The Norwegian Education Mirror, 2019

School environment and well-being

All pupils and students are entitled to a safe and good school environment that promotes health, well-being and learning. The vast majority of pupils enjoy going to school and benefit from a good learning environment. There has been a slight drop in the number of pupils being bullied at school. However, there has been an increase in the proportion of pupils who feel that they are being excluded socially and that they do not feel they fit in at school.

Well-being and sense of belonging

The majority of pupils – 88 per cent – are happy or very happy at school. 9 per cent state that they are slightly happy and 3 per cent that they are not happy at school. These results relate to pupils from Year 5 in primary school to Level Vg3 in upper secondary. A consistently high level of well-being can be seen in every year except Years 9 and 10, where reported well-being is slightly lower (Student Survey 2018: Wendelborg et al. 2019). The proportion of pupils enjoying school increases with their parents’ socio-economic status (Bakken 2019).

Boys and girls are equally happy at school

Boys and girls are equally happy at school (Wendelborg et al. 2019). Figures from Ungdata show that girls previously enjoyed lower and upper secondary more than boys, but this gap has now been closed.  Looking at figures from 2011, boys’ well-being has remained virtually unchanged, while girls have seen a slight decline in well-being (Bakken 2019).

Most pupils have friends and feel that they fit in at school

The feeling of fitting in and having friends is important to be able enjoy school. The PISA survey shows that most 15-year-olds in Norway feel a sense of belonging and have friends at school (Jensen et al. 2019).

The proportion of pupils who positively state that they feel they belong, make friends easily and feel that they are liked by their peers fell by between 8 and 9 percentage points between 2003 and 2018. In the same period there was an increase in the percentage of pupils who gave affirmative answers to negative statements about being left out, feeling lonely and not fitting in. The increase was between 6 and 9 percentage points between 2003 and 2018 (Jensen et al. 2009).

The Norwegian survey Ungdata shows that young people spend less and less time going out with friends. While four in ten lower secondary pupils spent time with friends at least two evenings a week in 2012, only three in ten did so in 2015 and 2018 (Bakken 2019).

Surveys measuring well-being and sense of belonging

The Pupil Survey is an annual survey that invites pupils and students in every year from Year 5 until the end of upper secondary to share their thoughts on well-being and learning at school. All schools must run the Student Survey in Years 7 and 10 and at upper secondary Level Vg1. It is voluntary for all other year groups. It is up to the pupils and students whether they want to participate in the survey. 447,543 respondents took part in the survey in 2018.

Ungdata is a set of local youth surveys offered by the NOVA research institute and seven regional drug and alcohol competence centres  (KoRus)  to all local authorities and county councils in Norway. The questionnaire includes a mandatory part used in every survey. Data from all of the local surveys carried out in 2017, 2018 and 2019 has been used. The three-year period covers surveys conducted in lower secondary schools in 412 municipalities, on Svalbard and in most upper secondary schools in the country.

PISA The Programme for International Student Assessment is a study of 15-year-olds’ competencies in the key areas of reading, mathematics and science. It also includes a questionnaire about family background, attitudes and the learning environment.

A large proportion of young people feel bored and stressed at school

Despite consistently high levels of well-being, 70 per cent of all lower and upper secondary pupils feel bored at school. Relatively many of them also feel stressed at school, especially girls. 6 in 10 girls and 3 in 10 boys say they often or very often feel stressed by their schoolwork. The feeling of stress is highest in Year 10 and at Level Vg3 (Bakken 2019).

Order in the classroom

Norwegian classrooms have become more orderly. According to teachers, lessons are quicker to get started, there were fewer interruptions from pupils and slightly less disruptive noise in 2018 compared with 2008 and 2013 (Throndsen et al. 2019).

Pupils are also reporting better order in class. 63 per cent of the respondents to the Student Survey say they agree or strongly agree that there is order in class. The figures are slightly lower in Years 9 and 10 than in other year groups. Responses to this question remained largely unchanged between 2016 and 2018 (Wendelborg et al. 2019).

There is less noise and disorder in Norwegian classrooms.

