This tradition mainly originates in the ideas and initiatives of the clergyman, poet and politician, N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783-1872), and the teacher, Christen Kold (1816-1870). On the basis of their ideas about "a school for life based on the living word", the first "folk high school" for adults was founded in 1844 and the first "free school" (private independent school) for children in 1852. They were in particular meant to serve the rural population.
The ideas of Grundtvig and Kold had such an impact on the political thinking of their time that they were written into the democratic Constitution adopted by Denmark in 1915. It stipulates general compulsory education - not compulsory school attendance.
In Denmark, all children must receive 9 years’ education, but - provided a certain minimum standard is obtained - it is a matter of choice for the parents whether the education is received
1) in the publicly provided municipal primary and lower secondary school,
2) in a private school, or
3) at home.
Number of schools and pupils
About 13% of all children at basic school level (including the voluntary pre-school class and 10th form) attend private schools. In 2006, approx. 91,000 children attended 491 private schools, while 690,000 pupils attended the municipal school, of which there are approx. 600.
Types of schools
Private schools in Denmark may be roughly divided into the following categories:
- small independent schools in rural districts (friskoler),
- large independent schools in urban districts (privatskoler),
- religious or congregational schools,
- progressive free schools,
- schools with a particular educational aim, such as the Rudolf Steiner schools
- German minority schools,
- immigrant schools.
The bottom line is that private schools will be recognized and receive government financing regardless of the ideological, religious, political or ethnic motivation behind their establishment.
Some private schools are very old, some are quite new, and new ones are still being added. It is characteristic of the private schools that they are smaller than the municipal schools.