Denmark - Legal System
A number of acts regulate the teaching of children, young people and adults. General provisions are, laid down in the acts applying to the relevant areas, except for the Act on Special Education for Adults. Since 1980, the Act on Special Education for Adults has formed the legal basis for compensatory special education for adults with functional difficulties of a physical or psychological nature. Furthermore, there is a ministerial order on special educational support in vocational education and training, etc. Apart from these, no specific legislation applies to learners with special needs. General legislation, pertaining to the individual levels of education, more or less outlines directly that teaching is accessible to all and should be organised and performed in due consideration of pupils’ different prerequisites and needs. Various provisions apply to special considerations in connection with examinations and the like.
Compulsory education is obligatory for all children from age 6 to 16. Parents are obliged to ensure education of their children and municipalities are obliged to offer schooling for everybody living in the municipality. Parents can choose to educate children at home, but only under the supervision and acceptance of local school authorities. Parents can also send children to private or free schools. These schools are to be approved by the Ministry of Education and offer education on the same level as public schools (Folkeskolen). Around 86% of all Danish children receive education in the Folkeskolen and 14% attend private schools. All education in public schools is without any costs for parents. For education in private or free schools, parents have to pay a minor part of the costs. All schools have an obligation to offer special needs education if needed, and some schools run special classes or are organised as special schools.
The Folkeskole Act underlines the obligation for schools to differentiate education in order to offer learners relevant and efficient education in accordance with their development, background and needs. If necessary, they can provide supplementary education. This can be in the form of more lessons – in groups or individual –, as teacher support or through pedagogical and practical assistance. The school’s head teacher is responsible for organising supplementary education and for differentiation. Thus the act’s goal is to differentiate education according to learners’ conditions and point out the tools for providing inclusive education for all learners. The school itself, together with the parents, decides about learners’ participation in supplementary education. There is no need for assessment or referral through experts, provided that the head teacher finds sufficiently clear conditions for help, together with parents. Supplementary education is a tool that clearly places responsibility for support to learners and for an inclusive approach to schooling with the local school.
According to the Folkeskolen Act, special needs education is still a possibility for learners, but only if supplementary education is failing to give them sufficient and efficient education. Children with a need for a special class or a special school or learners who need more than nine hours’ support per week can be transferred to special needs education. This requires individual assessment through pedagogical psychological services and parental involvement in the decision process. This legislation was approved by the Danish parliament and has been in place since May 2012. The concept of special needs education in Denmark is restricted to very specialised education, with the emphasis on schools finding ways to deal with educational challenges without transferring learners to special needs education.
Municipalities run Folkeskolen, including mainstream schools, schools with special classes and special schools. Municipalities can transfer learners with special needs to other municipalities, but most communities create their own school system including special education. Very few specialised schools for blind, deaf and blind/deaf students are run by regional authorities, but the costs are paid by municipalities and they decide on the transfer of learners to and from these institutions. The state runs VISO and ViHS, national institutions for knowledge and specialised counselling to municipalities regarding learners with disabilities in special needs education.
Further information about the education system is available from the Danish Ministry of Education website and Fact Sheets. It is possible to subscribe to general news on Danish education through an RSS feed: English RSS feed.
Legal provisions governing the one-year pre-school class are laid down in the Folkeskole Act. It states that:
- the Folkeskole shall comprise a one-year pre-school class, a nine-year basic school and a one-year tenth form;
- the municipal council shall be responsible for the establishment of pre-school classes;
- at parents’ request, a child shall be admitted to a pre-school class in the calendar year of their sixth birthday or later;
- teaching in pre-school classes shall, as far as possible, be in the form of play and other developing activities; children shall get an insight into the daily routines of school life;
- for the pre-school class and first and second grade, parts of teaching may be integrated.
In small schools, all the teaching in these grades may be common.
From the school year 2009–2010, the length of compulsory education was extended from nine to ten years. Pre-school class was included as part of compulsory education for Danish pupils. At the same time, academic subjects for pre-school classes were clarified through a more detailed description of compulsory content and educational objectives in the pre-school class. There is a particular focus on developing language skills and learners undergo a compulsory language assessment upon enrolment.
Furthermore, the provisions introduced age-integrated classes and differentiated starting dates for learners up to the second grade. Teaching is to be performed in accordance with the rules of co-ordinated enrolment.
In Denmark, education – not schooling – is compulsory. Compulsory education implies the obligation to participate in teaching provided in the Folkeskole or comparable to what is generally required in the Folkeskole. However, according to the Danish Constitution, all children of compulsory education age have a right to receive free education in the Folkeskole and municipalities have an obligation to offer this. Parents or persons with legal custody of children, who provide the children with instruction that meets the general requirements set out for the teaching in the Folkeskole, are not obliged to enrol their children in the Folkeskole.
Compulsory education commences on 1 August of the calendar year of a child’s seventh birthday and terminates on 31 July of the year in which they have received regular instruction for nine years, not including pre-school class. This covers learners between 6 and 16/17 years of age. Apart from the compulsory grades and the pre-school year to the ninth grade, there is an optional eleventh year in the Folkeskole (tenth grade).
Educational and vocational guidance is highly prioritised in Denmark. The overall structure, as well as seven national targets for guidance, are defined in the Act on Guidance in Relation to Choice of Education, Training and Career, adopted by the Danish Parliament (Folketing) in April 2003. The Act has been amended twice: in 2006 and 2007. The Ministry of Education is responsible for continuous supervision and development of guidance services in the educational sector.
The Act on Guidance is primarily targeted at young people up to the age of 25, but it also concerns services for adults wishing to enter a higher education programme.
There are two different types of guidance centres:
- Youth guidance centres with responsibility for guidance related to the transition from compulsory school to youth education
- Regional guidance centres with responsibility for guidance related to the transition from youth education to higher education.
The Ministry of Education is responsible for a national guidance portal. It provides information on:
- Education and training possibilities at all levels
- Labour market conditions and statistics
- Study programmes taught in English at Danish colleges and universities.
Other features include an electronic career planning tool, a section with an electronic news service, a quarterly journal and various resources, especially aimed at guidance practitioners.
The Minister of Education has established a National Dialogue Forum on Guidance in order to ensure close dialogue between the Minister and relevant organisations, institutions, guidance counsellor associations, end users and individuals with a leading position in the field of guidance.
Quality in guidance is an on-going topic of discussion in Denmark. Quality in guidance provision can be improved through improved qualifications among guidance practitioners. Six university colleges in Denmark offer a one-year modular common training programme at diploma level for guidance practitioners across sectors. Furthermore, the Danish University of Education offers a one-year Master’s of Education programme in guidance counselling. In 2007, an amendment to the 2003 Act on Guidance stated that guidance practitioners working in the education system shall complete the diploma programme or, alternatively, shall prove – through assessment and recognition of prior learning – that they hold the required qualifications.
The Division for Guidance in the Danish Ministry of Education is actively involved in international co-operation in the field of guidance. The main aims and elements of the Danish guidance reform are very much in line with the European Union (EU) Resolutions on Lifelong Guidance and with EU and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development recommendations on guidance policies and practices.
In June 2007, the Folketing agreed on another comprehensive plan for adult guidance services. The plan focuses on improving information and guidance services related to adult and further education and training. Four new initiatives will be implemented over a three-year period: adult guidance networks, a national centre for competence development, an internet-based guidance portal and a national adult guidance council. For more detailed information on guidance, please see the section on Youth Guidance Centres.