Vouchers 'widen quality gap' in Sweden's schools

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Vouchers 'widen quality gap' in Sweden's schools

The introduction of school vouchers in Sweden, allowing pupils to shop around for their school, could explain the widening gap in quality between different schools, a new report has claimed.


The Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket) argued this week that ironing out the differences should be a top priority for Sweden.

"If there are big differences between schools and we have students who do not deselect the worse schools, they risk a worse education and less opportunities in life," Director General Anna Ekström told the TT news agency.

"Swedish society loses out when there is less equality."

The report authors also said a long-term strategy for Swedish education as well as strengthening the teaching profession should be lawmakers' primary goals for the future.

Ekström said that one potential equalizer would be for municipalities, which are responsible for managing the school system locally across the country, to place the most experienced teachers in schools where they were needed the most.

The report coincided with a summary by the Schools Inspectorate (Skolinspektionen), which also came to the conclusion that Swedish schools now differ considerably in terms of education quality. Researcher Per Thullberg underlined that all education reforms take a long time to be felt on the ground.

"The 'effect chain' is very long and it can take considerable time before it has an effect, if it has any," he told TT, adding that any reforms put into place now would at their absolute earliest be felt in a few years, but likely not before the late 2010s.

Sweden's Education Minister Jan Björklund welcomed the twin reports on Thursday and acknowledge that quality gaps had grown too wide.

"The gaps are too big, I think, and there are a few things we must do," Björklund said, outlining his belief that more creative, student-led teaching methods were counterproductive to ironing out differences between students from different socio-economic backgrounds.

He told TT that teachers should teach, as not all students knew how to organize their own studies. Björklund further agreed that the municipalities should pay greater attention to the needs of differing socio-economic groups.

"I want us to legislate so the municipalities have to divide up their resources based on socio-economic criteria," the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) minister explained.

His party's coalition partner the Moderate Party has also discussed implementing more guidelines and feedback for teachers whose pupils do not perform well, a suggestion that Sweden's biggest teachers' union welcomes.

"All school systems that perform well in international comparisons have an element of having teachers working together to a greater extent than in Sweden, where teachers are often left to their own devices," Swedish Teachers' Union (Lärarförbundet) chairwoman Eva-Lis Sirén told TT.

"Offering more support and a guiding hand is an excellent idea."

While Sirén said one could not ignore the widening quality gap that came on the heels of Sweden's school choice (skolval) reform, she said the system of students shopping around for their education was here to stay.

Not even the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, have suggested that the system be abandoned, instead discussing tweaks to ensure less segregation.

"The central state should go in and play a bigger financial role for the schools that are falling behind," the party's shadow education minister Ibrahim Baylan said.

TT/The Local/at

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