Country information for Denmark - Systems of support and specialist provision

The general objectives of supplementary and special education state that children with special needs should be taught in mainstream schools as far as possible, and that all children are entitled to teaching adapted to their prerequisites, possibilities and needs. Following this, teaching objectives are similar to those that apply to the different levels of the education system.

Development of inclusion

Since 1993, public schools in Denmark, Folkeskolen, have been obliged to differentiate education according to students’ needs in general and not by transferring students to special needs education. However, the development has shown that there is a need for tools to help schools to engage with ordinary teaching to really differentiate the use of methods, educational materials and curricula for students with differences in development, abilities, language and culture. The clear intention of developing public schools to become more inclusive and deliver quality education to all students has not been realised. The number of students in special needs education in special classes and special schools has been increasing and schools are not more inclusive than before. One reason for this is the lack of a description of the tools schools can use for inclusive education, in order to offer relevant and efficient education to more students.

In 2012, the vast majority of the Danish parliament agreed to amend the Folkeskolen Act. The legislation points out the aims of a more inclusive school, capable of educating more students in the mainstream system. Furthermore, it gives schools realistic and concrete directions on how to meet educational challenges and how to organise differentiated and individual education. The act clearly gives the head teacher responsibility for creating and using tools for inclusive education.

Schools still have access to external specialised advice from pedagogical and psychological services, if the head teacher so requires or if some students are to be offered special needs education. However, schools are no longer dependent upon external advice for implementation of supplementary education or other support.

The Ministry of Education has supported municipalities and schools to implement the new legislation and to improve the level of inclusive education by forming a task force and a knowledge centre to collect information, to initiate and support research programmes and to disseminate ideas, information and knowledge.

In Denmark, inclusive schooling is both a political priority and a clear aim for schools. Legislation now also clearly explains how schools can reach these goals and where responsibility for implementation lies. At the same time, the concept of special needs education is restricted to those students who have a need for extensive and massive support in a major part of the teaching periods. This contributes to a more clear dialogue for the development of special needs education for people with disabilities.

Teaching is fundamental in Danish primary and lower-secondary schools. Each school is responsible for the variation in teaching methods, teaching materials, subjects, etc. In order to meet each pupil’s needs and abilities, the head teacher ensures that each teacher provides adequate challenges to all pupils, irrespective of their varying capabilities and needs. Obligations concerning differentiated teaching concern pupils with special educational needs, as well as all other pupils. The concept of differentiated teaching constitutes the overall framework and does not specify the actual measures adopted. In effect, the individual teacher is granted substantial autonomy in providing differentiated teaching.

If differentiated teaching is not sufficient, pupils can remain in a mainstream school class and receive special education in one or more subjects as a supplement to ordinary teaching. A pupil may receive special education to replace participation in ordinary education in one or more subjects. Alternatively, teaching may be provided in a special class, either in mainstream or special settings. Finally, the pupil may attend either a mainstream school class or a special class and be taught in both types of classes.

A specific assessment will decide whether a child’s development requires special consideration or support. Section 3 of the Folkeskole Act states that this decision must be made based on educational and psychological counselling and consultation with the pupil and their parents.

Teacher(s) in mainstream settings generally discover a given pupil’s special needs. The educational-psychological counselling services examine the nature of the needs and make proposals for remedying it. The school head teacher decides whether a pupil should be referred to special education.

Special schools are, to some degree, used as advice givers in municipalities. Teachers from special schools can be used for coaching and supervision, together with educational experts from educational-psychological services, which are established in all municipalities. The tendency is that schools try to attract specialists to work within the schools themselves.

Support for inclusive education 

In 2012, Denmark established several systems to support schools and municipalities to increase their abilities to offer quality-based education and to reduce the need to send students to special needs education. These include:

