Education in Sweden


For many years, Sweden’s education system has held a reputation of being one of the best in the world. However, in recent years various international studies, including the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) and Trends in International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS), has recorded a slight downturn in knowledge levels amongst Swedish school children and to combat this the country’s government has made some significant changes to the education system since 2011.

School in Sweden is compulsory for all children aged between 7 and 16 (Years 1-9). However, many Swedish children attend some form or pre-school from the ages of 1 to 5, while all children in the country are offered a place in kindergarten (förskoleklass) starting in the autumn term of the year in which they turn 6 until they start compulsory schooling. Although this year of kindergarten is not mandatory, most parents choose to take up the offer. A 2012 report revealed that there are currently more children enrolled in pre-schools at the moment than in any other time in the country’s history. Among the recent changes made to the Swedish education system were guidelines for all pre-schools to present clearer goals for children’s linguistic and communicative development and for science and technology.

Compulsory school in Sweden (Grundskola) is split into three main stages: Elementary school (lågstadiet) for years 1–3 is followed by middle school (mellanstadiet) for years 4–6 and then junior high school (högstadiet) for years 7–9. Children tend to stay at the same school throughout their entire time in compulsory education. In 2011, a new national curriculum was introduced to Sweden which designates a very specific number of hours to each subject, with Swedish, Mathematics, History/Social Sciences and Science given the most emphasis. Children start learning English formally at the age of ten.  At the end of Years 3, 6 and 9 students are tested in a range of subjects to ensure they are not falling behind the set standards. At the end of Year 9, students who have achieved passing grades in Swedish, English and maths will be awarded the Slutbetyg fran Grundskola (Swedish high school leaving certificate).

Although children can leave school at the end of Year 9, most (over 95 per cent) choose to stay on at school and attend Gymnasium – senior high school. Although these are no compulsory they are nevertheless free to attend for anyone up to the age of 20. You must have achieved the Slutbetyg fran Grundskola to attend Gymnasium, however. There is a great deal of choice in the subjects that a student can study at senior high school, although almost all of these schools will require the student to continue studying the core subjects of Swedish, English, maths and science. Gymnasium lasts for three years, occasionally four depending on the course you are taking. The successful completion of Gymnasium will require your child to achieve passing grades in Swedish, English and maths and nine additional subjects (five for those taking a vocational programme) after which they will be awarded Avgångsbetyg / Slutbetyg (upper secondary school leaving certificate). Should your child wish to attend any form of higher education in Sweden then the grades they achieve in these subjects will be important.

When it comes to different types of schools in Sweden, you will notice that alongside state (municipal-run) schools, independent (otherwise known as ‘free schools’) are also becoming very popular. Free schools are autonomous and publicly funded organisations that can have a learning orientation that differs from that of the municipal schools (although key curriculum subjects are likely to be similar at both). Free schools are funded by the local municipality based on how many students attend the school and are therefore free for any child to attend. In theory, anyone can start their own independent school in Sweden providing they are approved by the Schools Inspectorate to do so, and agree to follow parts of the national curricula and syllabuses. Statistics from 2010 showed that 12 per cent of compulsory school students and 24 per cent of senior high school students attended independent schools, and that number is likely to be far higher now. These types of schools are particularly popular amongst expat groups as children who attend them do not have to be taught in the Swedish language – although Swedish as a foreign language must still be taught as part of the curriculum and be passed by you offspring in order for them to receive any qualification. Should you wish to send your child to state school then you should expect all lessons to be conducted in Swedish (although most Swedes have a good knowledge of English so may be able to assist with your child’s transition into school life as they learn the new language). In recent years, the current British government has suggest that they may look to implement the Swedish ‘free school’ model in the future.

Should your child wish to attend higher education in Sweden then they will have a range of options from post-secondary vocational qualifications to degrees at one of the country’s universities. According to a study conducted by Universitas 21, a leading global network of research universities, in 2012, Sweden ranked second best in the world for its standard of higher education. What’s more, the Times Higher Education Supplement’s 2012 world university rankings placed the country’s Karolinska Institute, based in Stockholm, as the sixth best university in the whole of Europe (32nd best worldwide), while the Lund University and Uppsala University were both ranked in the world’s top 100.