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'Vast differences' in Swedish schools: study

'Vast differences' in Swedish schools: study

Published: 21 Jan 2010 13:15 GMT+01:00
Updated: 21 Jan 2010 13:15 GMT+01:00

Some of Sweden’s best primary schools ('grundskolor', ages 7-16) can be found in municipalities along the southeastern coast of the country, according to a new ranking.

Torsås, the southernmost municipality in Kalmar County, ranked highest among Sweden’s 290 municipalities in a review carried out by the National Union of Teachers in Sweden (Lärarnas Riksförbund – LR).

Sweden’s worst schools, on the other hand, can be found in Södertälje, a town of about 80,000 residents located about 30 kilometres south of Stockholm, according to the rankings, which are published in Skolvärlden, a monthly magazine published by LR.

“We’re forced to use a big part of the money that ought to go to schools to give people food for the day and somewhere to live,” Thomas Johansson, chair of the Södertälje council’s education committee, said in a statement.

Nearly one in ten of Södertälje's residents are refugees from Iraq who have settled in the town since 2003.

The union based its ranking on six criteria, including cost per student, the ratio of teachers, as well as the rate at which students continue on to high school.

According to the union, the ranking shows that Sweden’s schools aren’t following the country’s school law, which stipulates that all children should have access to a comparable education.

As an example, the study highlights the fact that Arjeplog in Sweden’s far north spends 66,500 kronor ($9,200) per student each year, while annual outlays in Lessebo in southern Sweden total only 32,300 kronor per student.

“It’s totally inappropriate that the differences are so great. It means fewer teachers, worse buildings, older teaching materials, larger class sizes,” LR head Metta Fjelkner told the magazine.

Following Torsås in the ranking is Pajala, a municipality with about 6,000 residents situated in Sweden’s far north, along the border with Finland. The ranking’s number three spot was occupied by Mörbylånga, a town with fewer than 2,000 residents located on the southern part of the Baltic island of Öland, off Sweden’s southeastern coast.

Other municipalities which found themselves at the bottom of the rankings included Norrtälje, a municipality of just over 16,000 residents located about 70 kilometres northeast of Stockholm, and Vårgårda in southwestern Sweden, which has a population of about 11,000.

The union’s study also revealed large differences in the other areas compared in its ranking, prompting it to propose a number of measures to address the discrepancies, including a state takeover of the financial management of primary schools.

In addition, all municipalities should be guaranteed a minimum sum every year, with financing coming from a shift in the allocation of tax resources.

TT/David Landes (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

13:45 January 21, 2010 by Nemesis
A link to the ranking of schools, would be useful.
14:07 January 21, 2010 by Glempa
Don't introduce league tables for schools as they have done in the UK! This was introduced by the government and is high unpopular with the teachers and heavily criticisied by all independent education bodies.

Schools are now reduced to just concentrating on maths and english, maths and english, maths and english so that they can get extra percentage points on the league tables. Schools concentrate on teaching pupils how to pass exams without necessarily understanding the subject. Some schools have a selection process, where they choose who they want at the school; children deemed unsuitable or from disadvataged backgrounds are excluded. My home county has the highest percenatge of grammar schools (selected entry) and a high number of high performing schools but guess what, they also have the highest rate of failing schools in the country becuse all the less able pupils are put together in the same school.

These league tables are affected by just one less-able pupil (one person can add or take 2-3% points) which is not a fault of the school, but league tables don't show that. Of course schools in more affluent areas are going to do better because if the parents are affluent, then they are probably quite clever and so will there children. And the opposite can be true for poorer areas, but this is not the fault of parents or teachers/schools.
16:10 January 21, 2010 by laura ka baal
English must be made as First language.
17:15 January 21, 2010 by Beynch
@Glempa: The reason it's unpopular with teachers and eduictaion bodies is precisely why we should have such ranking available. Also, it would be intersing to know if there is any common denominator to Torsås, Pajala and Mörbylånga, or Södertälje, Norrtälje and Vårgårda.
18:26 January 21, 2010 by Kaethar
@Beynch: That's not the attitude to schooling we have in Sweden. Perhaps you think you're living somewhere else?
19:12 January 21, 2010 by Puffin
The problem that I see is that this is a very basic statistical ranking that doesn't say too much

