunch for pupils.

Independent School Reform

The Independent School Reform of 1992 made it possible for families to send their children to any school – state-run or independent – without having to pay fees. The law states that children have equal right to education regardless of gender, ethnic or political background, and economic status of their families. Several checks are in place to ensure equal conditions for private and public schools throughout the country.

The independent schools often have a specific focus such as art, music or sport, and they are spreading rapidly. Today about one in five Swedish upper secondary school (high school) students attends an independent school.

Nationwide requirements

Independent schools in Sweden can open as long as they meet the nationwide educational requirements. Once accepted by the Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket), the schools receive government funding and must in return not charge any student fees; they are, however, allowed to accept private donations.

Some people have voiced concerns that it will lead to unfair competition between independent schools and more traditional municipal schools, and that some municipal schools may face the threat of closing as a result. Certainly, the new system is sure to gradually open the traditional Swedish model to new alternative methods of teaching.

Last updated: 25 March 2014

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