Maria Axelsson
Swedish National Agency for Education

Overview of Education System

A fundamental principle of the Swedish education system is that all children and young persons shall have equal access to education, irrespective of gender, geographic residence, or financial circumstances. Parents pay a subsidized fee for preschool, but all education after preschool in Sweden is free of charge.1

The Swedish education system is highly decentralized. The parliament and government define a national curriculum while central authorities, municipalities, and various institutions ensure that educational activities are implemented in line with the legislative framework. The major part of school budgets is funded by municipalities.2

The Swedish National Agency for Education monitors and supports the local development of the quality of schools. The agency’s mission can be summarized as follows: drawing up goals and knowledge requirements, providing support for the development of preschools and schools, developing and disseminating new knowledge to benefit target groups, and communicating for the purpose of improvement. The Swedish Schools Inspectorate provides supervision and the National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools coordinates government support for special needs education.3

Independent (private) schools must be approved by the Swedish Schools Inspectorate.4 These schools receive municipal grants based on the number of students enrolled per academic year, and they are allowed to make a profit. Approximately 14 percent of all compulsory school students attended independent schools in 2014–2015.5

Preprimary education and care are provided at preschools and family daycare centers. The aim of preprimary education is to create favorable learning opportunities that stimulate children’s physical and mental development. In Sweden, 83 percent of all children ages 1 to 5 were enrolled in preprimary education in 2014.6

In addition, most 6-year-olds attend a one year preschool class, aiming to provide a sound base for the first grade of compulsory schooling. Although attendance is voluntary, 96 percent of 6-year-olds were enrolled in 2014.7

Swedish compulsory education comprises nine years of schooling, for children ages 7 to 16 (Grades 1 to 9), although children may start school at age 6 if parents prefer. The compulsory education system also includes Sami schools for Sami-speaking children in Grades 1 to 6, special schools designed for children and adolescents who are deaf or hearing impaired and cannot attend regular schools, and schools for children with learning disabilities.8

All youth in Sweden who have completed compulsory education are entitled to a three year upper secondary education. Upper secondary education provides a foundation for vocational activities and further studies. There are 18 national upper secondary programs, each lasting at least three years. These programs comprise upper secondary school foundation subjects, program-specific subjects, work-based vocational orientations, program specializations, and a diploma project. In addition, there are five introductory programs for students who are not eligible for a national program.9

Universities and university colleges are free of charge, and admission is based on grades, on a university admissions test, or on a combination of interviews and tests. Students may attend post-secondary vocational schools to prepare for a specific trade or occupation.10

Languages of Instruction

In Sweden, the national and principal language of instruction is Swedish. There are five official minority languages in Sweden: Sami, Finnish, Meänkieli, Romani, and Yiddish. All students are entitled to learn at least one foreign language and their mother tongue or a minority language. Students with a native language other than Swedish can take the subject Swedish as a Second Language to acquire a functional mastery of the Swedish language. The subject Mother Tongue is offered to give students with a native language other than Swedish the opportunity to further develop knowledge of their native language.11,12

Overall, language instruction has the important task of supporting student acquisition of knowledge in all subjects.