Currently, children in Sweden are entitled to stay out of the school system until they reach seven years of age, resulting in some leaving school at 16 with just nine years of education.
But the leadership of both the Moderates and the Centre Party, the two largest parties in Sweden’s ruling Alliance, have backed a change to the system. The Liberals have been arguing for an end to the flexible school start since 1997 and the party’s leader-in-waiting, Jan Björklund , is the Minister for Schools.
The Centre Party will formally back the new age requirements at its conference in the autumn.
Sofia Larsen, a member of the party’s leadership board and the chairman of the parliamentary education committee, wants the starting age to be changed as part of a new schools law which the government is expected to present in 2009.
“This is not a dramatic change, but it is a way of clarifying schools’ education remit. Pre-school classes are a rather strange half-measure,” said Larsen to Svenska Dagbladet.
On Friday the Moderates’ party board decided to throw its weight behind extending schooling with a compulsory start at the age of six. The move will also be formally approved in the autumn.
However, despite the backing of three government parties, the Christian Democrats are still opposed to the move.
“We Christian Democrats are strong supporters of a flexible school start. Children mature very differently and as soon as you make it compulsory then you’ve rejected that,” said Gunilla Tjernberg, who is a member of the parliamentary education committee.