Country information for Sweden - Systems of support and specialist provision
Views of inclusion
The Swedish education system is based on the philosophy that all learners have the same right to personal development and learning experiences, as stated in 1 § of the Education Act. The inclusion of all learners is therefore crucial and the rights of learners in need of special support are not considered separately. The current curriculum for compulsory schools does not use the word or concept of mainstreaming but promotes all learners receiving education in general classes or childcare groups. If this is not possible, the school must indicate very clearly why other educational options for learners should be considered. As of 2022, it became easier for municipal schools to form separate schools or school sections with a restricted intake (‘resource schools’), for example for learners with neuro-psychiatric disabilities. These already existed among independent schools.
As described in the Assessment within inclusive education systems section, the learner health and well-being team is a central element in supporting learners’ progress towards educational goals, as per 25 § of the Swedish Education Act (Skollagen 2010:800).
Learners with severe intellectual disabilities can attend compulsory school for learners with intellectual disabilities. Since 1996, local school boards in each municipality have been responsible for these schools as well, to further their integration into the mainstream compulsory education system.
Action plans of provision
Staff must report to the head teacher if they anticipate that a learner will not achieve the minimum proficiency requirements associated with the learner’s level of schooling. According to the Education Act, the head teacher should consult the learner health and well-being team, unless this is clearly unnecessary. For learners in need of special support, their teachers must work out an action plan of provision in consultation with the learners, their parents and specialist support teachers. This plan, which identifies learners’ needs and the provisions made to meet them, is continuously evaluated and can be changed as the learner progresses. The school’s head teacher is responsible for the prompt evaluation of the learner’s special needs. Developed action plans and the decision not to develop an action plan may be appealed.
Action plans of provision are set up for each learner in need of special support, in co‑operation with teachers, parents and the learner concerned. These plans indicate each individual’s responsibility in supporting the development of the learner’s abilities and knowledge.
Special teachers’ education
The current special teacher education has five specialisations: language, writing and literacy development; maths development; deafness or hearing impairment; visual impairment; and intellectual disabilities.
A special educational needs specialist education is also available. The special educational needs specialist is responsible for developing in-school learning environments on an individual, group and whole school level. The aim is for the school’s activities to meet the requirements of a school for all.
Resource centres and special schools
Specialist provision for learners with physical disabilities and hearing and visual impairments exists mostly in general classes, but in some cases within separate settings. All education corresponds as far as possible to the learner’s non-disabled peers and the national curricula, with the emphasis on meeting individual needs. According to the national curricula, learners with hearing impairments should be able to communicate in both written Swedish and sign language. Sign language is stated as their first language.
The state offers support through the National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools, which works to ensure that children, young people and adults – regardless of functional ability – have equitable conditions to fulfil their educational goals.
This is done through:
- Special educational needs support
- Education in special schools
- Accessible teaching materials
- Government funding.
The state runs three national and five regional special schools. Parents apply for their children to attend a special school. If the learner does not live within commuting distance, they can live at the school and take an active part in recreational activities during the school term.
The national schools cater for learners with:
- visual impairment combined with additional disabilities (MDVI);
- deafness or hearing impairment combined with intellectual disabilities;
- severe speech and language disorders.
The regional schools offer education that corresponds to compulsory schooling for learners with deafness or hearing loss.
The National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools offers special needs support. Schools must ensure that the learning environment is accessible to everyone. Four thematic specialised resource centres can help municipalities and schools in need of support. They include advisors with specialised knowledge of learners with:
- visual impairment with or without additional disabilities;
- deafness or hearing impairment combined with intellectual disabilities;
- congenital deaf-blindness;
- severe speech-language disorders.
The resource centres offer assessments of children and young people and training programmes for educators and parents.
Resource centres and knowledge of special needs education are developed at local level with the support of the National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools. This provides support at local level to better adapt individual solutions to the learner concerned.
Learners who are blind or have visual impairments, but no other impairments, have been educated in general classes since 1988. Resource centres provide support. The National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools has adapted the teaching materials used in their classes to meet their needs, while the regional counties adapt technical equipment.
Learners’ right to knowledge and special support
All learners should be given support and stimulation to develop as far as possible. Staff must report to the head teacher if they anticipate that a learner will not achieve the minimum proficiency requirements for their year level. The head teacher is responsible for ensuring that the learner’s special needs are promptly investigated.
