Opposition united on sweeping school reforms

Sweden's conservative opposition parties have long criticised the government's education policies, presenting the large number of students not completing the basic level of schooling as evidence of failure.

But until now the Moderates, Liberals, Centre Party and Christian Democrats have not been able to reach agreement on how the system must change. On Wednesday, though, they presented an outline for school reform which would be pushed through during the next parliament.

“I believe that this could be decisive in the election,” said Sten Tolgfors, the Moderate Party’s schools spokesman.

“While the school minister is failing to put forward any proposals, we are more and more in agreement.”

All four parties now agree that upper school, for students aged 17 to 19, should contain three educational paths: study preparation, vocational preparation and apprenticeships.

The current approach where all upper school courses are meant to lead to a college education would be abolished.

“I believe that having the same core subjects irrespective of whether you will study to be a doctor or go directly out to work in a trade is what is causing today’s failures,” said Tolgfors.

“There should be a bridge to college – everyone who wants to go should be guaranteed that opportunity.”

But Schools Minister Ibrahim Baylan reckons that the conservative alliance’s proposals would actually increase the drop-out rate.

“They talk of raising standards but want to take away the core subjects in the vocational area – above all that will hit the children of the working class,” Baylan told news agency TT.

The alliance also wants to raise the entry demands for upper school.

The requirements should vary with the difficulty level of the respective programmes, they argue, a principle which should also apply to college entry: the requirements should reflect the basic knowledge required.

Another initiative proposed by the conservative alliance is to re-introduce more grades in upper school. The conservatives’ 1994 grade reforms included six levels but the Social Democrat government pruned that to today’s three grades.

The “individual syllabus”, which is designed for children who are not able to participate in the national syllabus, would be abolished under a conservative government.

“We must put a stop to this “pass-it-on” mentality. Upper school should not have to compensate for the failings of lower school,” said Sten Tolgfors.

This part of the proposed reforms has infuriated Ibrahim Baylan.

“This is deeply worrying. What are pupils to do after the ninth grade? They’ll be shunted onto a labour market that doesn’t want them. The conservatives are taking away the possibility for a second chance which many pupils need,” said Baylan.

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TT/The Local