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Schools in Denmark have slightly more favourable disciplinary climates in science lessons compared to other OECD countries, according to students’ reports in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015, with an index of disciplinary climate of 0.03 (the OECD average index value was 0.00). Student truancy was also lower than the OECD average: 17% of 15-year-olds reported skipping at least one day of school in the two weeks before the PISA 2015 test, compared to the OECD average of 19.7%. Students in Denmark were also among those most likely to report that their science teachers adapt their instructions more frequently than the OECD average, with an index of adaptive instruction of 0.28 (the OECD average index value was 0.01) (OECD, 2016[1]).

The PISA 2015 index of instructional educational leadership (measuring the frequency with which principals report doing leadership activities specifically related to instruction) was lower than the OECD average at -0.15 (the OECD average was 0.01) (OECD, 2016[1]). However, according to school principals’ self-reports in PISA 2015, schools in Denmark have higher levels of autonomy over curriculum compared to the OECD average: 85.7% of principals reported that the school had primary autonomy over curriculum, compared to the OECD average of 73.4% (OECD, 2016[1]).

Lower secondary teachers in Denmark earned 83% of the average salary of a full-time, full-year worker with tertiary education in 2016, which was lower than the OECD average ratio of 91% (OECD, 2018[2]). According to the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2018, 70.3% of teachers in Denmark said that if they could choose again, they would still become a teacher; close to the OECD average of 75.6% (OECD, 2019[3]).

According to school leaders’ reports in PISA 2015, school leaders in Denmark are less likely than average to conduct self-evaluations of their schools (84.2% of students were in schools whose principal reported this, compared to the OECD average of 93.2%) and are also less likely to undergo external evaluations of their schools (69.5% of students were in schools whose principal reported this, compared to the OECD average of 74.6%) (OECD, 2016[1]). However, teacher appraisal levels as reported in the earlier cycle of TALIS 2013, were close to average: 64.6% of all teachers had reported then having received a teacher appraisal in the previous 12 months, compared to the TALIS 2013 average of 66.1% (OECD, 2014[4]).

The share of students enrolled in secondary schools whose principal reported that standardised tests are used to make decisions on students’ promotion or retention was 14%, which was below the OECD average of 31%, as reported in PISA 2015 (OECD, 2016[1]).

In 2017, school autonomy levels over resource management (allocation and use of resources for teaching staff and principals) in Denmark were higher than the OECD average: 50% of decisions in Denmark were taken at the school level, compared to the OECD average of 29% (OECD, 2018[2]).

Evolution of key education policy priorities

Denmark’s key education policy priorities have evolved in the following ways over the last decade (Table 8.7).

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Table 8.7. Evolution of key education policy priorities, Denmark (2008-19)

Identified by

Selected OECD country-based work,


Evolution of responses collected by the Education Policy Outlook, 2013-192

School improvement

According to OECD evidence, a major challenge has been to ensure that vocational education and training (VET) teachers keep their vocational skills up-to-date. More recently, the OECD found that besides conditions in place to focus on goal-oriented teaching and learning, challenges remain in moving from a teaching to a learning focus, and in making better use of the available data. Also, many changes to the school system in Denmark have left teachers struggling to know what it means to be an excellent teacher. The OECD also found that several aspects of teacher professionalism are still at the early stages of development; there is scope to strengthen pedagogical leadership further. [2012; 2016]

Among its priorities for public schools, Denmark reported the following: ensuring that teachers and principals have quality support, feedback and professional development opportunities and that principals take on a more pedagogical role. More recently, priorities also involve strengthening continued development of competencies of teachers and pedagogues in public schools. Denmark also highlighted the priority to strengthen the practical and musical subjects of the oldest classes in primary and lower secondary school. [2013; 2016-17]

