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SCHOOLS

Which students will be taught remotely in Sweden when school starts?

The spring term starts this week in schools across Sweden, but some pupils will be taught remotely for at least the first two weeks. We've tried to get a handle on the somewhat confusing situation.

Which students will be taught remotely in Sweden when school starts?
A lesson for year eight at a school in Stockholm. Photo. Jessica Gow/TT

Is Sweden keeping primary and lower secondary schools open for physical lessons? 

Yes and no.

On Thursday last week, Sweden's education minister, Anna Ekström, held a press conference announcing the government's decision to temporarily empower school heads to use distance education to teach children in years seven to nine (13 to 15 years old) for some or all of their lessons. 

But the government stopped short of imposing distance education for the age group nationally, as the coronavirus pressure group Vetenskapsforum Covid-19 had called for in an article in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper. 

The infection doctors in many regions of Sweden have, however, recommended that schools teach years seven to nine remotely, either every day or some days a week. 

Just a few days before the reopening of schools, many municipalities and schools had yet to announce what they've decided.

We've collected what local information we could find at the bottom of this article.

Ekström on Saturday defended the decision not to close schools in a long interview on Swedish radio:

“The spread of infection in society is one risk, and it's a risk we must work hard to reduce,” she told Swedish Radio. “But on the other hand, I know how important school is. You really have to fight to keep schools open. If you close schools, there are major consequences.” 

In the interview she said that the idea of giving head teachers the right to decide on distance learning was partly because different schools faced such different challenges and partly to allow schools to mix distance and on site learning. 

She made clear that her preference was for students to be taught in school at least one day a week, allowing teachers to keep maintain better links to their students. 

But in practice many municipalities appear to have opted for either distance learning or on-site teaching full time. 

Is Sweden keeping upper secondary schools open? 

Sweden's prime minister announced on December 18th that upper secondary school (gymnasium), would be taught via distance education until January 24th, so students aged 16-18 can expect to be doing their learning at home for at least the first two weeks of term. 

What can parents do if they are worried about sending children to school? 

At the the press conference The Local asked Ekström what would happen if parents themselves opted to keep their children home, perhaps because they do not believe the school is taking sufficient precautions. 

Ekström said that, under Sweden's Education Act, school is mandatory up until the age of 16, so if schools are open, pupils should attend.

“If they have a medical reason – for example, if there are different forms of risk group in the family or something like that, and if you feel in the family that there's a problem if children go to school, then you should contact your doctor,” she said. “There are possibilities – but no requirement – for schools to provide distance learning.” 

“I totally understand that there are parents who are worried,” Peter Fredriksson, general director of the Swedish National Agency for Education, told The Local. 
 
He said that schools should coordinate closely with worried parents and brief them on the infection precautions they were taking, which would hopefully help increase their trust. 
 
What about schools from poor families who rely on school lunches or lack computers at home? 
 
Schools are still responsible for providing lunches, even if they opt to teach years seven to nine at a distance, Ekström said at the conference. Peter Fredriksson said that schools could consider setting up a scheme for serving lunch on site, so that infections could be reduced, or could offer takeaway lunches. 
 
 
What extra infection precautions are in place for years seven to nine at schools that do reopen as normal on Monday? 
 
According to a set of recommendations announced by the Swedish Public Health Agency along with the press conference, schools are advised to try and reduce transmission by: 
  • improving the possibilities for keeping physical distance inside classrooms and buildings. 
  • making local risk assessments to strengthen preventive measures 
  • considering using alternative premises to reduce crowding 
  • making sure it is possible to keep up good hand hygiene
  • avoiding activities which group together many pupils from different classes 
  • making sure ventilation systems are working properly, and that they are adapted for the number of people in the premises 
  • giving teachers the possibility to work remotely and take part in meetings digitally if possible.
 
What municipalities are recommending that lower secondary students are taught by distance learning?
 
It's very unclear which schools will teach years seven to nine by distance learning, and a day before school opening (on Sunday) many municipalities had yet to formally announce their decision. If you have, or are, a child in years seven to nine, check the schools website on Monday. If the school has decided to start the term via distance learning, you will almost certainly receive an email, text message, or be contacted via a schools app such as Infomentor. 
 
Here's what we know as of Sunday: 
 
Stockholm region
 
Stockholm city authorities are leaving the decision on whether to teach years seven to nine remotely up to individual schools, according to public broadcaster SVT.
 
In Södertälje most year 7-9 students will be taught remotely at least some of the time, but it varies from school to school. 
 
The authorities in the municipalities of Salem and Lidingö aim for all students to be taught on site up to year nine. Lillhagaskolan in the suburb of Nykvarn will teach students in year seven on site one day a week, and those in years eight and nine on site two days a week. The rest of the time they will be taught remotely. All schools in the municipality of Täby will be teach years seven to nine remotely for part of the week. 
 
