The Swedish School System

The Swedish School System

The school system in Sweden consists of: 
1. Preschool class (“förskola”) for children up to 6 years of age. Preschool is offered to all children in Sweden. 
2. Compulsory Comprehensive School (“grundskola”) for children 7–16 years of age, grades 1–9. After completing the ninth grade, 90% continue with a three-year upper secondary school (gymnasium) leading sometimes to a vocational diploma and (depending on which program you’ve chosen) to qualifications for further studies at an university. Both upper secondary school and university studies are financed by taxes. Some Swedes go straight to work after secondary school. 

Three grades are currently used in elementary school: Pass (godkänd (G)), Pass with distinction (Väl godkänd (VG)) and Pass with special distinction (Mycket väl godkänd (MVG)). The grades are usually referred to by their abbreviation. Note that failed does not exist as a formal grade, but should the student fail to pass a course this is reported as ***, referring to a footnote explaining that the pupil “lacks foundation for a grade”, however, many people do consider failed (Icke godkänd (IG)) to be an actual grade and often refer to *** as such. Pupils do not start receiving official grades until the 8th grade, although it’s not uncommon that tests are marked with grades prior to that. Compared to course grades, failed tests are often actually marked with IG. This is however dependent on the preferences of the teacher and doesn’t make any sort of difference.

The pupil’s total score, which is used for application to gymnasium, the secondary schools, is calculated by taking the pupil’s 16 best subjects and numerically adding them together, with G = 10, VG = 15 and MVG = 20, yielding a maximum of 320. It’s normal for a pupil to have 17 or more grades, as most study a third language – traditionally German or French, but in recent years Spanish has grown more prevalent.

The 16 subjects used to calculate the total must include the three core subjects – English, Swedish and Mathematics. If the pupil fails any of the core subjects she or he lack qualification to attend secondary school. However, the student can still attend the secondary school individual programme (individuellt program (IV)), either to gain competence in the core subjects and start a secondary school programme or to complete the individual programme and satisfy the requirements for a student degree.

In August 2009, a new grading system will be introduced in Sweden. Instead of grading with the grades MVG, VG, G and IG starting in grade 8, there will be a 7-step grading system. Ranging from A (Excellent) to F (Fail) and G (Fail), students will be graded from grade 6.

3. Upper Secondary School (“gymnasium”), grades 10–12, Secondary school, called gymnasieskola lasts for three years (however some students study for four or more years for various reasons) and is formally elective, although most attend it and there are very few prospects for those who do not attend. The programmes are divided into two general categories, preparatory and vocational programmes. The two general categories are then divided into so called “programs”, e.g. different types of choices of educational focus. The two most common “programs” are “social science” (samhällskunskap) and “science” (naturvetenskap). The “programs” are further divided into orientations. There are currently 17 different national programmes – centrally defined programme curricula – with between two and four centrally defined orientations. In addition there are local programmes and orientations, but most schools use the national programmes.

The courses that a student takes depending on programme and orientation can be divided into four levels: Core subjects, programme-specific subjects, orientation subjects and individually selected courses. Core courses are courses that everyone, regardless of programme, have to study to satisfy the requirements for a student degree.  Programme-specific courses are the additional courses that a student is required to take to fulfill the programme requirements. If a student for some reason does not fulfill the requirements, for example by electing to replace a programme-specific course with another course, the student is considered to have attended a specially designed programme – this has no bearing except for what’s printed on the school leaving certificate. Orientation subjects are the courses that a student elects to take by selecting an orientation. Normally these courses take place in the 2nd and 3rd year, although in a few cases the courses start earlier. Finally, individually selected courses are courses which the student freely selects for herself/himself in the 2nd and 3rd year. For this specific slots have been set aside in the curriculum and the schedule.

Swedish education is known for being a world leader in free-market education revolution. Sweden introduced education vouchers in 1992, one of the first in the world after Netherlands.  Anyone can establish a for-profit school and the municipality must pay new schools the same amount as municipal schools get. For instance, the biggest school chain, Kunskapskolan (“Knowledge Schools”), offers 30 schools and a web-based environment, has 700 employees, and teaches nearly 10,000 pupils. Private schools are a fast growing market and over 10% of Swedish pupils were enrolled in private schools in 2008.  The system is popular especially among right-wing voters in large cities, and have even expanded overseas.  Criticism have been expressed against that this reform has led to large amount of fundamentalistic religious schools, and that the system results in increased segregation. Some municipal assemblies, have sold public schools to private persons, for example the head of the school, for a much lower price than what a school chain would have paid on the open market. Several public schools have been closed due to too few pupils, partly as an effect of the increasing number of independent schools.

Wednesday’s paper, Arvika Nyheter carried a new column written by Marja Westman, a 31 year old university student from Arvika.    Klässbols Friskola is the school that Yarrow attends.  I expected a rebuttal from the school in the paper Friday but there was not. (The paper publishes Monday, Wednesday and Friday)  

A school for all?!

The Free school budget will be the largest in Sweden.  In Arvika, we are part of the trend in the form of Klässbols Friskola.  Opinions on the Fri skola are divided , some think that it is fantastic that they play theater during lesson time, while others worry that the students base knowledge will suffer.  (Betsey´s editorial note:  “Play theater?  Okay, she showed her hand on that one.  Its unfortunate because a few of the points she makes are valid)  

Personally I am skeptical about the Fri Skolan for various reasons.

The ground principle of a Friskola is to be open for all.  This is the most common critique point against them.  They often say no to children with special needs.  The school has the ability, at their own discretion, to refuse admission to the so called problem student and only accept motivated students from well educated families.  This way man can keep a good feeling and at the same time avoid high cost.

Such a system allows class segregation, limits contact between children with different conditions, pre requisites and backgrounds.  The Free school  also avoids quality criteria such as easy access to a school library and qualified teachers.   At the 7-9th grade level, only 62% of the teachers are qualified.  At the Kommunal school (public) the corresponding number is 85%.

The most valued personal work quality needed for today’s work place is social competence and the ability to work with others.  What helps man develop these qualities better?  The homogenous free school or the open to all communal schools?

And what happens to the communal school when the free school “turns over (takes?)” money from them?  

I will stop there.  I am off to sub at the school, in English class.  I wonder if I would be considered qualified?


One Response to “The Swedish School System”

  1. Dr. Fred Stopsky Says:

    I teach at the University of Missouri at St. Louis(UMSL) and we are just introducing a new website which will be devoted to connecting people interested in education change. I would like to extend an invitation for either you or someone engaged in the Free School movement(or who is against it) to write a piece for us. Few American educators are familiar with issues surrounding the Free School movement in Sweden.

    Fred Stopsky

    P.S. I have my own website called:
    which deals with human rights issues.

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