The national curricula state the leading values and educational goals for education and assign responsibility for different aspects of school activities. Within those parameters, each municipality sets the direction for its education. Each school is therefore bound by the national goals and leading values while being free to decide on the means to reach those goals as it chooses within the bounds of the municipal leadership. There are very different ways of doing this.
There are regular health checks in childcare services and schools. Health services and psychologists are available for staff, learners and parents to consult.
Co-operation with services other than the education system, such as healthcare and training, has to be approved by and involve the parents of the child concerned.
Municipal childcare, pre-primary activities, compulsory schooling, after-school centres and youth centres are often part of the same organisation with a common school board. Often, several of these activities are integrated, with the staff organising joint work together. This facilitates a holistic view of each learner. It is common practice to provide for learners’ needs in close co-operation with their parents. The national curricula state the importance of parents’ participation in planning learners’ education.
Since 1 July 2019, schools have been obliged to follow up the additional support a learner has received in Swedish, Swedish as a second language or mathematics at the end of the pre-school class and at the end of primary school. The teacher responsible for the learner the following year can then see the results of the follow-up. This applies to learners who will move into years 1 and 4 in compulsory schools, Sami schools and special schools.
According to the National Agency for Education, 86% of all children between 1 and 5 years old were enrolled in pre-primary schools in 2021. As the numbers are so high, no established factors preventing children from accessing mainstream education have been found. There are special early childhood education and care settings organised at the municipality level in some places, but no national records of how many children attend these.
All pedagogical activities should be related to the needs of all children. Children in need of special support should, as far as possible, receive that care in the original childcare group. The Curriculum for the Pre-school, Lpfö 18 was revised in 2019 and is available in English.
Most childcare centres are organised into groups of 15–20 children with three employees to work with them. When children in need of special support attend a group, extra staff can be allocated. According to figures from the National Agency for Education, in 2021 the ratio was 5.1 children per full-time employee and the average group size was 14.6 children.
Healthcare, social care and teaching are the major tasks stated in the pre-primary curriculum. Children’s social development takes place in groups. Consequently, the group has an important educational function in childcare, and both the individual child and the group are focal points in pedagogical programmes. Diversity is considered a general standard in this social development and all children should, as far as possible and irrespective of their needs, be a part of a diverse group.
For children in need of special support, the school’s head teacher must ensure that they receive appropriate support in co-operation with the child’s guardians. (Refer to Skollagen 2010:800, chapter 8, 9 §).
Due to the large degree of independence of the municipalities, special needs education can be organised in different ways. Support could include variations of the following options:
- a resource centre supports the child’s teachers;
- a specialist teacher works with the child concerned within the framework of the activities of the larger group: this could be permanent or organised for longer or shorter periods;
- the child leaves the larger group for limited periods to work with a specialist teacher;
- support to the pre-school from an advisor at the National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools.
Only about 750 of the 1.1 million learners in compulsory schools attend state-run special schools (Source: Swedish National Agency for Education) and 14,400 learners attended compulsory school for learners with intellectual disabilities. This means that most learners in need of special educational support are educated in mainstream compulsory school classes. If this is not possible, then the school must indicate very clearly why other educational options for learners should be considered. As of 2022, it became easier for municipal schools to form separate schools or school sections with a restricted intake (‘resource schools’), for example for learners with neuro-psychiatric disabilities. These already existed among independent schools. The concept of mainstream education is not used.
The national curriculum states the leading values, the responsibility for different aspects of school activities and the educational goals. Within those limits, each municipality sets up a plan for its education system. Each school is accordingly bound by national goals and leading values but is free to organise the means to reach those goals as it chooses within the bounds of municipal government supervision.
This leaves a free choice concerning use of staff, grouping of learners according to age and levels and, to a large extent, the content of subjects. This is presented in a school plan, which every school is obliged to set up and evaluate. According to the national curriculum, all compulsory education is organised to allow individual solutions for all learners. This strengthens the learners’ influence and personal responsibility, but also takes into account all learners’ needs and individuality.
Within this development, the organisation of school activities and educational environments is important. Local projects investigate the possibilities of abandoning national timetables and making compulsory education even more goal-orientated. Each learner shall achieve the goals of a certain subject, but how they reach them and the time taken can vary.
