In the 2013 edition of the ranking Sweden experienced the sharpest drop in results of any of the 32 countries over a ten-year span, dropping below the OECD average, and the Nordic nation has been battling to turn things around since. The most recent edition covering 2015 showed signs of that beginning to happen, with results in mathematics, reading and science all at or above the OECD average for the subjects.
In a new Dagens Nyeter (DN) opinion piece, the head of the OECD's Directorate of Education and Skills, Andreas Schleicher, notes that Sweden was once a frontrunner in education and can still return to that position, with some encouraging steps taken recently.
"For starters the Schools Commission (Skolkommissionen) wants to see a return to one of Swedish education's strong sides, that is, supporting students from poorer backgrounds. One of the most worrying results in the Pisa study is that Sweden, in almost as high a degree as the USA, has gone backwards when it comes to matching a teacher's knowledge to a student's needs," he wrote.
READ ALSO: Sweden recovers in global school rankings
One of the negative factors to emerge from the most recent Pisa ranking is that the gap between socio-economically advantaged and disadvantaged students has increased in Sweden, while in science in particular the performance gap between immigrant and non-immigrant students is larger than the OECD average.
Schleicher believes a combination of freedom of choice and deregulation has hurt the Swedish schools system. Clear guidelines and a strategic vision on education from central authorities is needed, he thinks:
"In other words, shared efforts from the central and local education training bodies are needed for school choice to benefit all Swedes".
The OECD boss praised the recent proposal from Sweden's Schools Commission to introduce an 'active' school selection process as one possible solution. If introduced, it would mean that all guardians are obliged to actively choose the school they want their child to be enrolled at.
At present, there is a tendency for better educated parents to be the ones who pick a school for their children, while those at the other end of the spectrum take the default place allocated to them locally, increasing social gaps.