Evaluation and assessment

The OECD identified the need to complete the evaluation and assessment framework, including the evaluation of municipalities, school principal and teacher appraisals. In addition, OECD evidence underlined the importance to continue efforts to validate and further develop the national tests and engage teachers in working effectively with the national test results. The need for a stronger emphasis on formative teacher appraisals in schools was also identified. The OECD found the need to develop a strategy to complement existing national monitoring information with broader measures of outcomes. More recently, the OECD identified the need to maintain a focus on broad learning goals, strengthen public reporting about the performance of the system, analyse the effectiveness of resource use in municipalities and schools, as well as develop indicators and measures of system performance that inform a good understanding of how well the system is achieving its objectives. [2011; 2016]

Denmark reported an ongoing priority to complete a framework for evaluation and assessment and use the results in schools. A more recently reported goal for primary and lower secondary schools is to enhance the efficient use of resources and strengthen public reporting about the performance of the school system. [2013; 2016-17]


The OECD identified the potential for efficiency and innovation through private schools, but a risk of increasing segregation. [2016]

Denmark reported the persisting priority of setting clear education objectives to guide a decentralised municipality environment, building capacities of municipalities and schools to implement national strategies at the local level, and optimising resources in a decentralised context. A more recently reported policy priority is to strengthen the practical and musical subjects in the last years of elementary school with policy measures being taken. [2013; 2016-17]


According to OECD evidence, there is a need to pay attention to using resources efficiently. [2016]

A funding priority is to increase subsidies to Denmark’s free elementary schools and particularly target students with special needs and challenges. [2016-17]


1. See Annex A (OECD publications consulted).

2. See Reader’s Guide (years and methods of collection).


Selected education policy responses

School improvement

  • In Denmark, the Folkeskole reform aims to improve the quality of the compulsory public primary and lower secondary education (2014-20) by modifying aspects of compulsory education, such as the school day and the curriculum, providing additional support to schools (e.g. through extra support in teaching in the primary and lower secondary school, called assisted learning) and raising the stakes for school leaving examinations before post-compulsory education (Ministry of Education, 2014[171]). To promote improvement in learning environments and student performance, the focus is put on coaching and in-depth study, strengthening the connection between theory and practice, physical activities, homework assistance, student well-being and multi-faceted development (Government of Denmark, 2014[172]).

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Progress or impact: One study of the Danish National Centre for Social Research identified increasing student well-being and increasing student interest in the courses taught (SFI, 2016[173]). According to the OECD, whether the recent changes will lead to greater efficiency and effectiveness will depend on the ability of all actors in the system to use resources efficiently and to adapt to the changes that the recent reform implies (Nusche et al., 2016[63]). Evidence collected by the OECD shows that the reform introduced a longer school day for students without a symmetric increase in the number of teachers (Nusche et al., 2016[63]). At the same time, the introduction of a new framework for the utilisation of teachers’ working time (Act No. 409) has created greater flexibility for schools to use the time and competencies of their teachers to best effect (Nusche et al., 2016[63]).

  • One of the main objectives of the Folkeskole reform (2014-20) is that primary and lower secondary schools reduce the influence of social background on students’ academic achievements.

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Progress or impact: The 2016 evaluation of the overall reform found that the socio-economic impact, specifically for disadvantaged groups, has reduced since the implementation of the 2014 Folkeskole reform. Specifically regarding students with an immigrant background, academic performance remains below the overall student population. Yet, the gap has decreased in recent years.

In 2016, to ensure a better framework for the integration of refugees, the government strengthened the basis of knowledge regarding reception classes and allocated funds for the development of screening material to help local authorities and schools in their assessment of newly-arrived students’ competencies. In addition, guidance and inspirational material are to be developed with a view to the work with newly-arrived students in primary and lower secondary school (Government of Denmark, 2017[174]).