  • Establishment of a task force giving advice directly to schools and school administration on how to improve inclusive education strategies in practice. This task force is based in the Ministry of Education.
  • Establishment of a knowledge centre for inclusion to ensure the collection of experiences from successful schools and research for better inclusion. This unit is based in the Ministry of Education, and it communicates and initiates new knowledge and information about quality in inclusive education and in special needs education.
  • In 2012 and 2013, the Ministry of Education initiated and financed a research project to evaluate and disseminate reliable scientific research in international educational literature. This is run by a university clearinghouse for development in education, and has resulted in a study giving updated information about relevant research and the outcomes of these studies on a practical level.
  • Establishment of a financial state fund for development and research promoting inclusive education for students in special needs education.
  • A campaign to be run by the parents’ organisation and the umbrella organisation for people with disabilities in Denmark.
  • Establishment of a new board of stakeholders to give advice to the government and schools about practice and knowledge across the field of special needs education and mainstream education.
  • A broad political agreement on all levels to support changes in legislation and the aim of establishing a school where more students are met by differentiated and individual support.
  • A decision to conduct yearly follow-up through reports on changes and outputs from the new strategy. Furthermore it has been decided to monitor development through more precise statistics and other information about special needs education and inclusion.

Free choice of school

Parents, including parents of children with special needs, have the right to enrol their child in a Folkeskole of their choice within the municipality of their residence or within other municipalities. This includes schools specialising in special needs education within the municipality of residence or within other municipalities. The free choice of school is, however, limited in the sense that the chosen school should be able to offer relevant support for the child with special needs and must be capable to accommodate them.

In Denmark, the legislation on special education can be organised in different ways. In most cases, the pupil remains in a mainstream school class and receives special education in one or more subjects as a supplement to general teaching. A pupil may receive special education that replaces participation in regular education in one or more subjects. Alternatively, they may be taught in a special class, either in mainstream or special school settings. Finally, the pupil may attend either a mainstream school class or a special class and be taught in both types of classes. Special classes exist for pupils with, for example, intellectual disabilities, dyslexia, visual impairment, hearing impairment, and physical disabilities.

Curricular policies, educational content and teaching and learning strategies

Planning of education courses for young people with special needs should – to the full extent possible – consider the individual’s qualifications, maturity and interests and should consist of one planned and co-ordinated course.

More information is contained in the legal framework of education (in particular, new legal provisions) and Act no. 564 of 6 June 2008 on Education for Young People with Special Needs.

Aims and purposes of each education programme at each level

The objective of educational programmes for young people with special needs is to ensure that young people who have a cognitive disability and people with special needs who are not able to complete a mainstream education programme attain personal, social and vocational competencies in order to be an active and independent citizen in adulthood and, if possible, complete further education and enter the labour market. Participants receive a certificate of competencies upon completing the programme, outlining the competencies acquired during the course.

The role of schools, the municipality and the educational-psychological advisory service

Schools themselves are responsible for all decisions about supplementary education to students receiving support in mainstream education. The head teacher has the responsibility and the right to offer individualised and differentiated education to students attending the school.

For special education in schools (that is, special needs support for more than nine hours a week), in special classes and special schools, the head teacher has the obligation to follow procedures for special needs education with input from external specialists, the educational-psychological service (PPR) and other specialists. Schools are obliged to follow up on the development of children referred to special educational assistance. They meet at least once a year to discuss necessary adjustments, i.e. continuation, alterations or discontinuation of the assistance.

Based on advice from the PPR, the head teacher will decide to continue, alter or discontinue the special educational assistance provided for the child. The municipality takes decisions on special education and other special educational assistance provided by the regions. The regional council, upon consultation with the municipality, takes decisions on the contents of extensive special educational assistance. All decisions must be taken in consultation with the parents.

For infants, the PPR is obliged to re-assess each case at least every six months.

Very few and very specialised special needs education establishments are run by the regions in Denmark. They consist of three special schools for deaf and deaf-blind children, a school for blind children, a school for multiple disabilities, a school for children in an epilepsy hospital and an advisory group for small children with severe disabilities. All other special schools are run by municipalities, sometimes covering more than one municipality, but with agreements between municipalities for use of schools.

New upper-secondary education for young people with special needs

Major reforms and innovations have been introduced in the education system, in particular concerning the organisation, structure and management of the education system.

In June 2007, the Act on Education for Young People with Special Needs was passed. It mainly addresses young people who have a cognitive disability or people with special needs, who are not able to complete a mainstream education programme. The main purpose for the young person is to attain personal, social and – to the best extent possible – vocational competencies in order to be an active and independent citizen in adulthood.

This education is a legal right and is offered after compulsory primary and lower-secondary education (the Folkeskole). It comprises three years of training and can be attended until 25 years of age. The programme should be finalised after five years. Details of the programme are planned in co-operation with the young person, their parents and the Youth Guidance Centres (Ungdommens Uddannelsesvejledning).

