Country information for Iceland - Systems of support and specialist provision

Development of inclusion

Special schools are becoming fewer and fewer. Most pupils receive education in local mainstream compulsory schools, most commonly in mainstream classes. However, there are also some special units within mainstream schools. The only existing special schools are for pupils with severe disabilities (one school) and for pupils with behavioural problems (two schools).

According to the Education Act, special schools also have the role of assisting mainstream schools and supporting them in different ways. However, this support has not developed as fully as expected, probably because of a lack of resources allocated to the special schools. There have been discussions in Iceland to increase and co-ordinate this support assistance by the special schools. This is, for example, part of the new inclusive education policy of Reykjavík. The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture has not yet co‑ordinated or regulated this idea of support or changing the schools into resource centres. However, this issue has been mentioned in various contexts, together with a co‑ordinated support service for all school levels.

The Icelandic education system is based on inclusive education – Education for All. Inclusion means enabling all pupils to participate in the life and work of mainstream institutions to the best of their abilities, whatever their needs. Inclusive education means children and young people with and without disabilities learn together in ordinary pre‑primary provision, schools, colleges and universities, with appropriate networks of support. This is clearly stated in the Icelandic Educational Acts for the different school levels. Earlier standpoints focused upon prerequisites for inclusion, but now the focus has shifted to the need to justify considering segregated options for pupils.

A child or young person has the right to special needs education if the parents, teachers and the school’s specialist team agree that special needs education provision is appropriate at any given time. The head teacher is expected to initiate the provision in co‑operation with the parents. If there is disagreement about the provision, the case is referred to the local authority for decision. The Regulation on School Support and Special Education for Pre-Primary and Compulsory Schools (No. 584/2010) states that specialist services include support for: 

  • pupils in pre-primary and compulsory schools;
  • their parents;
  • teachers and school staff. 

The aim of the local specialist services is to make the best use of educational, psychological, developmental and sociological knowledge. Specialist services should aim to: 

  • promote schools as professional institutions that can solve most of the challenges that arise in school;
  • provide appropriate school guidance and assistance to teachers and other staff.

Special education includes, among other things, the drafting of an education plan for an individual or a group of individuals. The plan is based on information and observation of the pupil’s whole situation and the assessment of the pupil’s schoolwork and mental and physical development. Both long-term and short-term plans for the pupil’s education are made.

Written reports and teaching and evaluation of the education plan

Special education is not seen as separate from other teaching; special education is one way of teaching children/young people and can be interpreted within a continuum.

For all levels of education, i.e. from pre-primary through to upper-secondary school, the Education Acts state that children/young people with disabilities and/or special educational needs are to attend the same schools as children/young people without disabilities and/or special educational needs.

The Iceland report from the World Education Forum in Dakar (2000) contains more information about the situation in Iceland and an action plan for the Education for All policy up to 2015.

Education is divided into four levels:

  • Pre-primary (leikskóli) up to 6 years of age
  • Compulsory (primary and lower-secondary in a single structure – grunnskóli) from 6–16 years of age
  • Upper-secondary (framhaldsskóli) from 16–20 years of age
  • Higher education (háskóli) from 20 years of age.

Instruction in all four educational levels comes under the Ministry of Education. The majority of schools are public and most of the few private schools receive support from public funds.

The lower-secondary classes are often characterised by mixed ability groups. It is common, however, at this level to divide the pupils into groups according to their ability in individual core subjects. Pupils can then choose between groups progressing at different speeds through the same course material in a particular subject. Those who are more able can progress more quickly and those who find it difficult can proceed more slowly and receive more instruction. In a few schools, pupils who apply themselves well in these courses can be allowed to take a specific credit unit in an upper-secondary school. In this way, there is co-operation between compulsory and upper-secondary schools.

The lower-secondary classes in compulsory schools emphasise special instruction to meet the needs of most pupils. Special instruction is carried out either as support for certain pupils or in the form of special departments. There is also increasing emphasis on educational and vocational guidance. Recent immigrants receive special instruction in Icelandic, both at the compulsory and upper-secondary levels, in addition to some provision for instruction in their native language.