It is based on just 6 basic indicators that reflect the interests of the teaching Union that produced it:

-staffing ratios (of course got to keep the numbers of teachers up ;-) )

-numbers of teachers with a full qualification (got to retain the professional monopoly for LRF ;-) )

-cost per pupil (well is high or low cost good or bad??? - high costs could be high quality or it could be inefficiency - in any case rural schools are going to have higher costs for transport etc)

-The results of the national tests for year 9 (that's OK these exams are marked by teachers - you can give any mark you want)

-percentage of year 9s eligible for a national gymnasiet programme (determined by teachers)

-the number of year 9s that pass all subjects (also determined by teachers)

You also need to be aware that:

The rankings were compiled by a National teaching Union and reflect aspects of interest to teachers

The only school year examined was year 9 - there results can be very variable and say nothing about the rest of the education system - some kommuns have only one high school

That many of the indicators are open to manipulation - there have been several Skolinspektion investigations into grade manipulations where pupils are given much higher overall grades than their test performance.

Some kommuns had much higher grades could be better teaching but could also be higher marking
21:22 January 21, 2010 by Davey-jo
@ laura ka baal

If you want English as a first language why not move to England? I don't see the relevance of your comment to this story, but perhaps it was lost in translation ;)
01:48 January 22, 2010 by repat_xpat
I'm sure laura ka baal was just being funny. Sweden's focus on English in the early years is among the best in the world. Adult Swedes have better English than most native English speakers (not really, but it seems that way sometimes).

Swedish school's focus on language is a very bright spot in a very dark situation. The Swedish schools my kids went to in western Sweden were deplorable. I thought the US schools were bad, but the US schools are a solid 2-4 years a head in Math than the best schools in Western Sweden. Unfortunately, the egalitarian culture frowns on students who want to do better than the worst.
03:18 January 22, 2010 by Davey-jo
I applaud Sweden's focus on English. I'm personally ashamed of UK's record in teaching any language; even English.

So I take back what I said; don't come to England if you want English as a first language. Go to Scotland instead; or Wales, even Ireland definitely not England.

The debate on what may be called "league tables" for schools has been going on for years in the UK. Effectively it's a matter of comparing apples with pears. A total nonsense. You cannot compare an inner city school with a rural school; nor a school in a rich middle class area with a rundown school in a working class ghetto. But compare them they will and publish this rubbish they will. It's barmy and everyone knows it's barmy but still the debate goes on. (Barmy is a particularly nice English word; redolent of frothy nonsense and alcoholic revelry)

I heard someone on TV the other day when asked about some vexed item of public concern answer by saying " What do they do in Sweden? " Heaven knows why but apparently middle class commentators are looking at Sweden for inspiration. So don't let us all down by copying failed "New Labour" policies of league tables and all the rest of that rhubarb.

Now I go to bed.
14:09 January 22, 2010 by Streja
Puffin, the national tests have guidelines on how to correct them.

I think it's better to have smaller class sizes. I have more time for each student then and I have more time to plan lessons.

I have 180 students. It takes time to correct every essay they write.
09:19 March 12, 2010 by macgabhann
This sounds horrifyingly close to the "No Child Left Behind" BS that "The Shrub" started during his infamous (and undeserved) 8 year tenure in the US. Essentially, schools only teach kids what's needed to pass the TAKS test so that they can ensure they get enough money as a "reward" for said scores to keep running. Those schools with poor overall performace receive less funding, thus making it more difficult to teach the next year of students to do well on the same test that determines the school's ability to prepare them for it in the first place. It's a self-propogating cycle of educational destruction. Worse, and as though teachers in the US don't have enough problems with the system already, teacher salaries are a direct reflection of the test scores of their students, once again hammering home the notion that focusing on the test is more important than a well-rounded education. Sweden will be doing the entire country a GREAT disservice if they switch to any kind of system even REMOTELY similar to the one in the US.

So, having not moved there just yet... does anyone know if homeschooling is illegal in Sweden as it apparently is in Germany?! :(
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