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EDUCATION

Explained: What Sweden’s new curriculum will mean for your children

Sweden's government today approved a new school curriculum which will come into force next July. Here's what parents need to know about the plans.

Explained: What Sweden's new curriculum will mean for your children
Sweden's Education Minister Anna Ekström announcing the new curriculum on Friday. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

What is Sweden's school curriculum? 

In the Swedish school system, what is taught at primary and lower secondary school, grundskola, is governed by 'course plans', kursplaner, and 'teaching plans', läroplaner, while what is taught at upper secondary schools is governed by 'subject plans', ämnesplaner.

Why was there a need to change the curriculum?  

The curriculum currently in place is little changed from that brought in under the previous centre-right Alliance government in 2011.

That curriculum has been criticised by teachers, students and their parents for having confusing and complicated criteria for grading and guides for teaching that can be hard to interpret.

Imprecise and confusing curriculums and lessons plans make teachers' jobs more difficult and reduce the possibility of pupils to understand what they're supposed to learn,” Sweden's education minister Anna Ekström said at a press conference announcing the changes. 

She also said that both parents and teachers had long complained that the previous curriculum demanded and unrealistic level of analysis from pupils of an early age. 

“I know that there are many parents who have been astonished when they have seen what demands are made on the ability to analyse at low ages for children,” she said.

At the press conference, Ekström complained that the existing curriculum also failed to make clear enough differences between what knowledge was required in subjects at different levels, leading to repetition and a lack of clarity. 

She said that the previous curriculum also led to what she called stoffsträngsel, or 'contents congestion' – that it included so many details and requirements that it was impossible for teachers to get through in the hours provided. 


Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

So what's been changed? 

The new curriculum, announced in a press release on Friday, is more concise, with a greater emphasis on factual knowledge and understanding, and less emphasis on pupils' ability to research and analyse themselves.

Back in 2011, some educationalists felt that near-universal access to the internet had made factual knowledge less important than the ability to research and assess information.

Ekström said the new curriculum brought a renewed emphasis on factual knowledge and understanding.   

That knowledge is a good in and of itself is put forward much more clearly than it was the former curriculum,” she said at a press conference announcing the changes. “There is a clear focus from the government that it should be knowledge and understanding which is the focus of Swedish schools.” 

She said that the new curriculum was also clearer and more concise. 

“We have tried to concentrate the contents, take out the unnecessary examples — that’s something teachers can and do provide themselves,” she said. 

The requirement for students to carry out their own analysis will increase with age, while the knowledge requirements have been made less detailed and extensive, making them easier for teachers to use. 

In addition, the content will now differ more clearly between different year groups and courses. 

Who is responsible for changing the curriculum? 

The curriculum has been written by the Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket), but the change in focus was demanded under the January agreement struck between the Social Democrat, Green, Centre and Liberal parties

This stated that “course and teaching plans should be revised to strengthen the emphasis on knowledge and factual knowledge, and to encourage diligence and ambition”. 

The decision to approve Skolverket's final proposal, which was submitted in December, was made by Sweden's two-party red-green coalition together with the Centre and Liberal parties. 


Photo: Lars Pehrson/SvD/TT

What was the criticism last year about? 

When Skolverket submitted its first proposal last autumn it was sharply criticised for the decision to leave out ancient history, the bible, the psalms and the national anthem. 

There was also concern that the curriculum required pre-teens to do “advanced literary analysis”. 

Both of these criticisms have been met in the final curriculum agreed between the four parties, with ancient history and the bible back in and the level of required literary criticism scaled back. 

Requirements for grades clearer and less specific 

The grading system itself will not be changed under the proposals, but Skolverket hopes that the grading process will become more fair and accurate. Swedish grades are awarded from A-F, with A the highest grade and A-E all counted as 'pass' grades.
 
These grades are awarded at the end of each school term (only in the subjects the student was taught in that term, and during högstadiet only at the end of a course), starting with the autumn term of Grade 6. 
 
The agency plans to change so-called 'knowledge requirements' (kunskapskraven). These are the things which students are required to know in order to receive a certain grade, and Skolverket said the current system led to students getting very low grades just because certain details of the knowledge requirements weren't met.
 
For example, rather than requiring students to show how the “social, media, judicial, economic and political structures in society” are structured and how they function (as in the current syllabus for social studies), they will be required to show “knowledge of conditions and structures in society” and give examples of “connections within and between different social structures”.
 
So in the new proposals, knowledge requirements are “less extensive, contain fewer details and are formulated in a simpler way”, Skolverket said.
 
This is intended to ensure students receive grades that accurately reflect their understanding of a subject, and that teachers can focus less on having to teach specific details in order to reach a grade.
 
What happens now? 
 
Skolverket will now look at the amount of hours assigned to each subject and analyse how this needs to be changed to allow teachers to teach the new curriculum, with history, in particular, likely to require more hours than given to it at present. 
 
Rather than increase the total number of hours of tuition, hours are likely to be trimmed from other subjects to make way for topics like ancient history and the bible. 
 
Skolverket has been asked to provide the new teaching timetable, with the hours assigned to each subject by March. 
 
The new curriculum is then set to come into force at the start of next July, with pupils beginning to be taught under it the following August.

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EDUCATION

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.”

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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.” 

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