The PISA survey corroborates these findings. Fewer pupils experienced noise and disorder in 2018 compared with 2000 and 2009. The survey only asked about orderliness in Norwegian lessons in these three years. Pupils in the average of OECD countries are also reporting slightly better order in class in PISA 2018 compared with 2009, although the improvement is not quite as big as for Norwegian pupils (Jensen et al. 2019).

The Student Survey and PISA differ in who is being asked and how the questions about order in the classroom are phrased. PISA asks about noise and disorder, and it only asks 15-year-olds about it in Norwegian lessons. The Student Survey asks pupils and students from Year 5 to Level Vg3 about order in class for all lessons.


The Student Survey defines bullying as repeated negative actions by one or more people against a pupil who may find it difficult to defend themselves. Bullying could mean calling someone names and teasing them, excluding someone, gossiping or hitting, pushing and holding.

6.1 per cent of pupils have been bullied

In 2018 6.1 per cent of pupils say they are being bullied at school either online or in other ways at least 2–3 times a month. In 2017 the figure was 6.6 per cent. 1 per cent of pupils say they have only been bullied online, while 0.9 per cent state that they have been bullied both online and in other ways while at school (Wendelborg et al. 2019).

Bullying in school mostly involves being called names or teased in a way that is hurtful – 66 per cent of pupils who are being bullied give these two examples. 46 per cent of pupils who have been bullied were excluded and gossiped about, while 24 per cent have been physically bullied (Wendelborg 2019).

Cyberbullying is much the same as other forms of bullying but without the physical aspects. It can take place in chats between certain pupils where the victim is not present. Pupils who experience cyberbullying are often also worried about the spread of pictures and negative descriptions, and they do not always know who is behind the bullying. The problem with cyberbullying is that it takes place both at and outside school (Wendelborg et al. 2019).

Decline in bullying in older year groups

9.2 per cent of Year 5 pupils are being bullied at school and/or online. This figure drops as the children get older before increasing slightly again in Year 9 and 10 and then declining. 3.2 per cent of students at Level Vg3 are being bullied.

County governors are receiving a growing number of bullying complaints

16 per cent of pupils in 2018 said their school knew about the bullying but did nothing. 37 per cent of pupils who were being bullied said that no adults knew about the bullying (Wendelborg et al. 2019).

A growing number of bullying cases are being reported to the county governors. By the autumn of 2018 a total of 653 complaints had been submitted to the county governors, a slight increase on the 565 cases in 2017.

The school’s duty to act

All pupils and students are entitled to a safe and good school environment that promotes health, well-being and learning. To safeguard this right, schools are obliged to take action against bullying under Section 9 A-4 of the Education Act.  The objective of this clause is to ensure that schools act quickly and appropriately when a pupil does not feel safe and well at school. If the school fails to act by taking the appropriate measures, the pupil may complain to the county governor.


A poor school and learning environment may have adverse consequences for the pupils, and for some it may lead to truancy and/or school refusal. Schools often place absences from school in two different categories: authorised and unauthorised absenteeism. Authorised absenteeism is absenteeism for valid reasons such as illness or approved leave (Havik 2018).

For some pupils absence can result in a vicious circle that is difficult to break out of. where frequent absence often leads to more absence. The more complex the absence pattern of the pupil, the higher the prevalence of anxiety, depression and stress (Havik 2018). Consistency and a good relationship between teacher and pupil are therefore important in order to prevent school refusal (Havik 2018).

High levels of absence in Year 10

A Year 10 pupil is typically absent from school for 6 days and 5 school hours. There were few changes in absence levels from 2014-15 to 2018-19. Pupils in Year 10 are absent for 3 days more but 6 school hours fewer than students at upper secondary level Vg1.  Pupils of parents with only compulsory education are more often absent in Year 10 than pupils of parents with upper secondary or higher qualifications (Utdanningsdirektoratet 2019a).



A Year 10 pupil is typically absent from school for 6 days and 5 school hours.

More pupils are playing truant

Almost 1 in 4 pupils in lower secondary has played truant, according to Ungdata. In upper secondary the figure is 11.2 per cent. The percentage increases year on year from 19 per cent in Year 8 to 48 per cent at Level Vg3. Truancy levels amongst boys and girls are fairly similar. The majority of pupils who play truant do so between one and five times. The proportion of pupils who have played truant more than five times stands at 4 per cent in lower secondary and 9 per cent in upper secondary (Bakken 2019).

