Country information for Sweden - Systems of support and specialist provision
For detailed information regarding the organisation of education services in Sweden, please consult the Eurydice website. The Educational Support and Guidance section gives information about special needs education within the education system.
Views of integration
The Swedish education system is based on the philosophy that all pupils have the same right to personal development and learning experiences, as stated in 1 § of the Education Act. The inclusion of all pupils is therefore crucial and the rights of pupils in need of special support are not stated separately. The current curriculum for compulsory schools does not use the word or concept of mainstreaming but promotes all pupils receiving education in general classes or childcare groups. If this is not possible, the school must indicate very clearly why other educational options for pupils should be considered. This is an important philosophical standpoint for school organisation and operation. Earlier debates focused on prerequisites for integration, but the focus has shifted to the need to justify segregated options for pupils. Refer to the Ministry of Education and Research website.
Schools have a pupil health team made up of a representative from the local school board, the pupil welfare staff (i.e. a school doctor, nurse, psychologist, counsellor) and special needs teachers. The school health service’s work is primarily preventive, focusing on health promotion. Pupils’ progress towards educational goals should be supported, as per 25 § of the Skollagen (2010:800).
Pupils with severe learning disabilities can attend compulsory school for pupils with learning disabilities. This programme was the responsibility of the regional counties, but since 1996, local school boards in each municipality have been responsible for it. The programme is now closely linked to or included in general school activities. (Refer to Särskola – compulsory school for pupils with learning disabilities only available in Swedish).
Action plans of provision
Staff must report to the head if they anticipate that a pupil will not achieve the minimum proficiency requirements. According to the Education Act, the head should consult the pupil health team, unless this is clearly unnecessary. For pupils in need of special support, their teachers must work out an action plan of provision in consultation with the pupils, their parents and specialist support teachers. This plan, which identifies pupil’s needs and the provisions made to meet them, is continuously evaluated and can be changed as the pupil progresses. The head is responsible for the prompt evaluation of the pupil’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 pupil in need of special support, in co‑operation with teachers, parents and the pupil concerned. These plans indicate each partner’s responsibility in developing the pupil’s abilities and knowledge.
Special teachers’ education
The current special teacher education has six specialisations: language, writing and literacy development, maths development, deafness or hearing impairment, visual impairment, language impairment and severe learning disabilities.
A special pedagogue education is also available. The special pedagogue 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, 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 adequate conditions to fulfil their educational goals.
This is done through:
- Special 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 pupil 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 pupils with:
- visual impairment combined with additional disabilities (MDVI);
- deafness or hearing impairment combined with learning disabilities;
- severe speech and language disorders.
The regional schools offer education that corresponds to compulsory schooling for pupils with deafness or hearing loss.
The National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools offers special needs support. The learning environment must be accessible to everyone. Knowledge of accessibility is required to ensure all learners in need of support receive equal opportunities in education. Five regional support centres can help municipalities and schools in need of support. They include four national resource centres with specialised knowledge of pupils with:
- visual impairment with or without additional disabilities;
- deafness or hearing impairment combined with learning 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 pupil concerned.
Pupils 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 adapt the teaching materials used in their classes to meet their needs, while the regional counties adapt technical equipment.
Pupils’ right to knowledge and special support
All pupils should be given support and encouragement to develop as far as possible. Staff must report to the head if they anticipate that a pupil will not achieve the minimum proficiency requirements. The head is responsible for ensuring that the pupil’s special needs are promptly investigated.
The national curricula state 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 the national goals and leading values but is free to organise the means to reach those goals as it chooses. 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, pupils 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 complete view of each pupil. It is common practice to provide for pupils’ needs in close co-operation with their parents. The national curricula state the importance of parents’ participation in planning pupils’ education. (Refer to the Curriculum for the compulsory school, pre-school class and the recreation centre, 2018).
Since 1 July 2019, schools are obliged to follow-up the additional support a pupil 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 pupil the following year can then see the results of the follow-up. This applies to learners who will begin years 1 and 4 in compulsory schools, Sami schools and special schools.
