Education in Sweden
Education in Sweden is mandatory for all children between age 7 and age 16. The school year in Sweden runs from mid/late August to early/mid June. The Christmas holiday from mid December to early January divides the Swedish school year into two terms. Homeschooling is closely supervised by the government and very limited.
From the age of one, children can be admitted to pre-school (förskola). Pre-schools help provide an environment that stimulates children's development and learning and enable parents to combine parenthood with work or studies. During the year before children start compulsory school, all children are offered a place in a pre-school class (förskoleklass), which combines the pedagogical methods of the pre-school with those of compulsory school. Immersion methods amongst children aged four to seven is highly emphasized in compulsory school. Between ages 6/7 and 15/16, children attend compulsory comprehensive school (grundskola), divided in three stages. The vast majority of schools in Sweden are municipally run, but there are also autonomous and publicly funded schools, known as "independent schools". The education in independent schools has many objectives in common with the municipal school, but it can have an orientation that differs from that of the municipal schools. A handful of boarding schools, known as "private schools", are funded by privately paid tuition
Förskola (literally "preschool"), colloquially daghem or dagis, is the kindergarten. Grundskola is the 1-9 grade primary school. Gymnasieskola (literally "gymnasium school") is the three-year secondary school. Högskola (literally "high school") is a tertiary school (formally translated to university college, less formally to university) and universitet (always translated to university) is a tertiary school with postgraduate education.
Historical terms include småskola ("small school") and folkskola ("people's school") for primary school and läroverk ("learning institute") for secondary school. Formerly, högskola usually meant a one-faculty school – usually professionally oriented – while universitet contained many faculties.
Primary and secondary school The educational system in Sweden is based on a nine-year primary school, or "Grundskola", with mandatory attendance. Following this comes an elective three-year secondary school, or "Gymnasieskola", which is divided in two instances where you either prepare for higher education or receive vocational education. The preparatory instance allows for specialization in either natural sciences or social sciences.
Pupils do not start receiving official grades until the 6th grade. Three grades were until recently used in elementary school: Pass (godkänd (G)), Pass with distinction (Väl godkänd (VG)), and Pass with special distinction (Mycket väl godkänd (MVG)). The grades were usually referred to by their abbreviation. Note that a failing grade did not exist as a formal grade. If the student failed to pass a course, this was reported as ***, referring to a footnote explaining that the pupil "lacks foundation for a grade". Many people, however, considered 'failed' (Icke godkänd (IG)) to be an actual grade and often referred to *** as such. Compared to course grades, failed tests were often actually marked with IG. This was, however, dependent on the preferences of the teacher and did not make any difference.
However, from the autumn of 2011, a new grading scale has been introduced into the Swedish school system: A, B, C, D, and E as passing grades and F as failing. B and D work as filling grades, for when a student hasn't reached all objectives for C or A but has reached most of them. If the student can't be graded, e.g. extensive truancy, the student will receive a dash instead of an F. If a student is on the verge of receiving an F in a certain subject/course, the teacher responsible for that subject will notify the student and the student's parents. If a student is given an F, they will receive a written review of how to improve themselves.
The pupil's total score, which is used for application to gymnasium, the secondary schools, is calculated by taking the pupil's subjects and numerically adding them together, with E = 10, D = 12.5, C = 15, B = 17.5, and A = 20, yielding a maximum possible score of 340. It is normal for a pupil to have 17 grades, as most study a third language – traditionally German or French, but in recent years Spanish has increased in popularity. If a pupil doesn't study a foreign language he or she instead studies extra Swedish and English. He or she will then only receive 16 grades and cannot reach a higher score than 320.
The sixteen subjects used to calculate the total must include the three core subjects – English, Swedish, and Mathematics. If the pupil fails any of the core subjects, she or he lacks qualification to attend secondary school. However, the student can still attend the secondary school individual program (individuellt program (IV)), either to gain competence in the core subjects and start a secondary school program or to complete the individual program and satisfy the requirements for a student degree
Prior to the 1990s, there were only a handful of private schools in Sweden, mostly tuition-funded boarding schools, whereof Sigtunaskolan and Lundsbergs skola are the most well known. A major education reform in 1992 allowed privately run schools offering primary or secondary education to receive public funding for each student, at a level similar to what public schools receive. These are called "independent schools" (friskolor), and in 2008 there were around 900 of them.
