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Assessment policy: introduction - Denmark

Denmark is a Nordic country situated in north-western Europe. Denmark has been a kingdom since 900 AD and today it remains a constitutional monarchy covering 43,084 square kilometres and a population of 5,368,354 (2002). The average population density is 125 inhabitants per square kilometre. Denmark consists of one peninsula, Jutland, six large islands and 400 small islands. The capital, Copenhagen, is situated on one of the large islands, Zealand. Denmark has 7,314 kilometres of coastline and the islands are linked by a comprehensive network of bridges and ferry lines. Around 65% of the land is agricultural, while 11% is woodland. Oil and gas are Denmark’s only natural resources and therefore practically all raw materials must be imported. Agricultural products account for about 50% of exports and industrial products for the remaining 50%.

Until January 2007 the country is divided into 14 counties (Amter), which in most cases also form municipality clusters. The counties are responsible for, among other things, regular health care, medical attendance, upper secondary schools (Gymnasier) and special educational support for children whose development calls for special, extensive consideration and support. There are 269 municipalities (Kommuner) in total. They are responsible for pre-school institutions, primary and lower secondary schools, including special education and other special educational assistance for children and young people less than 18 years of age.

As from January 2007 a large scale reform will “recreate” the map of Denmark. 98 new municipalities and five new regions will provide services for the citizens.

As in the social sector before the local government reform, counties and municipalities share the responsibility for special education. After the reform this task will belong to the municipalities exclusively. This means that municipalities from as 2007 will be responsible for all kinds of special education and special pedagogical assistance for small children as part of their responsibility for schools and for special education of adults (except dyslexic adults where the responsibility will be transferred to the state and provided by adult education centres (VUC)).

Municipalities and regions will be co-operating to ensure the capacity and development of the regional institutions of special education. Their co-operation involves a yearly framework agreement between the municipalities in the region and the region in which the places and offers, that the regional council makes available to the municipalities, is stipulated. Prices for the places and offers at the regional institutions with special education will also be set in the framework agreement. The agreement should be supplemented by estimates of the need for regional services in the budgets for the next three years. 

This outline describes which authorities will be responsible for which tasks after January 2007:


  • Primary school, including special education and special education for adults 


  • Operation of the most specialised national and regional education 
  • Operation of educational institutions with special education for people with a speech, hearing or sight impairment (communication centres) 
  • Co-ordinating function regarding the education of youths and adult education, including FVU and education for dyslexics. 


  • Establishment of goals for the contents of primary school education, including special education 
  • Centre for teaching aids and materials 
  • Education of youths 
  • Further education, adult education
  • Short and medium-term higher education 
  • University education 
  • Research

In connection with the local government reform, a national knowledge and special counselling organisation (VISO) will be established. VISO will cover both social services and special education. The aim is to ensure a coherent and holistic collection and development of knowledge to be able to provide special counselling of citizens, municipalities, institutions, etc. and to create a complete view of all special counselling available in the country. Their offer will concern only the most severe and problematic cases.

The Danish Education System

Since 1993 the Act on the Folkeskole covers a comprehensive education system for children from kindergarten class to Year 9 with an optional Year 10 for students wanting to stay in lower secondary school for one more year. The Folkeskole includes all groups of disabled children including 2.1% in special schools and special classes. The pre-school age is covered by the Ministry for Family and Consumer Affairs.

The first Danish Act on the Folkeskole was introduced in 1814. Compulsory education was set to 7 years, and this remained unchanged until the end of the 1960’s when the number of years was raised first to 8 and then in 1972 to 9 years. Until 1958 pupils were divided starting in grade 5 into two parallel streams of classes with different curricula. One was for children who were found able to continue for examinations after Year 9 and 10, leading to upper secondary schools or white collar jobs in public or private sectors. The other was for children who were destined for skilled or unskilled blue collar jobs - for these children no formal examinations were available. The division between the streams was made on the basis of an exam at the end of Year 5. From 1958 to 1975, division into the two directions was allowed to be postponed until after Year 7. 

In 1901, the proportion of pupils continuing for examination after Year 10 was 2.9%. In 1950 it was 14.8%, in 1960 25%, in 1970 32.9% and in 1975 40.1% - an increase reflecting the rising demand for pupils continuing to a higher level in the education system. From 1975 onwards the Folkeskole has been a comprehensive school. It is an important fact that Denmark up to 2003 had no fixed curriculum or syllabi with detailed schedules for different grades and subjects.

However, from 2003 compulsory goals have been set up for each subject for every consecutive two year period, but between these periods each teacher is allowed to make up his or her own curriculum and syllabus. In practice, however, planning is guided by the textbooks used. Repetition of a year is not used as a regular practice of differentiation. Parallel classes at the same year level are formed to cover the same heterogeneous span of pupil differences. In other words, pupil differentiation is not used, and the act on the Folkeskole has a specific paragraph underlining the obligation of differentiation of teaching content and methods in each class. Alternative grouping of pupils is recommended to be used on a non-permanent and temporary basis to enhance differentiation.

Detailed information about the Danish school system can be found on

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