Country information for Sweden - Legislation and policy
The Swedish education system is decentralised and structured according to national goals and rules. Decisions concerning the implementation of the Education Act and the national curriculum are made within the local self-governing municipalities. There can therefore be variations in how municipalities interpret and apply the legislative and policy framework on education.
Under the Ministry of Education and Research there are five national agencies for education:
- Swedish National Agency for Education
- Swedish Schools Inspectorate
- National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools
- The Swedish Institute for Educational Research
- The Sami School Board
According to the Swedish Education Act (Skollagen 2010:800, 4 §), the basic principle guiding all Swedish education, from childcare to the transition into working or academic life, is access to equitable, good quality education for all. This means that learners in need of support should not be treated differently or specifically defined as a group to differentiate them from other learners. In fact, the right to educational support measures in Swedish schools is linked to learners’ ability to achieve the minimum criteria for knowledge assessment, regardless of the causes. The law emphasises schools’ obligation to attend to all learners’ needs by challenging and stimulating them according to their individual circumstances to help them develop as far as they can. Nevertheless, it also acknowledges the need for specific measures that compensate for a disability that makes it difficult for a learner to achieve the criteria for knowledge assessment.
An action plan must be drawn up for learners in need of special support in compulsory schools. The school head is responsible for investigating learners’ needs before setting up the action plans. Teachers usually draw up the plans, in consultation with learners, their parents and specialist support teachers. The plans, which identify needs and provisions to meet them, are continuously evaluated. Progress and changes of solutions are possible (Skollagen 2010:800, 9 §).
Social services, schools and healthcare must collaborate for children at risk. Social services have the main responsibility for ensuring that this collaboration takes place (stipulated in the Social Services Act, the Health and Medical Services Act and the Police Act) (Source: IECE Country Survey Questionnaire, p. 15).
Learners in need of special support have the right to specialist provision. All education corresponds as far as possible to the national curricula, but with an emphasis on meeting individual learning needs.
In some circumstances, this provision is offered in special settings. Three national and five regional state-run special schools are available for learners with visual impairment combined with additional disabilities (MDVI), deafness or hearing impairment, hearing impairment combined with intellectual disabilities, or severe speech and language disorders. Children with intellectual learning disabilities can attend compulsory schools for learners with intellectual disabilities (‘adapted compulsory school’ from 2 July 2023) as an alternative to mainstream compulsory schools.
The Swedish education system is also partially marketised. While it is each municipality’s legal responsibility to ensure that each child under its jurisdiction has access to a school, learners have the right to choose their school. They may choose the nearest municipal school or apply to any other municipal or independent school. Schools have rules for how to process applications, but, with very few exceptions, these cannot involve tests or assessment results. Schools may not charge fees for application or tuition.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child
The United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child was incorporated into Swedish law on 1 January 2020. A number of parallel measures were taken to ensure that Swedish legislation was fully aligned with the Convention rights.
The Education Act
The Education Act entrenches human rights as both a basis for education and an element that is to be learned and adopted through education. Everyone working in education is required to promote human rights and actively work to prevent any form of offensive treatment. The Child Rights Convention principle on the best interests of the child is integrated in the Education Act as a starting point for all education and other activities regulated under the Act.
The National Agency for Education decides on the curricula and syllabi for school forms. There are nine separate state curricula, one for each school form: pre-school, pre-school class, compulsory school, compulsory school for children with intellectual disabilities, Sami school, state special school, upper-secondary school, upper-secondary school for children with intellectual disabilities, municipal adult education.
The curricula state the foundational values, purpose and goals for education, but do not state how to achieve them. The organisation of childcare and school activities is the responsibility of the local authorities, which must ensure that learners and schools achieve the goals and follow the curricula. Pedagogical staff in each school are responsible for the pedagogical methods and organisation of the education that they provide.
The Curriculum for the Pre-school Lpfö 18 has applied since 2019. Among other things, it covers:
- Norms and values
- Development and learning
- Influence and participation of the child
- Pre-school and home
- Co-operation with recreation centres.
The goals and guidelines for the curriculum for the compulsory school, pre-school class and the recreation centre Lgr22 (2022) cover, among other things:
- Norms and values
- Responsibility and influence of learners
- School and home
- Transition and co-operation
- The school and the surrounding world
- Assessment and grades
- Responsibility of the school head.
There are also specific curricula for the compulsory school for children with intellectual disabilities (Lgrsär22), for the Sami schools (Lgrsam22) and for the state special schools (Lgspec22). They share the same basic contents.