The "independent schools", similar to charter schools in the United States or academies in the United Kingdom, are funded with public money (skolpeng) from the local municipality, based on the number of pupils they have enrolled, in the same way Swedish public schools are. Consequently, they are not allowed to discriminate or require admission examinations, nor are they allowed to charge the students any additional fees. They are, however, allowed to accept private donations. Regional economic differences directly affect how much money each municipality can provide per pupil, by as much as SEK 50,000 (around US$7,700 or £4,700).
Anyone can start an independent for-profit school, or a chain of such schools, in Sweden. Many of them offer an alternate pedagogy (such as Montessori), or a foreign/international, religious or special needs (such as hearing-impaired) profile. There are also several secondary schools with an elite sports profile. Internationella Engelska Skolan and Kunskapsskolan are the two largest "independent school" chains. In 2008, more than 10% of Swedish pupils were enrolled in "independent schools".
The "independent school" system has divided public opinion in Sweden. During the 2010 election neither political block suggested abandoning the program. A poll conducted in 2011 by Synovate found that Swedes who want to ban companies from operating schools for profit outnumbered those that don't. The Swedish model has been put forward as a possible model for similar solutions in both the United Kingdom and the United States, where Per Unckel, County Governor of Stockholm and former Conservative Minister of Education, in 2009 summarised the advantages of the Swedish system in an opinion piece produced by the Libertarian think tank Pacific Research Institute: "Education is so important that you can’t just leave it to one producer. Because we know from monopoly systems that they do not fulfill all wishes".
In February 2013, The Guardian published an article on independent school system in Sweden - "Sweden proves that private profit improves services and influences policy - Even education unions came on board when private provision was introduced into Swedish schools", citing the paper on average educational performance made by research institute under the Swedish Ministry of Employment, IFAU, which found "that an increase in the share of independent-school students improves average performance at the end of compulsory school as well as long-run educational outcomes". However, in June 2015, another article by a different correspondent from The Guardian suggested that the system was "a political failure", and that standards in learning had dropped dramatically over the years, and was in a state of "crisis".
Completing secondary school on a vocational program with full classes on a three-year curriculum does provide a basic qualification for further studies. However many times tertiary education is required before being admitted at university or university college. Post-secondary education is provided by Municipal "KomVux" schools (short for KOMmunal VUXenutbildning, lit. "Municipal Adult Education"), and independent boarding schools named Folkhögskolor (or People's High Schools in English).
Instead of opting for higher education, a student from a vocational program in secondary school is able to apply for what is called Qualified Vocational Education or "Kvalificerad Yrkesutbildning" (KY). Training programs such as these are popular. This form combines education and practical experience from business or industry in the chosen field. The level of education is essentially post-secondary but can also contain courses that meet the requirements of tertiary education.
For post-secondary education, the KomVux and the Qualified Vocational Education in some ways correspond to what is offered by community colleges in the United States
Secondary school After three years in "folkskola", children who enjoyed school and had good grades could choose to switch to a secondary school called "Högre allmänna läroverket". Högre allmänna läroverket was not free, so most students came from well-off families. However, some children with good grades got free education at "högre allmänna läroverket" because their parents could not afford to pay for it. In 1905, "högre allmänna läroverket" was divided into a lower level, 6-year school called "realskola" and a higher level, 4-year school called "gymnasium". In 1971, fackskola merged with gymnasium and yrkesskola to become "gymnasieskola"
Grundskola In the autumn term of 1949, some Swedish school districts introduced an experiment with a nine-year school called enhetsskola. The enhetsskola had three stages. The first 3 years were lågstadium (lower stage), the next three years were mellanstadium (middle stage) and the last three years were högstadium (upper stage). In those school districts, småskola became lågstadium, folkskola became mellanstadium and realskola became högstadium. On 26 May 1950 the Swedish parliament decided to introduce the enhetsskola in Sweden. In 1958 the enhetsskola became försöksskola, which in 1962 changed name to grundskola. By 1972, the grundskola had been introduced in all parts in Sweden, replacing the folkskola and högre allmänna läroverket. From the autumn term of 1994, the official division in three different stages was abolished. In the early 1990s, Sweden also introduced förskoleklass for the children aged 6, a one-year-long grade which first was called årskurs 0 (Grade 0) or 6-årsgrupp (group for the six-year-olds). Förskoleklass, which officially became the name from the 1998-1999 school year, is not mandatory