According to the National Agency for Education, 85% of all children between 1 and 5 years old were enrolled in pre-primary schools in 2018. As the numbers are so high, no established factors preventing children from accessing mainstream education have been found. There are special ECE settings organised at the municipality level, but no national records of how many children attend these settings. (Source: IECE Country Survey Questionnaire, p. 3)
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 2018 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 2014 the ratio was 5.3 children per full-time employee and the average group size was 16.9 children. (Source: IECE Country Survey Questionnaire, p. 6).
Healthcare, social care, fostering 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 such a group.
Children in need of special support have written action plans of provision set up in co‑operation with the pupils, parents and the professionals involved. (Refer to 8 § of the Skollagen 2010:800).
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 local 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;
- local resource centres may receive support from an advisor from the National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools.
Only about 500 of the 950,000 pupils in compulsory schools attend state-run special schools (Source: Financing of Inclusive Education – Sweden country report, p. 14). This means that most pupils in need of special educational support are educated in general basic compulsory classes. If this is not possible, then the school must indicate very clearly why other educational options for pupils should be considered. This is an important philosophical standpoint for childcare organisation and operation. Earlier debates focused on prerequisites for mainstreaming, but the focus has shifted to the need to justify segregated options for pupils. 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.
This leaves a free choice concerning use of staff, grouping of pupils 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 pupils. This strengthens the pupils’ influence and personal responsibility, but also takes into account all pupils’ 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-oriented. Each pupil shall achieve the goals of a certain subject, but how they reach them and the time spent can vary.
A pupil 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:
- pupils in need of special support have written action plans of provision set up in co-operation with the pupils themselves, parents and the professionals involved;
- the pupil’s teachers receive consultation from a specialist teacher;
- a specialist teacher or assistant helps the teacher or works with the pupil concerned for longer or shorter periods within the framework of the activities of the larger group;
- the pupil receives teaching materials adapted for their needs;
- the pupil leaves the larger group for limited periods to work with a specialist teacher;
- a classroom assistant works with the pupil in need of special support or in the pupil’s class;
- the pupil in need of special support works in a group for pupils with similar needs for longer or shorter periods within the same organisation;
- a local 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.
Pupils with severe learning disabilities
The compulsory school for pupils with learning disabilities is called särskola. Since 1996, the municipalities control and operate these programmes from the counties. Special programmes for pupils with severe learning disabilities are now more closely linked to, or included in, general compulsory schools. (Refer to Särskola – compulsory school for pupils with learning disabilities).
Upper secondary education
Upper-secondary school pupils have the same right to special support as compulsory school pupils. For pupils in need of special support, technical aid is available from the regional counties and the state provides adapted teaching materials. Schools and teachers consult local resource centres, which in turn consult the Swedish National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools.
Upper-secondary school pupils can choose from 18 national programmes, according to their interests. Most pupils with disabilities attend these national programmes. Pupils who are deaf, have hearing disabilities or have physical disabilities may attend special upper‑secondary schools.
Five introductory programmes are available to pupils 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 pupils 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 pupils, while the pupil’s local municipality is responsible for offering the introductory programmes. In addition, a pupil in a compulsory school for pupils with learning disabilities has the right to work introduction or an individual alternative, if the pupil 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’s responsibility to issue a school-leaving certificate that shows the education the learner has received.
Municipalities must offer upper-secondary education to all pupils, including those with severe learning disabilities. This is mostly done through special programmes offering both theoretical studies and practical training.
Upper-secondary school for individuals with learning disabilities (USSILD) includes, among others, programmes for tourism, trade, industry and arts. There are nine national upper‑secondary school programmes. Each programme spans four years and consists of USSILD foundation subjects, programme-specific subjects, more in-depth programme-specific courses and assessed coursework. As with all upper-secondary pupils, individual solutions are possible.
State and regional support
The regional counties provide the technical aid that is needed.
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 pupils in need of special support receive equal quality of educational experiences as their peers. It acts as a complement to support services and provision by local authorities, but the aim is to develop the local resource centres in order to be able to provide more support at a local level.
The teaching material section of the National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools includes a number of teaching material production units which develop, produce and distribute specialist teaching aids 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 pupils make the goals concrete in their own environment and plan their own activities to reach them. Quality indicators must therefore stem from educational plans on several levels of the education system.
Apart from stating the goals of the operation, 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 pupils 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.
Last updated 25/03/2020