Policy Description

Educational Policies: Norway (2016)


The first act on public schools was passed into law in 1739 (Lov, angaaende Almue-Skolevæsenet paa Landet) [1]. The primary objective was to teach children about the Protestant faith, as a precursor to confirmation, which was put into law three years earlier. In 1827, the curriculum was expanded, extending teachings outside the realm of the church (Lov, angaaende Almue-Skolevæsenet paa Landet).

In 1889, seven years of compulsory education were introduced (Lov om folkeskolen på landet) [2] and in 1969, this was increased to nine years. In 1997, the duration of compulsory education was extended to ten years, and the start of compulsory education was set to the age of six (Reform 97) [3].

The aim of education in Norway “is to furnish children, young people and adults with the tools they need to face the tasks of life and surmount its challenges together with others.” Further, it states that education shall qualify people for productive participation in today’s labour force, and supply the basis for later shifts to occupations as yet not envisaged. This shall be obtained by giving the pupils the skills necessary for specialised tasks and a general level of skills broad enough for re-specialisation later in life. Education shall impart lasting attitudes and learning (Core Curriculum, p. 5).

The latest reform to ensure this goal is the Kunnskapsløftet translated as ‘The Knowledge Promotion’, implemented in 2006. The reform focused on integrating five basic skills in all curricular subjects. These skills are: being able to read, being able to express orally, being able to express oneself in writing, being able to develop numeracy, and being able to use digital tools (Thune, Reisegg, and Askheim, 2015). These five basic skills apply to all pupils.

Status of Norwegian Education

In Norway, the level of literacy skills of adults (16-64 year olds) is significantly above the average for countries participating in PIAAC. Young adults (16-24 year olds) have below-average literacy skills levels, and unlike the situation in most other countries, they have lower literacy skill levels than the adult population as a whole. Overall, an average proportion of workers are well matched to their literacy skills level. More youths combine school with work than the OECD average.

An above average proportion of 25-34 year olds attained at least an upper-secondary education in 2011 (84 %, compared to 82 % in OECD countries). Nevertheless, completion rates are lower than average, based on data from 21 OECD countries. Two years after the formal end of studies, this rate reaches 72 % (compared to the OECD average of 85 %). Students from an immigrant background are less likely to complete upper-secondary education.

Vocational education and training (VET) have a strong tradition in Norway. A comprehensive upper-secondary system combines academic education and vocational training, offering students three general academic programmes and nine vocational programmes [4]. After two years of vocational studies or after completing the four-year vocational studies programme, students can enter university if they complete a supplementary year. The majority of students enter vocational upper secondary education (53 % in 2011, compared to the OECD average of 44 %), but completion rates are below the OECD average.

Attainment of tertiary education in Norway is higher than the OECD average (47 % of 25-34 year olds attained this level in 2011, compared to the OECD average of 39 %). Students in tertiary education do not have to pay tuition fees, and graduates of tertiary education benefit from a relatively small wage premium compared to upper secondary graduates (28 % premium, compared to an average of 57 % in OECD countries), due to the wage negotiations system and the low income differential in Norway. As in other OECD countries, the expansion of tertiary education implies providing a sufficiently wide offer of studies to address the interests of the student population and the needs of the labour market.

Organisation of the educational system

The Norwegian Parliament (the Storting) and the government define the goals and determine the budgetary frameworks for education. The Ministry of Education and Research is Norway’s highest public administrative agency for educational matters and is responsible for implementing national educational policy. A common standard is ensured through legislation and a national curriculum. Primary and lower-secondary education in Norway is founded on the principle of a unified school system that provides equal and adapted education for all by a single national curriculum. The collective objectives and principles for teaching in primary and lower-secondary schools are laid down in the national curriculum. The municipalities are responsible for running primary and lower-secondary schools while county authorities have responsibility for upper-secondary schools and higher education. Within the framework of statutes and national curricula, municipalities, schools, and teachers can decide what learning materials to use and what teaching methods to adopt. Each school has a head teacher as well as various boards and committees (government.no 2015).

Norway is sparsely populated and many of the primary and lower-secondary schools are small. It is not unusual for children in different grades to be in the same group and share a classroom. 29 % of the primary and lower-secondary schools belong to this category, but they teach only 12 % of pupils. Many primary and lower-secondary schools are combined and include grades from primary, middle, and lower-secondary stages. The number of small and combined schools is decreasing, however.

Compulsory education

From 1 July 1997, the Storting lowered the school entrance age from seven to six years. At the same time, compulsory education was extended from nine to ten years.

The ten-year compulsory education is structured in three stages: primary school including preschool to grade four; middle stage from grade five to seven; and lower-secondary school covering grades eight to ten. From 1 July 1998, all municipalities have to offer voluntary programmes in music and the arts for children and adolescents.

After completing lower secondary, all students have the right by law to attend high school. High school is not compulsory, it is available across Norway, and is financed by the municipalities. Each student can decide what study programmes he or she wishes to attend. Approximately 50 % choose general studies (Granseth and Aanerud, 2015). The completion of general studies takes three years and leads to the general university admissions certification.



Anders Gravir Imenes
External Consultant

Data collected in the framework of the Population Europe Research Finder and Archive (PERFAR) in 2016.

Please cite as:
SPLASH-db.eu (2016): Policy: "Educational Policies: Norway" (Information provided by Anders Gravir Imenes). Available at: https://splash-db.eu [Date of access].