Directorate for Education and Skills

Education Policy Outlook Highlights: Denmark


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  Last update 11 April 2014  
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Denmark’s educational context

Students: Denmark’s performance on PISA 2012 is higher than average in mathematics and at around the OECD average in reading and science. PISA results have decreased in mathematics over the years, but remained unchanged in reading and science. The impact of students’ socio-economic background on mathematics performance is similar to the OECD average, but immigrant students are at higher risk of poor performance. The education system has a number of features that promote equity, including a high proportion of students enrolled in early childhood education, low grade repetition and comprehensive schooling until age 16. Upper secondary graduation rates are high, as are enrolment rates for vocational education and training (VET), but dropout from VET is also high. Tertiary education is accessible to all, through policies such as a publicly funded grant and loan scheme. In the OECD Survey of Adult Skills, adults in Denmark demonstrate below-average literacy skills and above-average numeracy skills compared to the average across participating countries, with younger adults scoring around the average. Unemployment rates in Denmark in 2011 were below the OECD average.

Institutions: Students and teachers both report positive learning environments. Teachers are trusted professionals with fewer teaching hours than the OECD average and good salary conditions, but they receive less feedback and fewer professional development opportunities than the OECD average. At primary and lower secondary levels, teachers follow a pre-service teacher training programme of four years including a teaching practicum; at upper secondary level, it is a six-year training programme, also including a teaching practicum. School principals in Denmark are less active as pedagogical leaders than on average across OECD countries. There has been progress in recent years to foster a culture of evaluation and assessment, and a national framework is being developed, guided by national objectives for student achievement. Schools and municipalities need further support to build their capacity to analyse and use data for improvement.

System: The Ministry of Education sets national priorities, and most education decisions in primary and lower secondary schools (Folkeskole) are carried out by the 98 municipalities. Upper secondary schools and post-secondary educational institutions are self-governing. Denmark invests a substantial amount of public resources on education and prioritises funding to meet local needs. Spending at all levels of education is above the OECD average, with a low share of private expenditure on education compared to the OECD average.

Key policy issues

Denmark’s education performance can be nurtured by setting clear education objectives to guide a decentralised municipal environment while maintaining equitable practices and supporting performance for low performers and students with immigrant background. Strengthening the quality of VET to improve completion rates is also important. Other priorities for Denmark include ensuring that teachers and principals have quality support, feedback and professional development opportunities and that principals take a more active pedagogical role. Completing a framework for evaluation and assessment and using the results in schools are also considered priorities. Building the capacity of municipalities and schools to implement national strategies at the local level and optimising resources in a decentralised context are key issues.

Recent policy responses

In 2010, Denmark introduced a mandatory assessment of language development for all three-year-olds to diagnose possible language problems before children start school.

Several reforms in process aim to help reduce dropout among VET students, by providing increased flexibility across the system and upper secondary vocational programmes that allow students to access higher education. A new policy agreement, Better and more attractive vocational education and training programmes (VET) (Bedre og mere attraktive erhvervsuddannelser, 2014), aims to provide a more attractive supply of VET programmes.

Efforts to improve schools include a major reform of teacher education to develop a bachelor’s programme based on modules, with greater autonomy for colleges to deliver the programme. In addition, a new reform to be implemented in 2014 aims to strengthen the performance of Danish schools by modifying the organisation of the school day, introducing more optional and sports activities and providing more training for teachers and school leaders.

To clarify national priorities, in 2011, the government introduced a platform designed to improve educational outcomes for all Danish students. It sets specific targets for 2020, including achieving upper secondary completion rates of 95% and tertiary enrolment and completion rates of 60%.

Denmark achieved above average performance in mathematics in PISA 2012, and the impact of socio-economic status on attainment (16.5%) is above the OECD average of 14.6% (see the interactive chart below). Reading and science performance is around the OECD average. Denmark’s performance in reading and science did not change significantly across years, but mathematics performance decreased between 2003 and 2012. Since 2000, there is a smaller performance gap between top and low performers compared to most other countries.


The proportion of 25-34 year-olds with at least secondary education attainment in Denmark is nearly at the OECD average (80% compared to the OECD average of 82% in 2011), and tertiary education attainment reached the OECD average of 39% in 2009 (see the interactive chart below).



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