6.1 General context
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All young people in Sweden have right to upper secondary studies, after completing either compulsory school or compulsory school for learning disabilities. Therefore, the participation rate for upper secondary education is very high, although it is not compulsory.
The proportion of those never entered upper secondary school corresponded to about one percent of the entire young population. The proportion of those who never entered upper secondary school is highest among newly arrived migrant youths, according to a study from 2017 completed by Statistics Sweden (SCB).
The percentage of compulsory school pupils, who fail to qualify for a national programme at upper secondary level, has decreased since 2016. At that time, the share of pupils without eligibility for upper secondary education was 17%, or 17 800 students, at the end of spring term 2016. The share of boys who lacked eligibility for upper secondary education was significantly higher than that of girls. The share of boys was 21%, while the corresponding figure for girls was 12%. All above figures come from a government investigation of absenteeism in school. At the end of spring term 2020, the share without eligibility for upper secondary education had gone down to 14%. The share of boys (16%) was still higher than that of girls (13%). Pupils with a migratory background lack more often eligibility for upper secondary education than other groups.
Students who are not eligible for a national programme are directed to introductory upper secondary school programmes. The introductory programmes should give these students an individually adapted education. The high numbers of students without eligibility for upper secondary education bring more challenges to introductory programmes.
The majority of students participate in education and training for at least three years. But, although almost all young people start upper secondary education, not everyone succeeds in completing their studies. Of all students starting upper secondary level education, about 2% leave education already during the first year. The difference is great between national programmes and introductory programmes. For students starting at an introductory programme a larger share, 24%, stay only one or two years, and leave without gaining qualifications necessary for further educational levels. Overall, it is estimated that about 5% of all students do not attend secondary school for all three years, but leave education and training earlier.
The share of students who do not manage to get an upper secondary school diploma within three years has been decreasing during the past ten years. The share was about 20% in 2021, compared to 35% in 2012.
The extensive migration during the recent years has partly changed the conditions for upper secondary schools. Young persons in the age group 16–20 years, who have newly migrated to Sweden and are in the asylum seeking process, may begin upper secondary studies, primarily in the introductory programme for language introduction. The group of newly arrived students is heterogeneous, which means that students have different educational backgrounds and their ability to succeed in Swedish school therefore varies.
The group of newly arrived young people increased especially in 2015. At present, however, the number of young asylum seekers is declining. Therefore it is not possible to predict how the development will look like in the long term, according to Government's Official Report 2016:77.
Statistics Sweden (Statistiska centralbyrån) has studied young Swede’s mobility for learning purposes in Europe (SCB 2017). Among those between 18 and 34 years of age in 2014, about 17% had been abroad for at least three months within the framework of their post-secondary studies. The share having been abroad within the framework of their post-secondary education is close to the European benchmark of 20%. About 10% among people between 18 and 34 years of age, with completed initial vocational education and training, had been abroad for at least two weeks within the framework of their upper secondary education. The share in Sweden is higher than the benchmark of 6% set up by the European Union.
The Swedish education system (see Euridice for more detailed information) in is decentralised and the education is governed by:
- the Education Act (Skollagen) decided by the Riksdag (parliament)
- the national goals for education – set in the Curriculum for the upper secondary school
- the programme goals, specific for each programme
- by each subject's syllabus.
Within this framework set by the Riksdag and the government, the municipalities implement the steering documents in order to facilitate for the learners to reach the goals and learning outcomes set for a certain school stage. According to the Education Act, each municipality shall establish a local school plan (skolplan) describing the financing, organisation, development and assessment of the activities within each school. This local school plan should indicate how the municipality intends to fulfill the national goals for the school.
In the ninth year of compulsory school (grundskola), pupils choose which programme they wish to follow at the upper secondary school (gymnasieskola). The municipalities provide a broad range of education and match the number of places in different programmes to pupils' choices as far as possible. If the number of applicants is higher than the number of places available, selection is made on the basis of the pupil's final marks/grades from the courses finished during compulsory school.
Pupils wishing to study a national programme not offered by their home municipality are entitled to be accepted onto this programme in another municipality that does offer it. These candidates have the same priority as applicants from that municipality.
Vocational and general upper secondary education is provided within the same institutions run by municipalities, county councils or independent organisers in grant-aided independent schools (friskolor). Municipal upper secondary schools in Sweden are free of charge and pupils have free access to books, tools and other equipment. Independent schools at upper secondary level are generally grant-aided and are not allowed to charge fees. There is no end-of-school exam.
Organisation of formal education by age group
Compulsory school (grundskola) begins at the age of seven and ends at the age of 16. Under the Education Act, nine years of compulsory schooling is obligatory for all children aged 7 to 16, i.e. school attendance is compulsory. The Education Act also states that children and young people have a right to receive education in the national school system. Learners in compulsory school from the age of 13 are allocated to ISCED-level 2.
Upper secondary school (gymnasieskola) consists of 18 national programmes and five introductory programmes (introduktionsprogram) for learners who are not eligible for a national programme. Among the national programmes there are 12 vocational programmes (yrkesprogram) and six higher education preparatory programmes (högskoleförberedande program). Learners usually start upper secondary school at the age of 16 and complete their upper secondary studies at the age of 19. Learners in upper secondary school are allocated to ISCED-level 3.
Students having not completed upper secondary education are able to attend municipal adult education (kommunal vuxenutbildning, Komvux) or folk high schools (folkhögskola). Education within municipal adult education and in folk high schools are either allocated to ISCED-level 3 (for completing upper secondary studies) or to ISCED-level 4 (for post-secondary non-tertiary studies).
Students that have completed upper secondary school are, depending on their choice of upper secondary national programme and courses within the framework of individual options, also able to apply for universities (universitet), university colleges (högskola) and/or higher vocational education (yrkeshögskola). Education in universities is allocated to ISCED-levels 6 and 7, in university colleges to ISCED-level 5, and to ISCED-levels 4 and 5 in higher vocational education.
Upper secondary school for individuals with learning disabilities (USSILD, Gymnasiesärskola) is a free, voluntary type of school that young people with developmental disorders or acquired brain injuries can choose to attend once they have completed compulsory school for pupils with learning disabilities. USSILD consists of a national programmes, individual programmes and programmes that diverge from the national programme structure.
There are a total of 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.
More information on Sweden's education system is provided in Eurydice web portal.
Early leavers from education and training
There is a lack of a common definition of early leavers from education and training in Sweden. The Education Act regulates the responsibility of the municipalities for young people under the age of 20 years who have completed their compulsory schooling but do not carry out or have not completed education and training in a national programme of upper secondary or equivalent education. The Swedish National Agency for Education defines that completed education and training refers to students who qualify for upper secondary diploma (gymnasieexamen).
Early leavers from upper secondary school can therefore be defined as:
- Students who interrupt their studies in a national programme or equivalent, thereby leaving education.
- Students undergoing full training in a national programme or equivalent without obtaining upper secondary diploma (gymnasieexamen).
- Students who interrupt their studies in an introductory programme without completing their education according to their individual study plan or without switching to a national programme or equivalent.