All those who have completed compulsory schooling or who have attained the age of 16 have the right to begin studying at the upper-secondary level. An increasing percentage of those who complete compulsory schooling continue their studies at the upper-secondary level; during the last decade, this has increased from about 80% to approximately 93% of each year class. The number dropping out in upper-secondary school, especially for the first year, is considerable. In recent years, several ways have been sought to reduce the drop-out rate, among other things with strengthened educational counselling and more varied course offerings.

The Ministry of Education and the upper-secondary schools have done a great deal in recent years to meet the needs of all pupils, not least those who cannot cope with traditional upper-secondary studies. This is in accordance with the law and regulations, as well as official policy which emphasises offering courses to match everyone’s abilities. This instruction is especially intended as preparation for upper-secondary school studies and for pupils with very poor preparation for enrolment in upper-secondary school programmes.

In mainstream classes at upper-secondary schools, pupils with disabilities are assisted with their studies by, for example, sign language interpreters, classmates acting as scribes or other assistants. However, in other respects they are subject to the same rules as other pupils.

Special education is arranged in different ways:

  • With special assistance within the learner’s mainstream class in their home school: the learner remains in their class in their home school with extra resources organised in the form of extra teaching in different subjects, such as reading and mathematics, or in the form of activities of daily living assistance.
  • With exchange hours within the class: the learner receives special education in the same subjects as the other learners, but in a different way within the classroom.
  • With individual instruction outside their mainstream class or in special groups (part time or full time): the learner is part time in their home class and part time in a special class.
  • In a special class within a mainstream school or in a special school: the learner can be moved to another mainstream school in the same community. The learner is in a special class within the mainstream school or in a special school.
  • Education can be provided elsewhere if that is the most appropriate provision: at home or in an institution.

Special classes exist for learners with autism and visual disability and there are temporary classes for learners with mild intellectual disability and behavioural difficulties. The Association in Aid of the Intellectually Disabled operates a day-care centre for people with disabilities (0–20 year olds). The emphasis here is on work training.

Pre-primary education

At the pre-primary level, all children with disabilities are accommodated in regular pre-schools, some of which specialise in meeting certain kinds of disabilities in special units.

Compulsory education

Many compulsory schools accept pupils with disabilities into their mainstream curriculum, including pupils with severe intellectual and multiple disabilities. There are, however, some special schools at the compulsory school level and special classes/departments and some special units within local schools.

There are three segregated special schools at the compulsory level that serve pupils with disabilities. None of them offer boarding facilities. One is for children with multiple disabilities and the others are for children with behavioural or psychological difficulties. They provide service for the whole country if needed and provide advice and act as resource centres for mainstream schools. There are other special education departments in a few schools which also have the role of providing other schools with advice and acting as resource centres. These schools, like all other compulsory schools, are run by the municipalities.

There are facilities available for children who are hospitalised in two national paediatric wards. This is sometimes counted as segregated special education, but is more akin to short-term home support teaching for children suffering from a long-term illness.

Adolescents who are in detention are taught where they are placed: in prison, small group homes or individual placements with families. Adult prisoners have the opportunity to study at upper-secondary level through a special arrangement between the prisons and neighbouring upper-secondary schools. This applies to a prison for men, a prison for mentally incompetent criminals, a prison for women and a rehabilitation unit for addicts.

The Government Agency for Child Protection is responsible for four institutions and treatment homes for children with behavioural and emotional problems, delinquency (criminality) and substance abuse. Besides individual and group therapy, a major responsibility is providing education for children up to the age of 18, both at compulsory level and upper-secondary level. There are up to 20 places in these long-term facilities for 13- to 17-year-old children. These treatment facilities work closely with the nearest school. There is also one institution in Reykjavík which provides diagnosis and treatment for eight children and emergency service for up to five children.

