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Education in DENMARK

Education in DENMARK

Need to find out all about education in Denmark? Matthew Gayne has taught in two of Copenhagen’s international schools, as well as having children of his own at school in Denmark, and here he gives Winter’s readers his briefing…


The basics of education in Denmark

Denmark is the southernmost of the three Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Sweden, and Norway), a land consisting of over 400 islands and one peninsula reaching up from the European continent along its border with Germany. Denmark is a prosperous country, with a large and thriving expatriate population, mainly based in the capital city, Copenhagen.

Danish public education is available to all children at no cost. For qualified students, university education can be obtained without tuition fees, and with grants or loans for living expenses. Children typically begin public school in the year that they are turning six. During the primary years, students are assessed solely by means of teacher reports on their progress. Schools are required to begin grading, using the Danish 7-point grading system, no later than the mid-point of secondary school, although many schools opt to begin formal grading earlier on.

During the final two years of secondary education, students are tested in a variety of subjects to assess their skills and future educational potential. A joint decision is then made between teachers, parents, and the student on the student’s next steps.

Various vocational options in areas such as carpentry, electrical engineering, or hairdressing are available at this level. If university is a student’s goal, then they will complete three years of ‘gymnasium,’ the equivalent of senior high school/upper secondary in most other countries. After that, depending on a student’s grades, they can apply to universities in Denmark.

A school trip to Copenhagen. Photograph: iStock

A school trip to Copenhagen. Photograph: iStock

If families are making a permanent move to Denmark, public school is certainly a very good option. In public school a child will learn Danish as a native, with all the social benefits that brings. Moreover, the educational pathways for native speakers in the Danish school system are more varied. For families living in Denmark on a temporary basis, or with children who are likely to apply to universities abroad, international schools may be a better option. Universities outside Denmark will have a high regard for an IB diploma earned at an international school.

"Universities outside Denmark will have a high regard for an IB diploma earned at an international school..."

"Rygaards is the oldest international school in Denmark..."

There are numerous private international schools in Denmark, but the two largest and best-known are Rygaards School and Copenhagen International School.

Rygaards School is the oldest international school in Denmark, and is known for its high academic standards. Originally a French Catholic school, Rygaards in its present incarnation is a split institution, one half of which is a Danish-speaking private school, the other half an international school teaching the English National Curriculum. The two departments co-exist in the same buildings, allowing for integration and overlap between the two educational systems and cultures, with a combined student body of almost 1000 students.

Copenhagen International School teaches using the International Baccalaureate framework. With an enrolment of approximately 900 students, CIS is one of several schools offering the IB Diploma program for grades 11-12. Presently split between two campuses, CIS is constructing a brand new campus in the Nordhavn (North Harbour) area of Copenhagen, scheduled to open in January 2017.

"…competition for places in many of these schools is fierce…"

A number of excellent, smaller international schools can also be found in Copenhagen and across Denmark. Some, such as Bernadotte School, Saint Josef’s International School, and Østerbro International School, focus on primary and middle school students. Others offer IB programs within the structure of a Danish Gymnasium: Nørre Gymnasium and Birkerød Gymnasium being notable examples.

Do be aware that competition for places in many of these schools is fierce, and you may need to be on a waiting list to secure a place for your child. For more information, take a look at the website of the Danish International Schools Network (DISN). 



Teachers at international schools in Denmark come from almost as many countries as the students they teach. Native English speakers are the norm, although language teachers (i.e. French, German and Danish) typically come from countries in which their languages are spoken. Right now I can count as colleagues teachers from the following countries: England, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Canada, Hungary, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Switzerland, Germany, and, of course, Denmark.

"Teachers at international schools in Denmark come from almost as many countries as the students they teach…"

A teacher’s qualifications are vetted by the hiring school. Because of the wide variety of educational backgrounds that teachers can arrive with, many international schools turn to Danmarks Privatskoleforening, a non-governmental private school association. DP can often provide guidance in interpreting the sometimes bewildering array of teaching qualifications issued around the world.

International schools primarily recruit from a pool of educators already living in Denmark. The main reason for this is the local pay structure, which is not particularly competitive when compared with the international school market worldwide. Since private schools in Denmark accept a certain amount of government support, they are required to offer private school teachers the same salary package as public school teachers. Efforts are being made to decouple the salary structures, but this is likely to be a slow process. Until then, the teachers most likely to seek jobs at international schools in Denmark tend to be those who are already in the country for other reasons, such as being married to a Dane, or being the partner of someone employed in Danish industry from outside the country.

School Life

A typical school day starts at 9:00 AM for Primary school students, 8:00 AM for older Secondary students. While many students are driven to school by their parents, many more take the train, or cycle to school (Copenhagen is known as one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world). Some schools have cantina facilities, but it’s more common to bring your own lunch, which is either eaten in a cafeteria or in the classroom. A ‘class hour’ can run from 40 to 50 minutes, and students can have as many as eight classes over the course of a school day. The day finishes at approximately 3:00 PM for most year groups.

Copenhagen is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world. Photograph: iStock

Copenhagen is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world. Photograph: iStock


In addition to academic subjects, students will generally have the chance to participate in a range of extracurricular activities, including sports and music. These opportunities can vary from school to school, and are worth checking into as you make a decision about which school is right for your family.

Finishing off…

As a nation Denmark places a high value on education and personal development. Even after university, Danes often take advantage of ‘Højskole,’ (translating as ‘high school’, rather confusingly), a form of continuing education for adults and working professionals.

All in all, Denmark is a great place to live, work, and gain an education. If you find yourself considering a move, short or long term, there are few better places to be than here.

Top image of Nyhavn, Copenhagen. Photograph: Jeremy Keith - Flickr: Canal (Wikimedia)

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