Set up by the Swedish government in April 2015, the Schools Commission (Skolkommissionen) has been tasked with producing proposals to improve the performances of schools, lessen inequalities between them, and increase the quality of teaching.
Compiled by members of the National Agency for Education (Skolverket), university professors and representatives from teaching unions, the commission today presented its proposals to a mixed response.
Municipalities and schools should be made to work harder to achieve a broad social composition of students, it said. One suggestion provoking particularly strong reactions is the idea of introducing a lottery system for schools where the social make-up of pupils is not sufficiently mixed, and the number of applicants for enrolment exceeds the number of places available.
In those circumstances the lottery system would overrule the current selection criteria of geographical proximity between home and the school, sibling priority, and length of time spent in a queue for enrolment.
Politicians from Sweden's centre-right opposition coalition lined up to slam the lottery idea when it was presented on Thursday.
“We shouldn't have a school lottery where our students are balls in a tombola. The problem is that they're not placing the emphasis on having schools that are good. We should only have good schools in Sweden,” Moderate education policy spokesperson Camilla Waltersson Grönvall said in a statement.
The Schools Commission noted that municipalities cannot be forced to use such a lottery system in any case, due to rules over municipal self-government.
Better received however was a proposal that all guardians should be obliged to actively choose the school they want their child to be enrolled at. At present, children are entitled to a place at local school by default, should their parents not instead opt to enrol them elsewhere.
There is a tendency for better educated parents to be the ones who pick a school for their children instead of taking the place allocated to them locally. In an effort to try and break that trend and therefore increase the social mix of pupils, the commission has suggested that it should be mandatory for all parents to pick the school they want their child to be enroled at.
Sweden's Education Minister Gustav Fridolin noted that the current system does not treat all children equally.
“Queuing time is clearly a system built on whether a kid has parents who put them in the queue for the most popular school or not. That means choosing schools is not equally free for all.”
He believes that growing inequalities between Sweden's schools can largely be explained by failings regulations around how they are financed. At present, resources are allocated by the local municipality rather than by the central state, and that combined with the economic crisis has led to a growth in gaps between schools.
Last year Sweden's National Union of Teachers (Lärarnas Riksförbund) reached a similar conclusion.
“Municipalities are not able to deliver equal schools. Much depends on both the economic conditions but also will and understanding of the importance of school. Sometimes I don't think people understand how important it is to invest in schools and to have competent teachers,” the union's chairperson Åsa Fahlén noted in September.
As a partial remedy, the commission has also proposed that the Swedish state pay out six billion kronor to schools, to be allocated according to the socio-economic background of students in order to help reduce class sizes and increase teacher numbers.
That's something Education Minister Fridolin sees as a positive idea:
“It shouldn't depend on the municipality you grow up in or the school you get to go to, but rather, schools should have the resources they need.”