Education in Sweden

The quality of Swedish education has been keenly debated over the past decade. As a result, Sweden has implemented school reforms in recent years to improve results and raise the status of the teaching profession.

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Photo: Lena Granefelt/

Changes to the system

International studies such as PISA and TIMSS have indicated lower levels of knowledge among Swedish children in recent years. To help combat this trend, Sweden has introduced several changes to its school system:

  • New education act
    The Swedish Education Act from 2011 contains basic principles and provisions for compulsory and further education, preschool, kindergarten, out-of-school care and adult education. It promotes greater knowledge, freedom of choice, and student safety and security.
  • New curricula
    New consolidated curricula for compulsory schools for all students, Sami schools, special schools and upper secondary schools (high schools) came into force 1 July 1 2011. The curricula contain new general goals, guidelines and syllabuses. The pre-school curriculum includes clearer goals for children’s linguistic and communicative development and for science and technology. Mandatory national subject tests are held in years 3, 6 and 9 of compulsory school to assess student progress. There are also new qualification requirements for areas including upper secondary studies.
  • New grading system
    The old Swedish system of Pass (G), Pass with Distinction (VG), Pass with Special Distinction (MVG) and Did Not Pass  (IG) has been replaced by a new grading scale with six grades from A to F. A to E are passing grades, with F as a failing grade. Since the fall term of 2012, grades are assigned starting in year 6.
  • Introduction of teacher certification
    Beginning 1 December 2013, professional certification will be required for school and primary/nursery school teachers on permanent contracts. The decision, a milestone in Swedish education policy, aims to raise the status of the teaching profession, supporting professional development and thus increasing quality in education.

An average of 96 per cent of all schoolchildren say they have access to a computer and the internet at school.

Photo: Susanne Walström/

Ten years of schooling

The Swedish Education Act states that all children and young people are to have equal access to education – regardless of gender, where they live or social or economic factors.

Attendance at school is compulsory for all children through year 9 (starting at the age of seven). Today almost all children also attend non-compulsory primary school at the age of six (sexårsverksamhet). In practice, this means ten years of education in all.

Schools for different needs

Compulsory education also includes Sami schools, special schools (specialskolor) and programmes for students with intellectual disabilities (särskolor). Special schools are intended for children with hearing difficulties, who have serious language problems or who have impaired vision combined with other disabilities.

Nursery and primary school

Nursery school (kindergarten, förskola) is open to children from one to five years of age. Municipalities have an obligation to provide such facilities for children whose parents work or study. There have never been as many children in nursery school as now. More than eight out of ten children from one to five years of age spend part of their weekdays there.

The Swedish tradition of nursery school emphasizes the importance of play in a child’s development and learning. The interests and needs of children are key components of their education in the pre-school curriculum. Gender-aware education is increasingly common in Swedish nursery schools. The aim is for children to have the same opportunities in life, regardless of gender.

All children are offered a place in non-compulsory primary school starting in the fall term of the year they turn six until they start compulsory schooling. Primary school is designed to stimulate each child’s development and learning, and provide a platform for their future schooling.

Compulsory schooling

Elementary school (lågstadiet) for years 1–3 is followed by middle school (mellanstadiet) for years 4–6 and then secondary school (junior high school, högstadiet) for years 7–9. Children between six and thirteen are also offered out-of-school care before and after school hours. This can be at an after-school centre, a family daycare home or an open after-school programme.

Upper secondary school

Upper secondary school (high school, gymnasium) is optional and free of charge. Upper secondary school programmes run for three years. Almost all students who finish compulsory school start upper secondary school. To be accepted into a national programme, students must have passing grades in Swedish or Swedish as a second language, English and mathematics. For upper secondary school, students require passing grades in nine additional subjects, for a total of twelve. For a vocational programme, students must have passing grades in five additional subjects, for a total of eight.

The Child and School Student Representative helps protect children’s rights.

Photo: Martin Svalander/

Children’s right to health

All students have access to a school doctor, school nurse, psychologist and school welfare officer at no cost. The Government has invested SEK 650 million (USD 90,6 million, EUR 71,7 million) for 2012-2015 to improve student health.

Two laws, the Swedish Education Act and the Swedish Discrimination Act, help protect children and students from discrimination and degrading treatment. In essence, the principals of preschools, schools and adult education programs are responsible for enforcing prohibitions against discrimination and degrading behavior, and for promoting equal treatment.

In 2006, Sweden appointed its first Child and School Student Representative, who is tasked with providing information about the discrimination act, helping schools prevent bullying, overseeing schools’ efforts and representing students who have been bullied. This position was long the only one of its type in the world, but it is hoped that similar positions will be introduced in other countries as a result of international visits to the representative’s office to learn about its work.

IT important part of learning

Under the curriculum for compulsory education, schools are responsible for ensuring that every student attending compulsory school is able to use modern technology as a tool in searching for knowledge, communication, creativity and learning. There is also a similar curriculum for upper secondary schools.

There is an average of six students per computer in municipal elementary schools and 4.5 students per computer in independent elementary schools. The figure is 2.5 students per computer for municipal upper secondary schools and 1.6 for independent upper secondary schools.

An average of 96 per cent of all schoolchildren say they have access to a computer and the internet at school.

Sweden is one of the few countries in the world that serve free school lunches.

Photo: Miriam Preis/

Independent schools

The number of independent schools in Sweden is growing, and today school choice is seen as a right.

The Swedish Government supports the establishment of independent schools, which must be approved by the Schools Inspectorate and follow the national curricula and syllabuses. In 2010 roughly 10 per cent of school operations were carried out by private players. Twelve per cent of compulsory school students and 24 per cent of upper secondary students attend independent schools. There are also a few international schools whose curricula follow those of other countries. These schools are partly government-funded and are mainly aimed at the children of foreign nationals who are in Sweden for a limited time.

The independent school system in Sweden – in which education is free and students have general access to schools with the freedom to choose among a variety of providers – has attracted interest from around the world. In Sweden, some people think it is wrong to run schools for profit, and highlight examples of poor conditions and inconsistencies as a consequence of the system.

Advocates of independent schools note the many positive results found in statistical surveys. One is that parents with children who attend independent schools are more satisfied than those with children in municipal schools.

History of the Swedish school system

1842 Compulsory elementary schooling is introduced in Sweden.

1950 Coeducational compulsory education is launched, with nine years of compulsory education.

1962 The school system gets its current name, grundskola. The first national school curriculum is established in Sweden.

1966 The Ministry of Education assumes responsibility for preschools.

1968 The Special Service Act is implemented, ensuring that all children are entitled to education by also including children with intellectual disabilities.

1994 Curricula are introduced that interpret the mission of Swedish schools in a radically different way. Changes include outlining educational responsibility, teaching methods, non-traditional teacher roles and teaching materials.

1997 Under the Swedish Education Act, all students in compulsory education are provided with free lunches.

1998 Preschools get their own national curriculum.

2006 The new Act Prohibiting Discrimination and Other Degrading Treatment of Children and School Students is introduced.

2011 A raft of school reforms are introduced, including earlier grading and a new system of teacher education.

2013 Professional certification is required for school and preschool/nursery school teachers on permanent contracts.

Last updated: 6 November 2013