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EDUCATION

EXPLAINED: How does the school system work in Denmark?

Education is compulsory in Denmark for everyone between the ages of six or seven and 16. But where you are educated is the choice of the parent, with options of private, state-run or 'free' schools.

A teacher ad her pupils in 0 klasse at a Danish primary school..
A teacher and her pupils on their first day in 0 klasse. Photo: Bo Amstrup/Ritzau Scanpix

The Danish education system is distinguished by a relaxed relationship between pupil and teacher. Teachers are called by their first names and children often work in groups and are encouraged to challenge the established way of doing things.  Exams or assessments are often oral, with some written tests.

Most children in Denmark attend state-run schools, which are free. These are called folkeskole and gymnasium. 

Folkeskole

Folkeskole consists of one year of pre-school grade or class (0. klasse), nine years of primary and lower secondary education (1.-9. klasse) and a one-year voluntary 10th grade. Exams are taken in 9. klasse and it’s then optional as to what path the teenager (usually aged aged 16) chooses. At the end of 9. klasse, students must sit exams in seven subjects. Some of these are oral exams only.

Gymnasium

Gymnasium or upper secondary school is the equivalent of the English sixth form. 

Students can study a range of subjects in gymnasium at different levels, called a line of study (studieretning). The course contains some compulsory subjects such as Danish, English, mathematics, basic science, and history. Students can then choose a number of other subjects such as music, art, philosophy, and social studies. 

Gymnasium is for three years and results in exams called studentereksamen, which are necessary for attending university. There are however some two-year courses at gymnasium, called HF.

Vocational training (erhvervsuddannelser)

Rather than attending gymnasium after 9th grade, pupils can choose from over 100 different vocational courses that result in an apprenticeship. Some of the courses can lead to higher education, depending on the vocational training.

10th grade
 
For those pupils who are not sure whether to choose gymnasium or vocational training, there is the option to go onto 10th grade, where they can continue studying some subjects before making the decision. 10th grade or 10 klasse can be completed at folkeskole or an efterskole.
 
Ungdomsskole
 
For those children from the age of 13, who are not suited to a folkeskole setting, ungdomskole offers a more practical way of teaching. The aim is for all pupils to complete the school leaving exam after the ninth grade but it is also possible for pupils to do an internship at a company alongside teaching.

Free schools

The idea of free schools in Denmark was headed by the theologian, poet and linguist N.F.S Grundtvig (1783-1872) and teacher Christen Kold (1816-70). Grundtvig and Kold were critical of the state education system and believed learning should be something that is life-long and related to an individual’s role in the world, rather than for the purpose of exams or employment.

Today, about 13 percent of school-age children attend free schools in Denmark.

There are three types of free school: friskole, efterskole and højskole. Many of them are in rural areas, especially on Fyn, where they were first established. There are over 500 friskoler, about 250 efterskoler and 80 højskoler.  

Friskole

These self-owned independent schools offer an alternative to the state elementary schools, folkeskole. The schools operate on their own set of values and holistic teaching practices, often set between teachers and parents. The schools are subsidised by the government but parents also pay a fee, around 900 kroner a month.

Efterskole

These are independent boarding schools where teenagers (usually aged 16 after 9th grade but can be from aged 14 after 7th grade), can spend one year or more, before gong on to gymnasium, vocational training or work. The schools often specialise in a particular subject such as sport, music or language. This is where students can complete 10th grade. 

Students from abroad can also attend an efterskole for a year and Danish families living abroad often send their children here to master the language and experience Danish culture.

The price is around 3,700 kroner a month for Danish residents but can vary, depending on the school.

Højskole

The final branch of free school is called højskole and is a boarding school for young people and adults to take a specialised course, which can range from two weeks to 40 weeks. Most long-term courses run for four to five months.

The schools offer almost any subject such as history, arts, music, sports, philosophy, theatre, photography and the schools decide individually on the content of the courses. There are no tests or exams at the end of the term and you don’t need any qualifications to join a course.

Every year over 50,000 people will take a course at a højskole, many of them on one or two-week courses, which cost around 2,000 kroner. Children are allowed to join family members on some courses.