Since this youth education programme is fairly new, the full extent is not yet known. It is expected to take in approximately 2.3 percent of a youth year group or almost 4,100 young people. The authority, responsibilities and financing of youth education for young people with special needs are assigned to the municipalities. The municipalities are also responsible for social welfare services and job creation programmes; thus they will be able to co-ordinate efforts to improve participation in public life for young people with special needs. By 31 May 2008, 790 students had initiated a programme of education for young people with special needs.

Obligatory assessment

Danish schools are obliged to assess students in main subjects throughout their school career. Danish should be assessed in grades 2, 4, 6 and 8. The tests are developed as adaptive tests and run by computer. It means that teachers can find out the status and profile of each student in order to be aware of the need for differentiated education or perhaps special education.

Compulsory final examinations for all

Act No. 313 of 19 April 2006 introduced compulsory final examinations at the end of the ninth grade in the Folkeskole. The change was made to ensure that all young people have a good academic foundation when they leave the Folkeskole. Thereby they will also have the best basis for completing secondary or youth education.

The introduction of compulsory final examinations means that all pupils in the Folkeskole must take seven examinations at the end of the ninth grade.

A school cannot obtain general exemption from participation in the final examinations for all pupils. However, in special situations the head teacher can decide to exempt a pupil from taking one or more of the examinations. This concerns pupils for whom taking the examination is found to be inappropriate due to severe disabilities or insufficient knowledge of the Danish language. The decision presupposes that it has been considered whether the pupil can take the examination under special conditions. The decision is further made on the basis of an educational and psychological evaluation of the pupil and in consultation with the parents.

Each school will have the examination results published, so it is possible for everybody to evaluate the level of education. The published results are adjusted to the level of parents’ social groups. Only average results for the whole school are published and not individual results.

Pre-school education

Special educational assistance for infants is regulated by a ministerial order from 2006. Unlike school-age children, the obligation to offer special educational assistance to infants only applies to infants with speech and/or language difficulties that require special support provisions. Special assistance is offered to these children in order to prevent development that would be harmful for the child and to limit the consequences of their impairment, as well as to support and develop the child’s linguistic and communicative skills. A speech/hearing therapist is normally engaged to work with the child.

The structural reform extends the responsibility for providing special assistance. Local authorities are now obliged to provide special educational assistance to all children in need of it. These extra responsibilities are related to the statutory objective of the reform. The objective of special educational assistance is to provide early intervention to children with special needs to give them equal status with other children at the start of school.

The parents can contact the PPR in their municipality and ask for special educational assistance for their child. However, a request for assistance is normally initiated by other parties who are in daily contact with the child, such as health visitors, day-care nurses, doctors or staff in nurseries or kindergartens.

The PPR is obliged to assess the child’s needs for special educational assistance upon such a request.

The Ministry of Education’s guidelines on special educational assistance for infants were developed in 1980. According to these, special educational assistance for infants will take place in an active learning environment and must form a well-integrated part of the overall framework of provisions put together for the child; thus it must be well co-ordinated with other activities.

This being said, special educational assistance given in the Folkeskole should seek to prevent placing the infant in separate teaching and/or training. The focus is on guiding parents and educationalists in day-care centres, etc., on how best to support the child’s development. Furthermore, co-operation should be established with other institutions and professionals working with the same children.

Transition period

Forty-five municipal Youth Guidance Centres provide guidance to young people up to the age of 25. The 45 centres cover the 98 municipalities in Denmark, each centre covering a ‘sustainable’ area in terms of the number and variety of youth education institutions as well as geographical distance.

As early as during the last year of primary education (sixth grade), individual pupil plans are developed in the form of ideas about what should happen after compulsory education or the voluntary tenth grade following compulsory education.

In Denmark this transition plan is drafted partly on the basis of the so-called Uddannelsesbogen (Educational Record) and the Uddannelsesplanen (Educational Plan). This latter presents a kind of portfolio, which is created in the sixth grade and contains summaries of individual dialogues between the counsellor and the pupil on topics such as when and where the educational programme will be completed, aims of the programme and how best to achieve progress.

The Educational Record contains necessary documentation about the counselling process and the pupil’s choices during this process. The course of choosing a youth educational programme or employment after schooling is also reflected in the Educational Record.

