Sweden has a shortage of teachers, making it an attractive option for education professionals looking to move overseas. But it’s one of Sweden’s regulated jobs, meaning extra hurdles and red tape for job-seekers. Here’s what you need to know about finding work as a teacher in Sweden.
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Teachers, particularly those in certain areas such as primary education, science and maths, are among the professionals most likely to have a job in five years’ time, a report on the most ‘future-proof’ jobs late last year from the Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations (Saco) showed. Another investigation by broadcaster SVT revealed that there’s a severe shortage of qualified teachers in Sweden, particularly in more rural areas.
In primary schools, an increasing number of children are expected to enroll over the next five years, while many working teachers will retire during the same period – and Sweden’s government has promised to improve the ratio of teachers to students. In later years, there is high competition for teachers of history and social sciences, but teachers of natural sciences, maths, technology, and certain languages generally have more options.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy to make the move to Sweden and find work immediately. Foreign teachers will need the right qualifications and in many cases some knowledge of the language, and should familiarize themselves with the quirks of the Swedish education system before taking the leap.
What do you need to know about finding work as a teacher in Sweden? Photo: Erik Mårtensson/TT
Different types of schools
The Swedish school system is divided into preschool (‘förskola’), for ages 1-6, primary school (‘grundskola’) for ages 6-16, and the optional high school (‘gymnasieskola‘) for ages 16-19.
Most Swedish schools are run by local municipalities, but there’s also quite a high number of independent schools, also known as ‘charter schools’ or ‘friskolor‘. Though these are run independently, they are publicly funded and must follow government guidelines on education and the curriculum. This category includes the majority of Sweden’s many bilingual and international schools, although there are also a very few private, fee-paying international schools.
Swedish teachers usually specialize in one of the following areas: pre-school teaching; pre-school class and years 1-3 or 4-6; a particular subject and a focus on years 7-9 or the gymnasieskola; or vocational education.
Teaching is a registered profession in Sweden, which means the requirements for finding work are quite strict. You’ll usually need a Bachelor’s degree in teaching or education and some previous experience as a minimum.
To teach in a municipally-run school (including preschools), you will often need a Swedish teaching certificate (lärarlegitimation), and in order to get that you must have a Bachelor’s degree or diploma in teaching or education. You’ll also need to prove proficiency in the Swedish language. Currently, just over 70 percent of Sweden’s teachers have this certification, which gives you the right to a permanent job contract and to set grades in a school.
It’s possible to find short-term work without these qualifications. In the past, it was only possible to work for a maximum of one year without the lärarlegitimation, but this limit has been extended to three years in many cases because of the shortage of teachers in Sweden, a rule change which is in place until autumn 2020.
Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB scanpix/TT
There are two other main exceptions to the rule. If you want to work as a mother tongue teacher – providing support to non-native-Swedish students in their own language – or as a vocational studies teacher, you don’t need the certification. You will still need to show that you have sufficient knowledge of education and the subject, though.
For international teachers without the lärarlegitimation, the best option will usually be applying to work at an independent international school.
These schools will often accept teachers from abroad without the Swedish teaching certificate, but you will still need a Bachelor-level degree and teaching qualification from your home country, rather than, for example, a qualification in teaching English as a second language (such as TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA). Acceptable qualifications include the PGCE, PGDE, BEd, GDE or MaT, depending on where you qualified.
Fast track for new arrivals
In 2016, the country launched a ‘fast track’ option for new arrivals with a background in teaching, primarily those arriving as refugees or asylum seekers.
The one-year course is taught by universities in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö, Linköping, Umeå and Örebro, with some parts offered in Arabic, and aims to get experienced teachers working as soon as possible.
Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT
Finding work without qualifications
If you don’t have any of the qualifications listed above, there are still options for teaching outside the school system.
One option is working as a substitute teacher (vikarie), which is often possible without Swedish language skills (if you apply to international schools), though you’ll usually still need teaching experience. Two sites where you can search for these jobs are Pedagogpoolen and Skoljobb. In many municipalities you can also sign up to the Vikariebanken (substitute register) in order to be contacted when vacancies come up. However, for these jobs you are likely to need to speak Swedish.