Skåne region 
 
The infection doctor for the region Skåne on Thursday said that she was recommending that all schools teach years seven to nine remotely until January 24th. According to the Sydsvenskan newspaper, most municipalities in the region appear to be following her advice, with Malmö, Lund, Burlöv, Lomma, Svedala, Kävlinge, Staffanstorp, Trelleborg, Hörby, Klippan, Landskrona, Åstorp and Vellinge all announcing a shift to distance education. 
 
Västra Götaland 
 
The city of Gothenburg announced on Thursday that its 11,000 students in years seven to nine would be taught remotely until January 24th, the Göteborgs-Posten newspaper has reported. 
 
Uppsala region 
 
The city of Uppsala has decided to teach all students between years seven and nine on site, according to the Upsala Nya Tidning newspaper, as has Knivsta municipality.
 
Blekinge region 
 
The infections doctor in the region of Blekinge recommended that all students between years seven and nine be taught remotely until January 24th on Tuesday, two days before Ekström's press conference. 
 
Kalmar region 
 
The infections doctor in the region of Kalmar recommended that all students between years seven and nine be taught remotely until January 24th on Tuesday, two days before Ekström's press conference. 
 
Halland region 
 
The infections doctor in the region of Halland recommended after Thursday's announcement that all schools teach years seven to nine via distance learning until January 24th. According to state broadcaster SVT, only the municipality of Kungsbacka had by Thursday decided to follow the advice. 
 
Jönköping region 
 
Jönköping's city authorities had on the weekend yet to announce its decision on whether to teach years seven to nine via distance learning, with the authorities telling the local Jönköpings-Posten newspaper that the decision would likely come on Monday.

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READER INSIGHTS

What schools do foreigners in Sweden send their children to and are they happy?

Most foreign parents in Sweden told The Local's survey they take advantage of the country's school choice system and send their children to international schools, or to private or non-profit free schools. Here's what they think of the quality of teaching.

What schools do foreigners in Sweden send their children to and are they happy?

Our survey was not scientific, but out of the 157 people who responded before we closed it, 65 (41 percent) sent their child or children to a standard municipally-run school which did not offer an international programme as part of their teaching. More than a third (34 percent) sent their child to an international school offering the International Baccalaureate diploma (which could be municipal, private, or non-profit).

Almost a quarter (39 respondents, 24.4 percent) sent their children to a profit-making free school. And almost a fifth (29 respondents, 18 percent) sent their child or children to a free school run by a non-profit organisation.

The survey was carried out as part of The Local’s investigation into schools in Sweden. We’ve previously published interviews with foreign teachers at the IES (Internationella Engelska Skolan, International English School) free school chain herehere, and here, and are now looking into other schools as well.

Since the “free school reform” in 1992, private and non-profit companies have been able to run schools in Sweden, with the state paying them for each pupil educated. 

The system has come under growing criticism over the past ten years.

This has partly been due to a decline in the performance of Swedish pupils compared to those of other countries in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The system of school choice has been blamed for increasing segregation. 

In the run-up to September’s election, schools are likely to be one of the big issues. 

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson looks set to campaign on a pledge to ban free schools – dismissed as marknadsskolan, “schools driven by market forces” – from siphoning off profits. 

“The school system we have in Sweden today, which is unique in the world and no other country has chosen to imitate, is a system which essentially drives increased segregation,” she said in an interview in the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper at the end of last month. 

“Researchers are pretty much unanimous about that. Pupils with the worst prospects are collected together in one school and those with better prospects in another.”  

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of the centre-left Social Democrat party. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Swedish schools too slow 

The most common complaint from parents who answered the survey was that the pace of education at municipality-run schools was too slow, and the level of academic demands placed on their children too low. 

“[It’s] very slow-paced,” complained a US mother living in Uppsala. [The] education is several years behind grade level in the US.” 

Mangla Sekhri, an Indian mother and IT director based in Stockholm, said she had pulled her children out of the local municipality school after a year and moved them to a school run by the IES chain.

“[I] just couldn’t continue due to [the] slow pace there. It was very slow, but now at IES things are much better-paced.” 

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“The only thing which bothers me is lower expectations on the kids, compared to Poland where we come from,” said a Polish respondent. 

“She’s ahead of the other children because she’d already finished two years of school in Guernsey. They don’t give her learning materials of a high enough level without us asking them to,” complained a father from the British Isles. 

Better integration at municipal schools 

For those who had chosen to send their children to a standard, municipality-run school, the big attraction was better integration, both in Sweden and in their local neighbourhood. 

“Their peers and friends at the school are generally their neighbours as well, [so it’s] easy to hang out with school friends,” said an American living on Sweden’s northwest coast, whose four children all went through the local municipal school. 

“My now eight-year-old daughter learned Swedish within months. One year on, she’s completely fluent. She has also made many Swedish friends and has playdates several days a week,” said a British father living in Gävle. 