The Educational Record deals with issues such as the pupil’s strengths, interests, expectations for the future and requirements for development. The pupil’s efforts during a certain time span may also be stated as intermediate aims in the Educational Record.

The pupil’s wishes and expectations, as stated in the Educational Record, are not binding for their future choices. They are meant to serve as guidelines for defining important issues in relation to the transition from school to further education or employment.

On the basis of the Educational Record, the pupil will prepare an Educational Plan in the ninth grade. This may be repeated in the tenth grade. The Plan will show the pupil’s aims and objectives in relation to further education or employment. The reason why it could be drafted again during the tenth grade is that compulsory education finishes after the ninth grade.

To strengthen pupils’ abilities to choose a programme for further education or employment, educational, vocational and labour market relations are taught as a subject during the last years of schooling. Furthermore, all pupils are offered vocational training. Young people with special educational needs are offered a more comprehensive vocational training programme than others, and they might also be offered a work-training programme of longer duration during their last years of schooling. This will be arranged either for two whole days per week, in which case the pupil will attend school for the remaining three days, or it can be for five afternoons per week, so that the pupil attends school each day from 8 am to 12 pm approximately. The pupil will receive non-tariff based remuneration, i.e. a so-called financial reward for participating in the work-training programme. This kind of work training is known in several European countries as the ‘dual system’.

Furthermore, each municipality can offer all pupils the possibility to participate in a bridge-building programme in the course of the ninth and tenth grade. These are programmes combining guidance and teaching. They aim to provide the young person with better possibilities and motivation in order for them to choose and accomplish a youth education programme and to develop professional and personal qualifications. In Denmark youth education programmes cover:

  • general upper-secondary education, and
  • vocational upper-secondary education (e.g. vocational education and training, agricultural education, social and health education).

The duration of these bridge-building programmes varies from one to four weeks. They comprise elements from various types of schooling as mentioned above, or they can be organised so that pupils attend courses in production schools or labour market introductory courses.


The head teacher of the school has the last word about supplementary support to students in mainstream education. However, parents can file a complaint with the municipality against the decision about special education (transfer to special needs education for more than nine hours a week in the local school, transfer to special classes or special schools). Parents can bring forward the municipal decisions concerning special educational assistance, rejections or revocations to a complaint’s board dealing with extensive special educational assistance. All complaints concerning municipalities’ decisions made about special education shall first be raised with the municipality. Only if the accepted agreements are not made with the parents, will the complaints be sent to the national board for special needs education complaints. The number of complaints has decreased in recent years.

Pupils with special needs in free private independent schools

Free private independent schools are obliged to offer special education and special educational services to pupils, corresponding to the services offered in the Folkeskole. The government provides grants towards free private independent schools. The annual budget includes special grants connected to the education of pupils with a disability as well as bilingual pupils.

The Danish Educational Support Agency administers the aid scheme on special conditions for applications, deadlines, documentation, etc. The schools apply for support, and the Agency’s decision is communicated to the school, which then informs the pupil and the parents.

The support is used to compensate for the specific educational consequences of a disability (or bilingual background). This takes place in the form of special education, support education in Danish for bilingual pupils and coverage of extra expenses for special education, practical support, aids and transportation of pupils with severe disabilities.

Complaints procedure for special education in free private independent schools

The Agency administers the special educational assistance agreements for pupils with disabilities in free private independent schools, vocational training, general and vocational upper-secondary education and further and higher education. Complaints about the Agency’s decisions can be made to an impartial complaints board (Ankenævnet for Uddannelsesstøtten). In such cases, an expert appointed by Denmark’s Disabled Peoples’ Organisations (DPOD) will attend. The complaints board can completely or partly change the Agency’s decision. The chair of the complaints board must be a judge and a legal judgement will be made on the pupil’s claim.

Quality indicators for special needs education

Teaching should enable pupils to acquire the forms of cognition and working methods of the individual subjects. They should be given the opportunity to practise and develop acquired knowledge and skills through interdisciplinary topics and issues.

The class teacher has the main responsibility for supporting pupils’ subject-specific and social development and must ensure overall coherence and progression in teaching. The Folkeskole Act outlines the class teacher’s co-ordinating role in organising teaching, including interdisciplinary teaching and teaching in mandatory subjects.