The special schools in the country are situated in the most populated areas. In rural areas, children do not have the possibility to attend a special school and most children with disabilities are transported to the nearest school. Usually the home school is very flexible in fulfilling the various needs of children with special needs, and receives guidance from the resource centres.

Upper-secondary school

No special schools for learners with disabilities exist at the upper-secondary school level. Extra teaching hours are provided to schools wishing to give special support to individuals or groups of pupils so that they can either follow the mainstream curriculum or a special programme. Special units operate in 18 secondary schools with approximately 3,400 pupils. Many upper-secondary schools now provide extra support to pupils who have difficulties with reading and writing.

Higher education

Higher education institutions have accepted students with disabilities and handled the task in a variety of ways. The University of Iceland, the largest of its kind in the country with about 13,600 students, is the only one which has formalised its services to students with disabilities or special needs. Students can apply to its Counselling Service for special study circumstances and special examination procedures. Special study circumstances include the provision of information about the curriculum in good time to allow sufficient preparation, flexibility in programme arrangements and personal progress, recording of lectures and a choice of suitable locations for instruction. Adjustment of examination procedures includes extended exam time, private exams, reading and writing assistance and alternative examination forms, such as multiple choice, brief written responses or oral exams in place of long essay-type examinations.

Specialist services in compulsory schools

The municipalities’ specialist services for compulsory schools aim to further compulsory schools as professional institutions which can solve most problems that occur in school activities and to give school staff appropriate guidance and assistance in their work. Specialist services involve, on the one hand, support for school operations and school staff with the pupils’ interest in mind, and on the other hand, support for compulsory school pupils and their parents. The specialist services aim to provide pedagogical, psychological, developmental and sociological knowledge to the advantage of the schools. In implementing specialist services, municipalities should emphasise preventive measures in order to systematically enhance the general welfare of the pupils and avoid difficulties. Early evaluation of the pupil’s status, followed by counselling, is an important response to educational, social or psychological difficulties so that it is subsequently possible to organise education and assistance in a manner appropriate for each pupil and in co-operation with the staff of the inclusive school.

Specialist services are based on a comprehensive overview of the learner’s circumstances and interests, irrespective of the specialist’s profession. Thus, learner welfare should always be the determinant.

By means of counselling and education, the specialist services should support school activities and practice and school staff and parents in various ways. Appropriate interpretation services are necessary to ensure that information and counselling are of use to parents and learners; therefore, good access to such services is essential.

Laws on pre-primary, compulsory and upper-secondary school emphasise continuity in education. Therefore, when implementing specialist services, it is important to emphasise sound continuity, marked by systematic dissemination of information about the learners’ status and circumstances when they transfer from one school level to the next. Discontinuity in education when transferring is to be avoided. Attention must be paid to provisions of law concerning the exchange of information when transferring between school levels.

Specific support measures

Each school decides how special teaching is organised, in alliance with the child’s parents or legal guardians. Pupils with disabilities, specific learning difficulties, emotional or social difficulties receive special support. How remedial teaching is organised depends on the school’s individual needs and size. Bigger schools tend to have more options, such as either total integration or special classes for at least part of the school day. Special classes with reduced number of pupils also offer necessary rest periods, for example for children with attention disorders.

In recent years, more and more children have been diagnosed with autism or similar disorders. This has created the need for more special classes and more specialised treatment and teaching. This includes additional support by specialist teachers, special teaching methods, special teaching materials, teaching in small groups or individual teaching, increased use of computers and an adapted curriculum with an emphasis on individual planning for each pupil.

A lot of effort has been put into the design of new school buildings and the alteration of older buildings to meet the needs of pupils with disabilities. This includes lifts, ramps, baths and so forth in order to offer them the best care and learning facilities possible.

According to the Regulation on Special Education no. 585/2010, special education teachers are responsible for making individual education plans for pupils with disabilities and for organising the teaching in co-operation with guardians. These education plans are generally reviewed at least annually. This applies to pre-primary, compulsory and upper-secondary school level, and special units within the schools.