“If you are an immigrant and planning to settle down in Sweden then municipal schools are good options for your child to learn Swedish quickly,” agreed a dad from Bangladesh, living in Malmö. 

More flexibility and better discipline at private schools

Many of those who had chosen to send their children to a privately-run free school seemed to prize the additional flexibility and better discipline they offered. 

“My child was already three years ahead academically and was very bored in lessons (had already learned everything in maths and science in the UK), so IES let him attend higher years group classes in these subjects,” reported an English respondent living in the middle of Sweden. 

“Free schools have stricter discipline and they focus more on studies,” said a mother from Sri Lanka whose child went to a school run by the Kunskapskolan chain. 

“I like the discipline and all the support that teachers give to the students,” said a mother whose child goes to a school run by IES. 

A parent whose child went to a school run by the AcadeMedia chain, said they were drawn by the additional subjects, such as music and theatre, on offer. 

Better possibilities to study internationally and move schools if posted elsewhere

Those who chose to send their children to schools running the International Baccalaureate programme did so either because they liked the programme’s more demanding curriculum or because they were only on a short or medium-term posting to Sweden and wanted to make it easier for their children to shift their education to a new country. 

One parent, whose child went to the British International School of Stockholm, cited the “ease of transferring to a new school when moving to a new country”, and “exposure to different cultures and points of view” as advantages. 

“I love the IB. It’s one of the best but also most challenging educational systems in the world and this is widely recognised,” said one parent, whose child goes to the international school run by the Bladins Foundation in Malmö.

“Here in Malmö, the big risk is that there are no options for the final years outside the one school. If your child doesn’t achieve the academic standard required, then you are screwed.” 

Who was happiest with their choice of school? 

There was little variation in parent satisfaction between those who sent their children to a municipal, private or international school. 

The parents who sent their children to standard municipal schools rated their school on average at 7.7 out of 10. Those who sent their children to a privately run free school rated their school at 8.2, while those who sent their children to a school run by a non-profit organisation rated their children’s school the highest at 8.6. 

Those whose children went to a school running the International Baccalaureate programme rated the school on average at 8.3. 

There was slightly more variation between types of schools when parents broke down their ratings, with standard municipal schools falling further behind on the level of discipline parents perceived at their children’s schools, and also on the quality of extra-curricular activities.

  Overall Teaching Happiness of child Discipline Extra-curricular
Standard municipal 7.7 7.4 8.3 7.1 6.6
For-profit 8.2 8 8.5 7.9 7.4
Non-profit 8.6 8.6 9 8.5 7.1
International school 8.25 8.2 8.8 8 7.3

Which individual schools/chains came out tops? 

The schools which won the highest approval rating tended to be the international schools run by non-profit foundations, such as British International School Stockholm, Bladins International in Malmö, The English School Gothenburg, Sigtunaskolan, and Stockholm International School (although note that there were only one to three respondents for each of these schools). 

When it came to the for-profit free school chains, there was more variation, with some parents loving their children’s schools and others disappointed. 

Four parents sending their children to the IES chain gave the school ten out of ten, but two IES parents gave their school four or five out of ten. It was a similar story with the Kunskapskolan chain, where one parent gave an eight, another a four.

“The best thing about my child’s school is how respectful the children are towards each other,” send one parent who sent her child to an IES school. “There is a culture of the children being kind and supportive of each other. The teachers have all been amazing, and it’s been really interesting for my child to meet teachers from a huge variety of different countries.” 

Several IES parents also praised how well organised their child’s school was, with high standards of cleanliness and discipline. 

“I chose IES because the school inculcates the right values that I would like my children to have – discipline, respect for teachers, diligence in studying, academic excellence,” one wrote. 

“The staff seem genuinely interested in our concerns. The kids enjoy being there and enjoy learning,” wrote another. 

On the negative side, one noted that “teachers are not paid as well as [at] public schools”, another that “teachers are very often changing”, and another that “no proper curriculum [had been] followed”. 

In general, the most dissatisfied parents had children at municipal schools, perhaps because they were less likely to have actively chosen them. Ten respondents gave their municipality-run school a four or five overall. 

“[There is] nothing to do in their free time and an extremely low level of teaching,” complained one parent, while another complained of “incompetent staff with a lack of social-emotional intelligence”, and another of “extremely large classes”. 

“I’m not entirely sure of the quality of the education,” wrote one Irish parent. “At least one of the teachers seems to think the Republic of Ireland is part of the UK.” 

A particular complaint about municipal schools was the way teachers seemed unwilling to use imaginative and engaging teaching methods. “Some teachers are not able to engage the class with interesting teaching methods,” complained an Australian father. 

Given the level of variation in answers to The Local’s questionnaire between both the best and worst municipality-run schools and the best and worst schools run by the free school chains, it is clearly important to talk to local parents about which school in your area of Sweden seems best. 

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