The proportion of pupils who play truant in lower secondary increased significantly from around 20 per cent in 2015 to around 25 per cent in 2018. The figures for upper secondary show a reverse trend with a drop between 2015 and 2017. The drop may be linked to new rules on absenteeism in upper secondary. There was also a slight increase between 2017 and 2018 (Bakken 2019).

School refusal or truancy?

Ungdata uses the term truancy. Some researchers distinguish between absenteeism caused by school refusal and absenteeism caused by truancy.

  • School refusal means that the pupil is struggling to go to school as a result of emotional discomfort. School refusers are often introverts. They want to go to school but do not have the strength to get there and/or stay there (Havik 2018).
  • Truancy is motivated by a desire not to go to school. Pupils who play truant are often unmotivated and not interested in school. School refusal and truancy may be overlapping factors, however, since some pupils display signs that fit into both categories (Havik 2018).

Other researchers are critical of the term school refusal because there is a risk that school staff will pay too much consideration to the pupil’s individual circumstances. This can cause the school to relinquish its responsibility for improving the school and learning environment to prevent absenteeism and help ensure that pupils who are often absent are able to return to school (Pellegrini 2007).

Absence limit has reduced absenteeism in upper secondary

An upper secondary student is typically absent from school for 3 days and 11 school hours. This is 3 days fewer than in primary and lower secondary, but 6 school hours more.

Unlike lower secondary, there is an absence limit in upper secondary education. The limit was introduced in autumn 2016.

The number of days and hours missed fell considerably when the limit was introduced, and the number of days missed remains low and stable. The number of school hours missed has increased from 10 to 11 for all three upper secondary levels combined, however (Utdanningsdirektoratet 2019a). The number of hours missed is highest at Level Vg3 at 15 hours both before and after the absence limit was introduced.

Higher completion rates amongst students with little absence in lower secondary

There is a correlation between few absences in lower secondary education and completion rates in upper secondary education and training. Students who had completed upper secondary within five years in 2018 had had few days off on average in Year 10 (Statistics Norway 2018).

Recording absences and the absence limit

Recording absences

  • Absences are recorded on the students’ final diploma. However, up to 10 days of authorised absences can be excluded from the diploma. This applies to both lower and upper secondary.
  • Absences due to non-chronic illness may be excluded from the diploma only when the absence lasts for at least three days.
  • In addition, days missed due to authorised leave or chronic illness may be excluded from the first day of absence and removed from the diploma when the absence exceeds 10 days.

Absence limit at the upper secondary stage

  • Absences are recorded on the students’ final diploma. However, up to 10 days of authorised absences can be excluded from the diploma. This applies to both lower and upper secondary.
  • Absences due to non-chronic illness may be excluded from the diploma only when the absence lasts for at least three days.
  • In addition, days missed due to authorised leave or chronic illness may be excluded from the first day of absence and removed from the diploma when the absence exceeds 10 days.

The absence limit has an adverse impact on some students

Although overall absenteeism has fallen since the absence limit was introduced, a group of students are at risk of being forced out of upper secondary education and training because of it. They are students who are already frequently absent and now struggle even more to complete upper secondary (Bjørnset et al. 2018).

Students who have exceeded the unauthorised absence limit or whose work cannot be assessed, e.g. because they have failed to turn up to important exams, will be marked NA (no basis for assessment) instead of receiving a numeric grade. There was a slight increase between 2017-18 and 2018-19 in the percentage of students whose coursework was marked NA. The proportion of students who received an NA in at least one subject increased from 3.0 to 3.2 per cent on average. A total of 5,351 students received an NA in the 2018-19 academic year. Just under half of them received an NA in just one subject.


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Havik, T. (2018). Skolefravær. Å forstå og håndtere skolefravær og skolevegring. Gyldendal Akademisk.

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Pellegrini, D. W. (2007). School Non-attendance: Definitions, meanings, responses, interventions. Educational Psychology in Practice, 23(1), 63-77.

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Wendelborg, C., Røe, M., Buland, T. & Hygen, B. (2019). Elevundersøkelsen 2018. Analyse av Elevundersøkelsen og Foreldreundersøkelsen. Trondheim: NTNU Samfunnsforskning.

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