An international school for a cosmopolitan city

An international school for a cosmopolitan city
Stockholm is an increasingly popular destination for expatriate workers, and a major effort is underway to accommodate international arrivals. The new International School of the Stockholm Region (ISSR) aims to give foreign children the support they need to thrive in the Swedish capital.

The more Stockholm positions itself as a global, cosmopolitan city, the greater the demand becomes to provide the best possible English-speaking educational opportunities for the children of the incoming workforce.

To meet this challenge, Stockholm City has joined forces with the already established IB School South Stockholm, to set up the city’s first publicly-funded English-language International Baccalaureate (IB) school, open exclusively for foreign families in Sweden temporarily.

“In order to for Stockholm to recruit international talent, the best way is to provide high quality educational opportunities, so you can attract families,” says Christiane Candella, coordinator of ISSR. 

Research suggests that a considerable number of foreign placements within companies don’t work out due to dissatisfaction on the part of the partner or the family as a whole.

“Years ago, people would come with a package, which would include a housing allowance, readjustment allowance, car, travel, and an educational stipend for children. That is really expensive for a company, but in the case of Sweden, if the need to provide an educational stipend for children doesn’t exist, it becomes a much cheaper option for the companies to send employees on overseas contracts,” says Candella. 

The idea of opening a publicly funded international school in Stockholm was first conceived some three years ago. There were already several state-funded IB schools running successfully in other parts of the country, including Gothenburg, Lund, Älmhut (where Ikea has its headquarters), and Helsingborg, but despite its self proclaimed status as capital of Scandinavia, Stockholm at the time did not have one on offer.

After much campaigning, around 18 months ago the municipality of Stockholm approved the proposal to develop a publically funded international school offerring three IB programmes under one roof.

Established in 1968, the International Baccalaureate is available today in 3,355 schools in 141 countries offering three programmes to over 1,003,000 students between the ages of three to 19 years.

ISSR will be the first school of its kind in Stockholm to teach three IB programmes (from ages 5-18). 

The Primary Years Programme (PYP), will cater for students from five to 12, and focus on the development of the whole child in the classroom and in the world outside. The Middle Years Programme (MYP), from 11 to 16 is more challenging, developing academic and life skills, while finally, the Diploma Programme (DP), from 16 to 19 is a two-year curriculum for highly motivated students, that leads to a qualification recognized by major universities around the world.

“The IB system is a rigorous academic programme, orignally conceived as a program for international and mobile families. It’s very transferrable, meaning that you can jump from country to country and really feel the same character and curriculum,” says Karin Henrekson Ahlberg who heads up both IB School South Stockholm and the International School of the Stockholm Region.

The advantage of the International Baccalaureate for these particular students is that, as they are likely to move around the world, in many cases more than once, they can easily adapt to their new school, because it is a system they will already be familiar with. 

Furthermore, at the DP level students sit the same exams, regardless of which country they are in, and their grades are set externally.

“Once the children have sat the exams, those documents are sent around the world to specialists who are trained to evaluate often just a single subject area. This creates a high standard of excellence where grades cannot be artifically inflated due to internal pressures from the adminstration or parents,” says Henrekson Ahlberg. 

Outside the classroom meanwhile, the social life of students is much more closely connected to the school than it is for most Swedish children, which puts the onus on the school itself to provide plenty of extracurricular activities, such as sports and musical societies. 

“That’s what international families need, because they can’t go to a public hockey team for example and sign up, without dealing with complicated queue rules and a language barrier. We have to create the whole system in a school like this,” says Candella. 

An added bonus, especially relevant for diplomat families, is the added security offered by the new school. 

“We want to create an atmosphere where children feel taken care of,” says Candella. “But it is not an open campus and high security is one of the basic requirements for schools like ours, so although it will not be Fort Knox, there will be cameras onsite, around the campus and in the reception area.” 

Embassies will be key to attracting families to the new school, but as Stockholm’s reputation as a true global city grows, more and more key workers and researchers are moving to the capital.

As a result, the new school’s recruitment drive will likely focus on educational establishments like Karolinksa Institute, KTH, the Stockholm School of Economics, as well as major firms employing large numbers of expat employees working in Stockholm on a temporary basis, such as Telenor, Ericsson, Nokia and Oriflame, IKEA, Skype, among others, according to Candella.

The new school, which will incorporate the existing IB School South Stockholm, will open in Skanstull on Södermalm in August, with an initial intake of 250 students. 

Article sponsored by the International School of the Stockholm Region.