The organisation of teaching, including the choice of teaching and working methods, teaching materials and the selection of subjects, must meet the aims set by the Ministry of Education. These should be diverse and correspond to the individual pupil’ needs and abilities. The head teacher ensures that the class teacher and other teachers in the class plan and organise their teaching in order to challenge all pupils. Every school year teachers and pupils co-operate continuously in each subject to determine and meet the pupils’ objectives. The work should be organised in due consideration of the objectives set out. Whenever possible, working methods and selection of subjects take place in co-operation between teachers and pupils.

The concept of differentiated teaching as laid down in the Folkeskole Act implies that teaching should be adapted to the individual pupil to the greatest extent possible. The split into a basic and advanced level was eliminated with the Act of 1994. From the first to tenth grade, teaching may be organised in groups in the classroom or between different classes, where this is practical and sensible. At all grade levels, pupils must be taught together for the majority of the school day.

Information technology (IT) must be integrated in all subjects at all grade levels. This means IT is fully integrated into mandatory subjects and the three optional subjects. Pupils are given the possibility to acquire basic knowledge in the IT area. The integration of IT is written into the curriculum guidelines. Since the 2006–2007 school year, written pupil appraisal plans are produced for all public schools.

The pupil appraisal plan should be prepared once a year and should comprise all subjects where the pupil receives instruction. It should be short and precise in order to be a useful and easily accessible tool for teachers, pupils and parents. The pupil appraisal plan must include information on how assessment, appraisal and evaluation of the benefits of education have been conducted throughout the year. It should clearly outline how the teacher and the pupil intend to follow up on the achieved results and describe the educational goals for the period ahead.

In addition to basic skills, the Folkeskole is required by law to help promote each individual pupil’s personal and social development according to their capability. Working methods are modified towards the pupil’s attainment of greater self-reliance and maturity. This aspect of pedagogic policy requires close co-operation between school and home, and an on-going dialogue is sought among teachers, parents and pupils. The Act is very clear on this point, requiring that pupils and parents be regularly informed about the benefits of the pupil’s schooling. ‘Regularly’ means at least twice a year and refers explicitly to information about the pupil’s personal and social development, as well as academic attainments.

A series of national tests were introduced in spring 2007 in order to provide teachers with a tool for better overall assessment of pupils’ academic level. The tests are individual and computer-based and take approximately 45 minutes.

The national tests are innovative as they are constantly adapted to the level of the individual pupil. If the pupil answers the first question correctly, the following question is automatically made slightly more difficult. If the answer is incorrect, the next question is automatically made slightly easier. Therefore, all tests will differ. When the test is completed, the computer will print out a text describing the pupil’s academic level in the subject tested, exempting teachers from correcting the test assignments.

The teacher will inform the pupil of the results and these will be included in the on-going interviews between the teacher and the pupil regarding future goals for education. The school will inform the parents of the pupil’s test results, not in the form of a grade but a written description of the results: a 1–2 page computer printout of the results following completion of the test.

The implementation of written pupil appraisal plans and national tests have involved continuous discussions about advantages and disadvantages. The idea of both tests and appraisal plans is to provide the teacher with an effective tool to help teachers, parents and pupils focus on the pupils’ specific needs. The discussions have raised doubts as to whether the test and plans work how they are supposed to.

Denmark has established several institutions and monitoring groups with the aim of evaluating the quality of support systems for learners and the outcome of schooling.

Danmarks Evalueringsinstitut (EVA) is an independent institution conducting research for the development of quality in education for kindergarten children and for schools and educational institutions. Every year, this institution examines educational matters and evaluates them through national reports. This institution has played a central role in establishing reliable knowledge in the field of special needs education and evaluating support systems in Danish schools. EVA has contributed to give schools and authorities knowledge about schools’ outcomes and has recommended changes to improve quality in education.

Another central player is Grundskolerådet, a permanent board appointed by the Minister for Education, to advise the minister on all questions concerning schools for children and youth. This board has members from research institutions, head teachers and teachers. It has played a very central role in the development of initiatives promoting inclusive schooling. It evaluates the development of quality in education and can propose ideas for research and development programmes.

Online literature from the Danish Ministry of Education

Please see the list of publications dealing with the different levels of the Danish education system and with other educational issues.

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