Study and vocational counselling

Study and vocational counselling is, by law, part of school specialist services. Study and vocational counselling in compulsory schools involves co-operating with pupils, parents, teachers, school authorities and other school staff on various welfare activities regarding the pupils’ education, well-being and future plans. Study and vocational counselling involves assisting pupils to channel their abilities, interests and strengths.

An effort should be made to assist pupils to solve problems if difficulties emerge in their studies or work at school. Study and vocational counsellors can assist pupils to interpret information concerning their studies and guide them towards further studies and employment. Study and vocational counselling should emphasise equality by offering boys and girls varied study options and employment upon graduation from compulsory school. An effort should be made to introduce both sexes to occupations that previously had been considered either only for men or women. It is important to introduce pupils to new occupations and the development of employment in modern society.

For further information about the system of support, please refer to the Eurypedia entry on Iceland.

Admission requirements and choice of school

Most children with severe disabilities are identified at pre-primary school age (0–5 years) by medical staff, health visitors or pre-primary school teachers. When children enter compulsory school– usually at the age of 6 – the pre-primary school produces a report and evaluation on learners with disabilities and those who require special support in school.

The Compulsory School Act underlines the right of every child to receive appropriate education in the mainstream school nearest to their home. However, parents can apply for a special school for their child if they think it is more appropriate. According to Statistics Iceland, 0.3% of pupils at compulsory school level were registered in special schools in October 2011, or 136 pupils out of a total of 42,365. Decisions as to who is eligible for education in a segregated facility are, in the case of pupils at the compulsory level, reached through consultation among the head teachers and the special educators, parents and local specialist services or other specialists. Parents have the legal right to choose between different services.

Upper-secondary schools employ guidance counsellors who deal with individual pupils’ learning and personal problems. The secondary schools in the most populated areas have developed a certain amount of specialisation concerning special education and special units. Pupils are not guaranteed a place in the school of their choice, but they all have the right to four years of upper-secondary schooling (age 16–20).

The segregated special schools for children with behavioural or social disorders are designed as a temporary solution. Decisions on placement there are usually taken jointly by guardians, children’s welfare services and school officials. The schools serve children aged 10–16 years, who attend the special schools for at least three months at a time with the aim of returning to mainstream schools as soon as they can.

Age levels and grouping of pupils

Children at the compulsory level attending special schools or special classes are classified according to their primary disability: deafness, blindness, physical disability, intellectual and multiple disabilities, and socio-emotional/psychiatric problems.

Most children in special units located in mainstream schools are integrated for part of the time into regular classes. This means the size and composition of the groups vary throughout the day, ranging anywhere from 1–3 up to 20–27. Class sizes in mainstream schools are about 20 on average and rarely exceed 27 pupils. Youngsters in special units in upper-secondary schools are divided into groups of 2–12 people.

Examples of recent developments

Policy for special education in Reykjavík from 2000

The policy about inclusive education in Reykjavík and special support to pupils in Reykjavík was revised in 2012.

Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, is by far the largest municipality in Iceland. It has a population of about 120,000 (approximately four times the population of the second largest municipality). The school authorities in Reykjavík conducted thorough research on special education in the city’s compulsory schools. Based on their findings, they issued the following policy guidelines around the year 2000:

  • The guiding philosophy is inclusion or schools that serve all pupils.
  • Every school should be able to meet the needs of every pupil as best as possible.
  • It is likely that about 1% of pupils will study in special schools and special school units.
  • Parents have the right to choose a special school, a special school unit or a mainstream school for their child.

