Stockholm family assigned Scientologist pre-school

A family in Stockholm were surprised to find out that their daughter had been assigned a place at a preschool with a teaching method created by L Ron Hubbard, the father of Scientology.

“If we didn’t accept they said it could take years until we would get a placement,“ Sofia Åsell told the Dagens Nyheter (DN) daily.

At first the family had secured a place for their daughter in a private pre-school but on coming back from holiday they found that it had been given to another child.

They immediately joined the City of Stockholm queue but could not get a place at any of the five choices they had researched. Instead they were offered a place for their daughter at school which they knew nothing about; Förskolan Måsen in south west Stockholm..

“The municipality didn’t seem to know much about it, just that it was a private pre-school that follows the Swedish curriculum,“ Åsell told DN.

But when the family received an information leaflet, they found that the school also used the teaching method ‘Applied Scholastics’.

Following an internet search, they realised that the method is based on the educational system developed by L Ron Hubbard. The Applied Scholastics trademark is owned by the Association for Better living and education (ABLE), which is a subdivision of the Church of Scientology.

As the parents had wanted a completely ordinary Swedish pre-school, they contacted the municipality to find out the alternatives, only to be informed that it could take years until they would find a place for their daughter if they failed to accept this one.

They felt reluctant to accept the placement but with having exhausted their parental leave entitlement, they were left with little choice.

“At the moment we are working in shifts to make ends meet. We were given no other option than to accept,” Åsell said.

According to DN, the first meeting with the pre-school left the parents as confused as before.

The teacher had informed them that the school was attached to the Church of Scientology but that the teaching method was based on respecting the children’s possessions and letting them resolve differences through communication.

“I didn’t want to write off the Scientology method without seeing it in practice, but I felt a little apprehensive as to what it might entail, Åsell told DN.

The couple still think it is strange that the authorities would place their daughter in ‘Scientology preschool’ considering the controversy that surrounds the movement.

But according to Leif Sjöholm, director of the district council (Stadsdelsförvaltningen), independent schools in Stockholm can choose either to have their own waiting lists or to join the city’s queue for pre-school placements.

As the school in question have chosen to join the city’s queue, the city distributes the placements at their school.

That the family were told they had to accept the placement or lose their place in the queue, Sjöholm thinks is worth looking into.

“I know that the City is looking over the rules on what happens if you decline a place, if there is a need to change the laws regarding the day-care guarantee,“ Sjöholm told The Local.

When doing a search for a pre-school on the City of Stockholm website, the school in question, which is part of a group of six schools in the Stockholm area, comes under the rather general term ‘others’ in the dropbox of ‘educational direction’.

The word ‘Applied Scholastics’ is mentioned on the page, but no explanation is given as to what that is.

However, information about the school – a leaflet provided by the schools themselves- is always given to parents, according to Sjöholm.

“But the main thing to remember is that the City of Stockholm Education Administration (Utbildningsförvaltningen) has approved the school,” he said.

According to the Education Administration the school has been approved because it follows the rules and the curriculum that regulates Swedish pre-schools.

When an independent school is started up, the administration reviews their application and once approved, they follow it up through regular inspections.

“What is important for parents is finding out as much as possible about the schools they are planning to send their children to,” Managing Director Thomas Persson told The Local.

He thinks that there is a danger in providing too much information on the Stockholm City website as it makes people unwilling to read on.

However, he doesn’t believe that ‘Applied Sholastics’ is a more unfamiliar concept for Swedes than for example ‘Montessori’ or ‘Reggio Emilia’.

The six schools; Måsen, Albatross, Pelikanen, Svanen, Lövgården and Tärnan, are all run by a group called ‘Förskolegruppen’ and are all featured on the City of Stockholm website.

On their own website, they have described Applied Scholastics as ‘a non-profit organisation created in 1972 by American educationalists inspired by the humanist L Ron Hubbard’s research into education and teaching methods.’

“Applied Scholastics means practical pedagogics with the child in the centre of the learning environment,” the explanation continues.

According to Mats Persson, parents should look further than the City of Stockholm website to research preschools. They can only provide parents with a limited amount of information.

“If there are any words or concepts that seem unfamiliar, you should definitely research it further to be certain in your choice. The most important thing is to find out as much as possible as a parent,” he said.

Persson has seen this question come up in the Swedish media previously- every 3 to 4 years the matter is brought up again in different forms.

However, in this particular case the district council has subsequently been able to solve the matter for the family and offer an alternative placement for their daughter, according to Leif Sjöholm of the district council.

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Left Party to focus on pre-school staff reform

The minority opposition Left Party wants to reduce pre-school class sizes and invest in staff, it said ahead of releasing its proposed budget for the next political term.

Left Party to focus on pre-school staff reform
A pre-school class in the 1980s. File photo: Private

The Left Party is likely to form some kind of cooperation with the Social Democrats and Greens if there's a shift in government after the September elections. A key focus for party would then be to cap the number of children in pre-school. This would ease the burden on the staff, it says. 

"It's obvious that they don't have enough time no matter how much they try," financial spokeswoman Ulla Andersson said about the working conditions in an interview with public broadcaster SVT.

At present, there are on average 20 children per teacher in Sweden's pre-schools. 

The party would also like children whose parents are on parental leave to have better access to pre-schools. Currently, a child with a parent at home, for example because the family has welcomed another child, can only attend classes for 15 hours a week. The Left Party would like to increase that to 30 hours.

The reform would also allow children whose parents are unemployed to spend more time in pre-school.

The pre-school investment would cost 7.1 billion ($1.08 billion), with 750 million ($114 million) earmarked for employing more staff. The Left Party, which presents its full budget next Tuesday, would pay for the reforms by revoking the centre-right government's reduction in restaurant VAT.