If you have a TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA qualification, you may be able to find work teaching English as a second language. While Swedes have a well-deserved reputation as some of the world’s best English-speakers, there’s still a lot of demand in this area, and two of the main employers are the British Institute and Folkuniversitet.
Without these qualifications, you could offer private tutoring and help with language as a native speaker, for example by advertising online or building up a professional network.
Getting the teacher’s certificate
If you’re planning to work in Sweden as a teacher long-term, it’s a good idea to start working towards the lärarlegitimation. There are three requirements:
– A diploma in education.
– Proficiency in Swedish. Getting the teacher’s certificate requires the same level of Swedish needed to study a Swedish university course, and the National Agency for Education accepts several different qualifications.
– National requirements. The final step is to show that you’ve fulfilled Sweden’s requirements for the levels of knowledge you need to teach, which might not be covered in your diploma or degree. These requirements vary depending on the age group and subject you hope to teach. For example, PE teachers need knowledge of swimming and life-saving, and teachers at primary school must show knowledge of reading, writing, and maths. You can demonstrate this knowledge by providing certificates of relevant studies, or proof of relevant work experience. Detailed information of these requirements can be found here.
This certificate is the key to a lot of teaching jobs. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT
A full list of requirements can be found on the Skolverket website, although it is only available in Swedish. You can also contact the agency directly to find out more about the qualification, or look at the forms for applicants within the EU orEEA and those from outside it.
It costs 1,500 kronor to submit the application, which can be done by post or online. It typically takes up to six months to receive a decision.
If you don’t yet meet all the requirements, there are various training courses you can take. Six universities (in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö, Linköping, Umeå and Örebro) offer the ULV (Foreign Teachers Professional Development), for those with a foreign degree in teaching but who don’t yet meet Sweden’s national requirements.
The Further Teacher Training course (Vidareutbildning av lärare or VAL) is aimed at people who have worked as a teacher in Sweden for at least two years, but don’t have a degree in education at all. There’s also the KPU (Supplementary Pedagogical Education) which is the best option if you have a degree in a specific subject and want to teach it in the gymnasieskola.
For each of these, you’ll need to take the TISUS test in Swedish or Gymnasiet Svenska B (the high school leaving exam) to prove your language skills.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT
How to search for jobs
Not all teaching positions are advertised online. It’s a good idea to reach out to schools directly and send your CV and a speculative application. You can also connect with teaching professionals on networks such as LinkedIn to find out more about how the hiring process works at specific schools.
Some international schools, including the International English School which has schools across the country, actively recruit abroad in English-speaking countries, so it may be possible to meet representatives at a careers fair. Municipalities with a shortage of teachers, such as Skellefteå in the north, are also actively recruiting native English-speakers. Skellefteå for example has offered initial one-year contracts to successful applicants, as well as support in learning Swedish and applying for the lärarlegitimation in order to stay and work long-term.
If you’re moving from a non-EU country, you’ll need to apply for a work permit, which will likely take up to three months. If you’re hoping to start work at the beginning of the autumn term, you should submit your visa application by the end of April – bear in mind that a lot of things slow down in Sweden in July, the traditional vacation month.
Many international schools offer assistance with finding accommodation for new staff, and with other administrative tasks such as setting up a personal number and bank account. They may also offer Swedish language lessons or other benefits such as free lunches or sports subsidies, so make sure to speak to them to find out exactly what’s included in their employment package.
Photo: Berit Roald/NTB scanpix/TT
Other important things to discuss with potential employers are policies for sickness, overtime, and holidays, which are usually decided through a kollektivavtal or ‘collective agreement’ between unions and employers.
The two most common kinds of contracts are ferieanställning, where you work throughout the academic year and take holiday during the summer while the students are off, or semesteranställning, when you work throughout the year and have a holiday allowance of at least 25 days, to take when you choose. There’s no nationwide regulation about what proportion of your working hours should be spent teaching, except for at the Internationella Engelska Skolan, where this is part of the collective agreement.
For further help in your job hunt and working life in Sweden, you can contact Lärarförbundet or Lärarnas Riksförbund, teachers’ unions which can help you understand what conditions you’re entitled to as a teacher and will support you in getting them.