The Curriculum for the upper-secondary school (Gy11, updated in 2022) lists the following overall goals and guidelines for the upper-secondary school, among other things:
- Norms and values
- Responsibility and influence of learners
- Educational choices – employment and social life
- Assessment and grades
- Responsibility of the head.
All childcare, pre-primary activities, leisure activities, compulsory education and upper-secondary education are incorporated under the National Agency for Education.
Early years education
The Education Act states that children are entitled to Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) from the age of 3. They may be entitled to care from age 1 if their parents work, study or are caring for another child (sibling). ECEC is a separate school form and its activities are regarded as education. ECEC takes place under the supervision of pre-school teachers, but there may also be other staff who promote the child’s development and learning.
ECEC is regulated by the Education Act and the curriculum. Activities should be based on individual needs. Children in need of special support should receive care in accordance with their needs (Skollagen 2010:800, 3–7 §).
The obligation to attend school begins in the year in which a child turns 6, or, in specific cases assessed by the relevant municipality, the year a child turns 7. Parents can also apply for their child to start in the year they turn 5. The first year of school is the pre-school class, which is currently a separate school form. It has been compulsory since 2018. A further nine years of compulsory schooling start after a child has completed pre-school class. These can be completed in compulsory school, compulsory school for children with intellectual disabilities or special school. Years 1–6 can also be completed in the Sami school.
Learners who are assessed as eligible for compulsory school for learners with intellectual disabilities must be given the opportunity to attend and benefit from pre-school class along with their peers.
Learners who, due to a functional impairment or for other special reasons, cannot attend mainstream compulsory school or compulsory school for learners with intellectual disabilities can attend special schools and pre-school class, if they:
- are deaf and blind or have visual impairments and other functional impairments;
- are deaf or hearing impaired or have a severe speech disorder.
Upper-secondary schools – gymnasiet – are not compulsory, but most learners attend. Schools are free of charge and there are no fees for educational materials, food or healthcare. Upper-secondary school learners have the same right to special educational support as learners in compulsory school.
For learners in need of special support, technical aid is available from the regional counties and the state provides adapted teaching materials. Schools and teachers can consult thematic resource centres under the Swedish National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools.
Learners in upper-secondary school can choose from 18 national programmes, according to their interests. The programmes are designed to be completed over three years. Learners who are deaf or have hearing disabilities, as well as learners who are deaf and blind, or those with a severe speech impairment can attend special upper-secondary schools. Learners with physical disabilities have the opportunity to attend special schools that are designed to accommodate their needs.
Upper-secondary school for individuals with intellectual disabilities (USSIID) is a free, voluntary school. Young people with intellectual disabilities or acquired brain injuries can choose to attend it once they have completed compulsory school for learners with intellectual disabilities. USSIID consists of national programmes, individual programmes and programmes that diverge from the national programme structure. There are nine national USSIID programmes in total. Each programme spans four years and consists of USSIID foundation subjects, programme-specific subjects, more in-depth programme-specific courses and assessed coursework.
Learners who are not eligible to apply to a national upper-secondary school programme can follow one of four introductory programmes that provide individually-adapted education to meet their needs and offer clear educational alternatives. The introductory programmes are intended to help learners establish themselves in the labour market and to serve as the best possible foundation for continued education. Each school is responsible for setting up an individual study plan for these learners. The learner’s local municipality is responsible for offering the introductory programmes.
Learners in compulsory schools for learners with intellectual disabilities have the right to work placements or an individual alternative, if the learner wishes to take a particular programme and the municipality feels they have the prerequisites for it. After the learner has completed education in an introductory programme, the school head is responsible for issuing a school-leaving certificate that details the education that the learner has received.
It is the municipalities’ duty to offer upper-secondary education to all learners, including those with severe intellectual disabilities.
Measures against discrimination
From 1 January 2017, the Discrimination Act introduced new active measures against discrimination. The measures apply to pre-primary and compulsory education and other activities regulated under the Education Act. The measures form part of discrimination law. The active measures against discrimination in Chapter 3 of the Discrimination Act stipulate actions against seven types of discrimination:
- Gender identity or gender expression
- Religion or belief
- Sexual orientation
One form of disability discrimination is lack of accessibility. Lack of accessibility means a public authority does not take reasonable measures to ensure that a person with disabilities is in a comparable situation with a non-disabled person in relation to a specific activity.
Lack of accessibility was introduced in the Discrimination Act 2015 due to Sweden’s commitment to comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2006 and has applied in Sweden since 2009.
Employers and schools now have greater responsibility to work with prevention and promotion to combat discrimination and work for equal rights and opportunities.
Last updated 13/03/2023