  • Measurement and improvement of student well-being (Udvikling af trivselsværktøj og malinger, 2014) is an initiative following the Folkeskole reform (2014-20). The measurement tool to collect national data about student well-being was developed based on the recommendations of an expert group on “Student Well-Being in Primary Schools” set up by the Ministry of Education (UVM) in 2014 (Ministry of Education, 2018[175]). The group’s recommendations have provided the basis for annual well-being measurements in both primary and lower secondary schools. Social well-being, professional well-being, support and inspiration, role and order, and general school drive, are four key aspects considered necessary for the students’ desires to learn and their ability to do so. At the same time, they are prerequisites for teachers’ abilities to teach (National information reported to the OECD). All primary schools and special schools must carry out a well-being survey on these aspects among the children and students in pre-school through the 9th grade each year. Both the average well-being and well-being specific to each of these aspects are measured on a scale from one to five, with one being the lowest possible well-being, and five the highest possible well-being. The first measurement was carried out in 2015, and the measurement conducted in 2018 is the fourth (Ministry of Education, 2018[176]).

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Progress or impact: The Danish National Centre for Social Research has monitored the well-being of school children before and after the Folkeskole reform took effect, with surveys conducted for students in Grades 4, 6, 8 and 9 in 2014, 2016 and 2018. The results show, for example, that in 2018, younger students tend to have more positive reports on well-being than older students.

The results of the surveys have been mostly stable in the different years conducted, with only small fluctuations. In 2016 and 2018, 65% of students showed high interest in the courses taught, a small improvement over 2014, compared to 63% in 2014 (Government of Denmark, 2018[177]). In 2018, 68% of students in primary education considered the school day too long, compared to 83% of students in secondary education. This was a slight improvement from 2016, when the share of students reporting this was 78% and 87%, respectively. Still, it remains higher than the shares reported in 2014 of 42% and 52%. At the same time, survey results show that reported levels of well-being remain high on average, even among students more critical of the length of the school day, according to the parameters of the survey. (Government of Denmark, 2018[177]).

Evaluation and assessment

  • A Data Warehouse (Datavarehuset, 2014) aims to strengthen evaluation, follow up on initiatives in the entire education sector and facilitate access to steering and performance data for schools and municipalities. It also includes an overview of management information in primary schools, which is available for municipalities and schools. As of 2015, it also includes data from high schools and vocational education and training.

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Progress or impact: The Data Warehouse has gradually become the primary statistical tool to use within the Ministry of Education (UVM). The databanks (databanken) are being slowly phased out and replaced by the Data Warehouse (National information reported to the OECD and (Ministry of Education, 2018[178]).

Additional education policies of potential interest to other countries

School improvement

  • Denmark has made changes to the Individual Mandatory Student Plans (Elevplaner i folkeskolen, 2006) for children in pre-school up to Grade 8 (Ministry of Education, 2018[179]). These changes are meant to respond to the requirements in the Folkeskole Act (2014) of making student plans accessible to students and parents through a digital format. A platform of the student plan helps collect information on progress, goals and student assessments, among others. First, this platform should contain the specific goals for the individual student’s learning, with the starting point being common objectives. Second, a status section should show student progress in relation to the goals. Third, a monitoring section should describe how and when to follow up on the goals. Both the student and the teacher must monitor progress on the goals, and the parents can be involved in this process. The plans are mandatory in all subjects in all years (Ministry of Education, 2018[179]).

  • In order to implement the new reform (Gymnasiereformen, 2017), which introduces a minimum grade requirement for entry to general upper secondary education, training courses for teachers and principals have been introduced (Ministry of Education, 2017[180]). The total budget allocated is DKK 400 million between 2017 and 2024. According to national information reported to the OECD, PISA 2012 results fed into the design and implementation of the reform. In the upcoming years, courses on Professional Development in Practice (FIP) and School Development in Practice (SIP) aim to support all schools with the necessary knowledge and capacity to implement the reform. The FIP courses are one-day courses in individual upper secondary subjects for teachers and managers, led by professional consultants. The SIP courses take place every six months and target managers and teachers in all upper secondary education. The focus is on selected topics in upper secondary school. In addition, each school is part of one of the total 58 implementation networks. The networks are places to exchange experiences, and each network has a Ministry’s Learning Consultant for support and information on the reform implementation. The government will draw up an annual status report to monitor whether the reform meets the political intentions (Ministry of Education, 2018[181]). A follow-up and evaluation programme will take place by 2021.