The main objectives of the policy are as follows:

  • Inclusive education is the guiding policy for the city’s compulsory schools.
  • Funding of special education will be divided into two parts: (1) based on the number pupils attending a particular school for general special education and (2) based on individual pupils in need of major support.
  • Schools use flexible teaching methods to accommodate the needs of different pupils in mainstream classes.
  • Special education facilities are available at every school.
  • Every school has a special education co-ordinator.
  • Every school has a supporting (supervising) team for teachers of pupils with learning, behavioural and communication difficulties and a pupil protection committee.
  • The assessment of pupils with special needs will be based on common criteria and the results of diagnostic tests will be used systematically to organise special education.
  • Pupils with communication difficulties and behavioural difficulties will be able to receive behaviour modification training.
  • Teachers will have access to trained assistants (pair educators) to help them with pupils with disabilities and pupils in need of additional support.
  • Pupils with delayed speaking development, speaking difficulties and serious speaking impairments will be served by their school or outside services.
  • There is a possibility of establishing special school units within different areas in the city.
  • Co-operation with the Reykjavík Juvenile Working Programme will be strengthened to provide for work-related education.
  • Co-operation will be arranged with the Sports and Recreation Council in Reykjavík in providing recreation for pupils with disabilities and pupils in need of additional support and with the Social Services in Reykjavík when supporting pupils in social difficulties within or outside the school setting.

The aim is that in Reykjavík there will be three special schools, one ‘twin school’ and few special units, besides hospital teaching.

The policy was implemented in stages between 2002 and 2004.

Development of resource centres

The National Institute for the Blind, Visually Impaired and Deaf-Blind is a relatively new institution. Among other things, it is regarded as a resource centre for the blind, visually impaired and deaf-blind, assisting, for example, in the education system. There are no pupils at the centre, but the staff assists schools where there are blind, visually impaired and deaf-blind pupils.

The National Institute for the Blind, Visually Impaired and Deaf-Blind, usually referred to as ‘the Centre’, is a public institute governed by the Ministry of Welfare. The Centre mainly provides services in the areas of rehabilitation and education and does not provide initial medical diagnosis or medical treatment. The Centre is responsible for a national database regarding visually impaired and blind individuals.

The Centre works with other institutes for appropriate services, such as local services for transportation, assistance at home, a library for the blind, and a hearing centre for hearing screening. All services are provided free of charge, regardless of who the recipient is.

The acceptance criterion for services is visual impairment at 30% or less. The definition of low vision in Iceland is 30%–10% sight and legally blind is 10% or less.

The centre is also responsible for services for the deaf-blind.

Brúarskóli: a special school and a resource centre

Brúarskóli (bridge school) is a special school at compulsory level for learners with behavioural, social and emotional problems and a resource centre for mainstream schools in Reykjavík. It is for learners in first to tenth grade and special school learners in fourth to tenth grade with severe mental and emotional problems, social and behavioural problems and problems with substance abuse and/or offenses. The school is a temporary resource for learners for one or two semesters on average. The school’s primary objective is to create positive and constructive conditions so that learners can improve their behaviour and social skills in learning and education. It also assists their home school to strengthen further work with them.

The school is a temporary provision for learners and they normally return to their home school under guidance and counselling from the school. In rare cases, a learner’s behavioural problems or mental illness are so severe that it is impossible to create sufficiently specific support for the learner in a mainstream school. In such cases, it may be necessary to create special provision around the learner for a long period.

Quality indicators for special needs education

The following information has been sourced from Eurypedia.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture is responsible for evaluating and monitoring educational institutions in the education system in Iceland.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture organises external evaluation. This can include evaluation of schools/institutions as a whole, evaluation of internal evaluation methods or other defined parts of school activities. At pre-primary and compulsory school levels, the municipalities may conduct their own evaluation of schools and school activities.

Table 1. Evaluation in Icelandic educational institutions

Educational institutions

Internal evaluation

External evaluation of schools and specific aspects of school activities

Pre-primary schools



Compulsory schools



Upper-secondary schools



Higher education institutions




Laws on pre-primary, compulsory and upper-secondary education stipulate that the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture is to conduct comprehensive external evaluation at these school levels. The rationale for this was to gather reliable information concerning factors such as quality control in operating schools, pupils’ educational achievement and careers, teaching practices and their impact on educational achievement, communication within schools, and relationships with parties outside schools. The Higher Education Act of 2006 laid down provisions for quality control of teaching and research in higher education. The Adult Education Act explains monitoring, evaluation and quality assurance in adult education.