Private schools

Around 15 percent of students in Denmark attend private schools. Some parents choose private schools because they are smaller, or because they have a particular educational approach. Others choose private schools for religious reasons or because they want an international school.  

Fees are subsidised by the government are usually cost between 1,000 and 4,000 kroner per month.

When do children start school in Denmark?

Most children start school the year they turn six. In Denmark, the oldest child in the year is born in January, with the youngest in December. The transition to school begins in May, with the new academic year beginning in August. Therefore there will be some children starting school in August who are five years old but about to turn six in the coming months, just as some will be turning seven in their first year of school.

How many are in a class?

The government has recently announced that classes in grades 0 to 2 (aged 6-8 years) at Denmark’s elementary schools (folkeskole) will be limited to a maximum of 26 children from 2023. The current limit is 28 students.

Although according to the Ministry of Children and Education, the majority of all classes in the country’s folkeskoler have an average of 20 or fewer students.

How long is the school day?

The school day usually starts at 8am and finishes between 1pm and 3pm. All children must exercise an average of 45 minutes a day as part of the school day, on top of sports lessons.

After school club

Skolefritidsordning, or SFO is for children in grades 0 to 3 (six to ten year-olds) where there are staff-led activities including sport, crafts, music, computer games, board games or simply playing with friends.

It is voluntary and paid for by the parent. In Copenhagen the cost is 1,665 kroner per month.

The club usually opens at 6:30am for before-school care and closes at 5pm.

There is a leisure club called fritidsklub for the 10-11 year olds and juniorklub for 12 to 14 year olds, which costs around 448 kroner a month.

Children aged 14 to 18 can attend a youth club (ungdomsklub) which is free.

Which school do I pick?

If you do not want your child to go to the local folkeskole in your district, you are free to enrol your child in one outside your school district or in a completely different municipality, as long as there is space. You have to digitally enrol your child at your chosen folkeskole.

 

If you want to sign up to a private or free school, you should contact the school individually. 

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For members

MONEY

How to save money as a student in Denmark

Life on a student budget doesn't have to be tough in Denmark -- follow these tips to get the most out of the experience at a low price.

How to save money as a student in Denmark

Food

One of the biggest challenges as a student is working out how much money you need to dedicate to the food shop every month, and it can be easy to misjudge, run out of funds and end up living off Denmark’s popular money-saving dish — ketchup on pasta — for weeks.

Denmark has higher food prices than many other countries, which have only got more expensive in recent months, so finding the right balance can be a challenge, but there are a few tricks you can use to make it easier.

Once you have your student card, after you’ve enrolled at your university, you can use it at many restaurants and cafes to get discounts, (studierabat) including the big chains like Burger King and Bar’Sushi

 
It’s worth keeping in mind that you might be asked need to show an indskrivningsbekræftelse — confirmation of current enrolment — along with your student card. These can normally be downloaded digitally from your college or university’s self-service platform and saved onto your smart phone or printed.
If you want a unique dining experience in Copenhagen, it’s worth trying out Fællesspisning at Absalon, a former church turned community events venue in the Vesterbro district.
 
Absalon offers a communal dining initiative, where everyone pays the same to eat the same vegetarian meal together. An evening meal costs 50 kroner from Sunday to Thursday. On Friday and Saturday you get two dishes for 100 kroner. Tickets are sold online and there are often events on after the meal, which starts at 6pm. Lunch and breakfast is also available at the location but not as communal dining. 
 
 
On a student budget you won’t be eating out every day of course, but there are ways to save money on groceries. Through the app Too Good To Go, you can buy unsold food from bakeries, cafes and restaurants at their closing times, which saves on food waste, as well as your money. All you have to do is download the app, look for surplus food in your local area, arrange a pick up time, pay through the app (as little as 24 kroner) and collect. 

Menucard offers discounts at cafes, bars, restaurants if you work for a company that is a member of the scheme.

The International Student Identity Card (ISIC) gives you a 35 percent discount on your first HelloFresh meal kit delivery and 10 percent on 25 orders after that.