Selected education policy responses


  • The government launched the reform of primary and secondary schools (Folkeskole) in 2014 to strengthen the focus on education goals on improving learning environments, student performance and the quality of its schools. Initiatives implemented under the reform correspond to three national objectives (tre klarer nationale mål): 1) Folkeskolen must challenge all students to obtain as many skills as possible; 2) primary schools must reduce the impact of social background on academic results; and 3) promote trust and well-being within primary and lower secondary schools, namely through improved respect for pedagogical staff and practice. According to a recent report from the OECD, the 2015 government proposed the following additional objectives: improving school inclusion; promoting collaboration between schools and youth clubs; and providing better learning opportunities for children with special educational needs (Nusche et al., 2016[63]).

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Progress or impact: The first report on the implementation of the Folkeskole reform (2016) indicates that the majority of municipalities have delegated responsibility for implementation to their schools and that the implementation process benefits from a high degree of mutual trust (European Union, 2017[182]). According to a 2016 survey by the Association of Danish Municipalities, all municipalities see progress through a more varied and motivating school day (KL, 2016[183]).


  • As part of the reform of primary and secondary schools (Folkeskole), the government allocated EUR 134 million (DKK 1 billion) between 2014-20 to strengthen continued development of competencies among teachers and pedagogical staff in schools. The government also aims to equip school principals and administrators to navigate through objectives and evaluations and use continued professional training of teachers and pedagogues strategically to achieve the objectives of their schools. As part of this effort, a state-financed pool of EUR 8 million (DKK 60 million) was set aside for continued professional training of school principals during 2013-15.

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Progress or impact: The funds were used to reform initial teaching training and teaching development programmes in Denmark, specifically to strengthen teachers’ competencies and practices to better support students’ different needs, and especially special educational needs (Nusche et al., 2016[63]). These initiatives aimed to benefit teachers who do not feel competent enough to support the special needs of different students. According to the TALIS report for 2013, 28% of lower secondary teachers in Denmark acknowledged a high need for professional development to support students with special needs (OECD, 2014[4]).

A review study on teacher competencies and funding allocations conducted in four municipalities found that coverage of competence training was an important objective among municipalities and schools. However, some implementation challenges were identified, particularly in terms of the costs of achieving full coverage by 2020. For example, across municipalities, there was a significant difference between whether the municipalities compensate the schools financially in connection with continuing education, which poses challenges to the coherence of the implementation process.

In terms of student outcomes, no effect of “teacher competence development” was identified on the 9th grade, but a modest effect was found in Danish and mathematics on the 6th grade (Ministry of Education, 2018[184]).

Additional education policies of potential interest to other countries


  • In 2015, the Danish government discontinued its platform “A Denmark that stands together” (2011), which had established early childhood education and care (ECEC) and reforming primary and lower secondary schools in collaboration with teachers and parents as key education priorities for Denmark (OECD, 2013[185]). According to recent OECD research on Denmark, there is a new government programme, Together for the Future (2015), which proposed a new set of objectives, measurable goals and targets concerning all levels of education. The report indicates that the programme aims to ensure smoother transitions for children advancing from day care to ECEC or pre-schools. At the same time, the responsibility of day care would be transferred to the Ministry for Children and Social Affairs (changed from Ministry for Children, Education and Gender Equality in 2016). The new programme continued the 2014 reform of primary and lower secondary school (Folkeskole), and the government planned to launch new measures to further ensure the effective implementation of the reform. For students in upper secondary education, the government aims to facilitate their choices between general and vocational programmes and to reduce school dropout by establishing greater coherence across upper secondary programmes (Nusche et al., 2016[63]).

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