A learner who, for one reason or another, encounters difficulties can receive various forms of support within this organisation. Due to the large degree of independence of the municipalities, special needs education can be organised in different ways. Support could include variations of the following options:
- learners in need of special support have written action plans of provision set up in co-operation with the learners themselves, parents and the professionals involved;
- the learner’s teachers receive consultation from a specialist teacher;
- a specialist teacher or assistant helps the teacher or works with the learner concerned for longer or shorter periods within the framework of the activities of the larger group;
- the learner receives teaching materials adapted for their needs;
- the learner leaves the larger group for limited periods to work with a specialist teacher;
- a classroom assistant works with the learner in need of special support or in the learner’s class;
- the learner in need of special support works in a group for learners with similar needs for longer or shorter periods within the same organisation;
- a resource centre supports the teachers;
- resource centres at the local level may receive support from an advisor from the National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools.
Learners with severe intellectual disabilities
The compulsory school for learners with intellectual disabilities is called särskola. Since 1996, the municipalities have controlled and operated these schools. Special programmes for learners with severe intellectual disabilities are now more closely linked to, or included in, general compulsory schools. (Refer to Särskola – compulsory school for learners with intellectual disabilities).
Upper-secondary school learners have the same right to special support as compulsory school learners. For learners in need of special support, technical aid is available from the regional counties (health services) and the state provides adapted teaching materials. Schools and teachers may consult resource centres within the Swedish National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools.
Upper-secondary school learners can choose from 18 national programmes, according to their interests. Most learners with disabilities attend these national programmes. Learners who are deaf, have hearing disabilities or have physical disabilities may attend special upper‑secondary schools.
Four introductory programmes are available to learners who are not eligible to apply to a national upper-secondary school programme. These programmes provide individually-adapted education to meet their needs and offer clear educational alternatives. The introductory programmes are intended to help learners establish themselves on 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, while the learner’s local municipality is responsible for offering the introductory programmes. In addition, a learner in a compulsory school for learners with intellectual disabilities has the right to a work placement or an 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, it is the school head teacher’s responsibility to issue a school-leaving certificate that shows the education the learner has received.
Municipalities must offer upper-secondary education to all learners, including those with severe intellectual disabilities. This is mostly done through special programmes offering both theoretical studies and practical training.
Upper-secondary school for individuals with intellectual disabilities (USSIID) includes, among other things, programmes for tourism, trade, industry and arts. There are nine national upper-secondary school programmes. Each programme spans four years and consists of USSIID foundation subjects, programme-specific subjects, more in-depth programme-specific courses and assessed coursework. As with all upper-secondary learners, individual solutions are possible.
State and regional support
The regional counties provide the technical aid that is needed through the public health services.
Through the National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools, the state offers a special pedagogical support service to authorities, services and schools. This ensures that learners in need of special support receive the same quality of educational experiences as their peers. It complements local authority support services and provision.
The National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools teaching material section includes a number of teaching material production units, which develop, produce and distribute specialist teaching materials and certain technical aids.
Quality indicators for special needs education
The Swedish education system is based on goals. The government sets national goals. The municipalities, schools, staff and learners make the goals concrete in their own environment and plan their own activities to reach them. Quality indicators must therefore stem from educational plans at several levels of the education system.
Apart from stating the goals of education, the national curricula also state who is responsible for the different tasks of school operation and fulfilling the national goals.
In a similar way, the evaluation system operates on several levels. The school board, staff and learners do their own evaluations and support the school board with the results and other necessary information. Each school board evaluates their school’s operation, using the material to plan future operations and reporting to the municipalities. The municipalities, which are responsible for the operation of Swedish education, report to the National Agency for Education, which in turn reports to the government. Documents are official and should be easily available.
Since 2020, four education agencies have been working together to develop a quality framework with a focus on improving equity and quality in the whole education system. It is aimed at all nine school forms. It focuses on improving equity within and between schools and raising quality in teaching. The framework sets out one specific goal for each school form, along with associated indicators against which school boards should assess progress. The framework also identifies success factors based on both academic and empirical research for the most effective ways to develop the equity and quality of schools. As of September 2022, the National Agency for Education and the National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools have begun to work with the framework through so-called quality dialogues with local school boards. Participation is voluntary and involves an assessment of schools’ starting point, collaborative design of a way forward and recurring follow-up meetings.
The Swedish Schools Inspectorate scrutinises schools’ implementation of the legislative framework on education and fulfilment of educational aims. It also assesses applications to open and run independent schools. People contact the Swedish Schools Inspectorate if they believe that a school has acted in an irregular manner or omitted to act where it should have. The objective is good education in a safe environment. (For more information, refer to the activities of the Swedish Schools Inspectorate).
Last updated 13/03/2023