Sweden needs to ‘get tougher’ on free schools

Sweden is currently too hands-off when new privately-managed free schools want to start up with public funding, according to a new report.

Sweden needs to 'get tougher' on free schools

The National Auditor (Riksrevisionen), which carried out the review, urges the School Inspectorate (Skolinspektionen) to take its role as “gatekeeper” more seriously.

“It would be utopia if all schools got off to a flying start without any problems,” Andreas Spång at the inspectorate told news agency TT in response to the criticism.

“But the auditor does have a point and we continuously revise what material we ask schools to submit when we consider their applications.”

Sweden had more than 700 privately-run, privately-managed compulsory schools and almost 500 high schools as of 2011.

Last year, 789 applications were sent to the inspectorate. About one-fourth of the applicants were successful, but among them only one in three went on to set up the proposed schools.

The auditor’s report also noted that reports filed by the inspectorate after a first mandatory visit reveal many new schools face serious challenges.

The current free school application system is too vague in parts, according to the auditor, which added that the inspectorate must make sure there are enough teachers signed up to the proposed new venture.

But the inspectorate has attempted to shore up parts of the application process.

A few months ago, it became mandatory for applicants to name a legal representative who must prove that the proposed free school has all the resources needed to set up.

“Of about 119 schools that we deemed ready to start, only about 26 did, so it’s possible this new demand frightens them off,” Andreas Spång told TT.

TT/The Local/at

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Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

Children between ages 6-9 years should be allowed admittance to after-school recreation centers free of charge, according to a report submitted to Sweden’s Minister of Education Lotta Edholm (L).

Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

“If this reform is implemented, after-school recreation centers will be accessible to the children who may have the greatest need for the activities,” said Kerstin Andersson, who was appointed to lead a government inquiry into expanding access to after-school recreation by the former Social Democrat government. 

More than half a million primary- and middle-school-aged children spend a large part of their school days and holidays in after-school centres.

But the right to after-school care is not freely available to all children. In most municipalities, it is conditional on the parent’s occupational status of working or studying. Thus, attendance varies and is significantly lower in areas where unemployment is high and family finances weak.

In this context, the previous government formally began to inquire into expanding rights to leisure. The report was recently handed over to Sweden’s education minister, Lotta Edholm, on Monday.

Andersson proposed that after-school activities should be made available free of charge to all children between the ages of six and nine in the same way that preschool has been for children between the ages of three and five. This would mean that children whose parents are unemployed, on parental leave or long-term sick leave will no longer be excluded. 

“The biggest benefit is that after-school recreation centres will be made available to all children,” Andersson said. “Today, participation is highest in areas with very good conditions, while it is lower in sparsely populated areas and in areas with socio-economic challenges.” 

Enforcing this proposal could cause a need for about 10,200 more places in after-school centre, would cost the state just over half a billion kronor a year, and would require more adults to work in after-school centres. 

Andersson recommends recruiting staff more broadly, and not insisting that so many staff are specialised after-school activities teachers, or fritidspedagod

“The Education Act states that qualified teachers are responsible for teaching, but that other staff may participate,” Andersson said. “This is sometimes interpreted as meaning that other staff may be used, but preferably not’. We propose that recognition be given to so-called ‘other staff’, and that they should be given a clear role in the work.”

She suggested that people who have studied in the “children’s teaching and recreational programmes” at gymnasium level,  people who have studied recreational training, and social educators might be used. 

“People trained to work with children can contribute with many different skills. Right now, it might be an uncertain work situation for many who work for a few months while the employer is looking for qualified teachers”, Andersson said.