Coffee

Late nights are a guarantee at university, and in that scenario, coffee can be a necessity. In Denmark it doesn’t always come cheap, where you can easily pay 35 kroner or more for a cappuccino or latte.

One of Denmark’s biggest bakery chains, Lagkagehuset, offers students a 30 percent discount on all warm drinks. If you enjoy bread and pastry, it’s also worth downloading their app where you can earn points every time you spend, to then use in the bakery.

For an even cheaper cup of takeaway coffee, try 7-Eleven where anyone with a student card gets 25 percent off any size of coffee. A student card will also get you a bottle of Coca-Cola, Pepsi or Faxe Kondi for 8 kroner. 

The coffee chain Espresso House has an app you can download to pay for your coffee, which means you get 10 percent off, as well as other extra discounts and every 10th coffee for free.

If you’ve got a favourite local coffee shop, it’s well worth checking if they have any offers for students as well. For example, the Blue Bike Cafe in Copenhagen, offers a 10 percent student discount on all food and drink and Lima Aarhus has a 15 percent student discount on the entire bill, as well as 25 percent student discount on coffee every Thursday.

Travel

Denmark has a travel youth card calledungdomskort, which allows people aged 16 to 19 or in SU-eligible higher education to travel for free on bus, metro or train to and from their place of study. You can get the ungdomskort as a card or an app.

READ ALSO: SU: Can foreigners receive Denmark’s state student grant?

Other student discounts are available through the scheme, such as 20 percent off when you travel by train between regions, or travelling at a child fare rate outside your own zone area on Zealand, Lolland, Falster and Møn. DSB also offers discount prices on its orange tickets to those under the age of 26 with an ungdomskort.

With some of Denmark’s coastlines being difficult to reach by public transport, you may want to rent a car.

Car rental company Hertz offers a 15-20 percent student discount on their smaller cars as long as you are at least 19 years old and have held a driving license for 1 year.

Going further afield? Interrail Global Pass allows you to travel in up to 33 European countries for a fixed, low price for up to three months and Hotels.com gives students a 10 percent discount.

SAS offer discounts on flights on their Youth tickets, if you’re under the age of 26.  The booking agent Kilroy also offers discounts to students with the International Student Identity Card (ISIC). A student card also gets you a 10-15 percent discount on Flixbus which is a money-saving way to travel across Denmark and Europe by bus.

Sport

Watching a Danish football match is surprisingly affordable.

If you’re studying in the country’s second-biggest city and university town Aarhus, students and young people under 18 can buy an AGF season ticket for just 49 kroner a month.

In Aalborg, a ticket to watch AaB costs just 80 kroner for students. These discounted tickets can only be bought at the ticket booths at Aalborg Portland Park, which opens 1-2 hours before the start of the match.

Students are able to watch one of Denmark’s best football teams, FC Midtjylland, as well as the handball team HC Midtjylland and ice hockey team Herning Blue Fox, for just 15 kroner a ticket, thanks to a collaboration with Education Herning.

If you’d rather get involved in actually playing a sport, many amateur clubs and teams, as well as gyms and classes, have reduced rates for students, making it an affordable activity to try. University sports societies offer a range of sports usually at cheaper prices than classes open to the general public.

Culture

Theatres, museums, cinemas, concert halls can all give discounts if you show your student card. 

At Aarhus Theatre, students and people under 25 can purchase tickets to any performance on the grand stage at just 85 kroner.

An annual pass to the National Gallery of Denmark costs 195 kroner for those under the age of 27 or 95 kroner for a single ticket.

Musikhuset Aarhus has a ‘Klub Hund’ for 18-28 year olds, where tickets priced at 100 kroner are available the day before certain performances and sent to your mobile phone.

Young opera at the Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen (Det Kongelige Teater) is an offer for everyone between 15 and 30 years old to see four selected performances at the opera for 155 kroner per ticket. There are alternative introductions and cheap food and drinks too.

You may also want to keep up with Danish news while you’re spending time in the country. The Local offers a 50 percent student discount on Membership, giving you unlimited access to all our content for just €24.99 a year, reduced from €49.99. Find out more here.

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