Every three years, the Minister of Education, Science and Culture delivers comprehensive reports to the Parliament on pre-primary, compulsory and upper-secondary education. The reports explain schools’ operation and activities, based on systematically gathered information, evaluation and research (both national and international).

Since 2000, Iceland has taken part in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study. In 2009, the country took part in the Teaching and Learning International Study (TALIS). Iceland also regularly participates in OECD work on developing learner achievement indicators. OECD experts have regularly reviewed the Icelandic education system.

Nationally co-ordinated examinations in Icelandic and mathematics are held in grades 4 and 7. There are also nationally co-ordinated examinations in grade 10 in Icelandic, English and mathematics. These examinations primarily serve to indicate the pupil’s standing. The Educational Testing Institute prepares, grades and organises these examinations. The results of the national co-ordinated examinations are distributed. This means pupils receive their own marks and the mean figures are distributed to the public for each examination at every compulsory school in the country, as well as for each region and region-wide.

Laws on the four levels of education (pre-primary, compulsory, upper-secondary and higher) all highlight the importance of systematic internal evaluation to measure and improve quality. Each school or institution is required to systematically evaluate internal activities with the active participation of staff, learners, pupils and parents as relevant.

Quality assurance in early childhood and school education

The objectives of evaluation and quality control in pre-primary, compulsory and upper-secondary schools are:

  • to provide information about school activities, school achievements and development to educational authorities, school staff, receiving schools, parents and pupils;
  • to ensure that school activities comply with the law, regulations and the national curriculum guides for pre-primary, compulsory and upper-secondary schools;
  • to increase the quality of education and school activities and encourage developmental work;
  • to ensure that pupils’ rights are respected and that they receive the services they are entitled to according to law.

Schools or specific aspects of school activities at all educational levels may be subject to an external evaluation organised by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. External evaluation is conducted by evaluators hired by the Ministry for each task. The purpose of evaluating schools externally is to obtain an overall picture of each school’s activities or specific aspects there at any given time. Attention is directed towards various features of the school’s internal activities, such as administration, teaching, development work, co-operation and communications within the school, study achievements and the connection between the school and society.

Legislation on pre-primary, compulsory and upper-secondary education places great emphasis on regular internal evaluation by schools. Each school is required to systematically evaluate the results and quality of school activities with active participation by school staff, pupils and parents, as appropriate. The schools are required to publicly issue information about the internal evaluation, conformity with the school curriculum guide and plans for improvement. The internal evaluation methods may be subject to external evaluation by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture.

Responsible bodies

By law, the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture is responsible for regular external evaluation of the pre-primary, compulsory and upper-secondary schools.

At the pre-primary and compulsory school levels, municipalities are to conduct their own evaluation of schools and schools’ activities.

All pre-primary, compulsory and upper-secondary schools are required to implement internal evaluation methods to evaluate their work. Schools are free to choose among systems for their own use, but these should include significant elements of internal monitoring. An internal evaluation is to include the school’s policy and objectives, a definition of the ways in which these are to be achieved, an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the school’s operations and a plan for improvements.

Approaches and methods for quality assurance

The external evaluations of schools and their work, which are initiated by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, aim to ensure that the schools’ activities comply with laws and regulations and with the national curriculum guides.

Legislation on pre-primary, compulsory and upper-secondary education places great emphasis on regular internal evaluation by schools. All schools are expected to implement methods to evaluate their work, including their teaching and administrative methods, internal communications, and contact with parties outside the school. They are free to choose internal evaluation systems. They can develop their own system or use well-known quality management procedures, but these should in all cases include significant elements of internal monitoring. This is to be done with active participation by school staff, pupils and parents, as appropriate. Internal evaluation is seen as a way of working systematically on quality and improvements in school operations and as a way of disseminating knowledge and information about school operations. The main objective is to make it easier for school staff to work towards the school’s objectives, assess whether they have been achieved, review them and encourage improvements. This applies to objectives and focuses provided for in legislation, regulations and the national curriculum guides, and to local objectives which the school includes in its school curriculum guide.

