Sweden told to invest in better teaching staff

UPDATED: Swedish schools have been sharply criticized by experts from the OECD after a decade of slipping education results and told to invest in teacher training.

Sweden told to invest in better teaching staff
Pupils in Stockholm. Photo: TT

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The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released a review of Sweden's school system on Monday morning.

The report, titled 'Improving Schools in Sweden: An OECD Perspective', provided a series of recommendations to reverse a decade-long decline in the country's performance in the OECD's Programme of International Student Assessment (Pisa) survey, with a focus on teacher training and higher entry requirements for future school staff.

The study comes follows the latest international Pisa survey, in December 2013, which showed that Swedish pupils' knowledge in the subjects of mathematics, natural sciences, and reading comprehension had dropped the most out of all the 33 OECD countries – after having been one of the top performers at the start of the new millennium. The then centre-right coalition asked the OECD for help to assess what had gone wrong.

OECD Director for Education and Skills Andreas Schleicher, Professor Graham Donaldson of Glasgow University, and OECD analyst Marco Kools presented the findings to Sweden's Education Minister Gustav Fridolin of the Green Party, Minister for Upper Secondary Schools Aida Hadzialic of the Social Democrats, and the Director-General of the Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket) Anna Ekström at a press conference in Stockholm on Monday.

Schleicher said that Sweden needed to invest in its teaching staff, through higher wages and career opportunities. He also said that Swedish teachers should demand more from their pupils.

"In general, the Swedish students' own expectations were relatively low in comparison with other countries," he told the conference.

He highlighted large divides between schools in different regions. Swedish schools are largely run at council level. The current government has previously mentioned greater state involvement as one of the areas it wants to invest in.

"The teaching profession is no longer attractive in Sweden," he told reporters.

"Only five percent of teachers think what they do everyday is respected by society."

The report also warned of growing inequality with almost half (48 percent) of immigrant children failing to make the grade in mathematics and called for changes to the free school-choice system to counteract the risk of segregation.

Anna Ekström, head of Sweden's education agency, said "no one was surprised" by the critical report which was requested by the outgoing centre-right government last year.

"Our education system has problems," she said, adding: "we have a clear view of the challenges the Swedish school system is facing."

Sweden's left-green government has launched an inquiry into new education reforms due to report next year and had pledged a major increase in teaching salaries from 2016.



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IES chain blocked from opening four new schools

Sweden's Internationella Engelska Skolan (IES) chain has been denied permission to open four new schools in Gothenburg, Huddinge, Norrtälje, and Upplands-Bro, after the schools inspectorate said it had not provided pupil data.

IES chain blocked from opening four new schools

According to the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper, the Swedish Schools Inspectorate (Skolinspektionen) has denied permission to the chain to open a new planned new school in Norrtälje, north of Stockholm, even though the building that will house it is already half built. The inspectorate has also denied permission to three other schools which the chain had applied to start in 2023. 

In all four cases, the applications have been rejected because the school did not submit the required independent assessment for how many pupils the schools were likely to have. 

Jörgen Stenquist, IES’s deputy chief executive, said that IES has not in the past had to submit this data, as it has always been able to point to the queues of pupils seeking admissions to the school. 

“The fact that Engelska Skolan, as opposed to our competition, has never had the need to hire external companies to do a direct pupil survey is because we have had so many in line,” he told DN.

“In the past, it has been enough that we reported a large queue in the local area. But if the School Inspectorate wants us to conduct targeted surveys and ask parents directly if they want their children to start at our new schools, then maybe we have to start doing that.”


According to the newspaper, when the inspectorate had in the past asked for pupil predictions, the chain has refused, stating simply “we do not make student forecasts”, which the inspectorate has then accepted. 

However, in this year’s application round, when IES wrote: “We do not carry out traditional interest surveys as we simply have not had a need for this,” the inspectorate treated it as grounds to reject its applications. 

According to DN, other school chain have been complaining to the inspectorate that IES gets favourable treatment and was excused some requirements other chains have to fulfil. 

Liselotte Fredzell, from the inspectorate’s permitting unit, confirmed that the inspectorate was trying to be more even handed. 

“Yes, it is true that we are now striving for a more equal examination of applications. Things may have been getting too slack, and we needed to tighten up.”