Frequency of evaluation

The external evaluation of a school is carried out at the initiative of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture or upon a formal request from an outside party. The formal request might, for example, come from the municipality or the school. No provisions are to be found in laws or regulations on the frequency of the external evaluations of schools, except in the Upper-Secondary Education Act, which states that evaluation of upper-secondary schools shall be carried out at least every five years.

Internal evaluation must be part of a continuous effort in all pre-primary, compulsory and upper-secondary schools. It has a long-term perspective, rather than being an isolated action.

The evaluators

The evaluators in external evaluations are experts who have thorough knowledge and experience of the school level in question, as well as experience and/or training in the field of educational evaluation or quality management. The evaluators may be, for example, experts in evaluation, former teachers or head teachers. However, the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture does not hire practising teachers or head teachers at the educational level in question. The status of the evaluators is contractual.

Internal evaluation is a co-operative task within the school. Those connected to the school and its activities, such as administrators, teachers, other staff members, pupils and parents, participate in one way or another in the internal evaluation. Because of the nature of the task, the type of participation of each group varies; the head teacher/rector has overall responsibility for ensuring that internal evaluation is carried out. A special steering group or some kind of ‘quality group’ is often set up. This group drafts the internal evaluation/working plan for the school and leads the work. It depends on the municipality, the school or the individual teacher as to whether the internal evaluators receive special training.


The main purpose of evaluating schools externally, apart from improving the quality of the work, is to obtain an overall picture of each school’s activities or of specific aspects at any given time. Attention is focused on various features of the school’s activities, such as administration, development work, co-operation and communications within the school, study achievements, and communications between the school and parents, as well as other stakeholders outside the school.

In internal evaluation, reliable information is gathered on such matters as school management, academic achievement, the academic experience of the pupils, teaching methods and their influence on academic achievement, and communications within the school and between the school and parents and other parties outside the school. Schools can make a schedule for their internal evaluation where emphasis and priorities take into account the school’s needs.

Standard criteria

The external evaluators work in accordance with recommendations laid down by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. These recommendations are reviewed for each evaluation project and therefore are not public. In the internal evaluation, each school can establish its own evaluation criteria.

Procedure used for evaluation

External evaluation is based on the internal evaluation report of the school, a site visit, and interviews with the administrators, staff, parents and pupils’ representatives. To obtain as clear a picture as possible, the evaluators must consider what documentation the school has based its internal evaluation on and how the data has been processed. The evaluators formulate their judgement upon analysing the data. After giving the head teacher an opportunity to make substantive comments, the evaluators send their report to the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. The overall results are then made public on the Ministry’s website. The Ministry reports to the relevant school, and to the municipality in the case of compulsory schools and pre-primary schools, on what needs to be improved in the school’s activities. Schools then have a predefined time to send the Ministry information about how the school intends to work with the results of the evaluation.

In the internal evaluation, each school can choose its own evaluation methods and decide the procedures. The Ministry does not recommend any one specific method, since the choice of method is, by law, in the hands of each school. It is up to each school to decide whether to seek assistance from experts in their internal evaluation.

Use of evaluation results

After external evaluation, comprehensive evaluation reports are sent to the school and published on the Ministry’s website. The school must use the external evaluation results to improve its work. Educational authorities also use evaluation results. At pre-primary and compulsory school levels, the municipality is responsible for implementing improvements. The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture is responsible for carrying out follow-up evaluations at all educational levels.

Internal evaluation results are intended for use by the school to improve various aspects of its own performance and activities and to call attention to good practices and results in the work of the school. Schools’ internal evaluation reports are to be made public, for example on school websites. The Ministry may at any time request information relating to the internal quality systems.


Last updated 05/02/2020


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