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    Onderwijskrant Vlaanderen
    Vernieuwen: ja, maar in continuïteit!
    15-09-2016
    Klik hier om een link te hebben waarmee u dit artikel later terug kunt lezen.Zweeds onderwijs in zak en as – maar werd door Vlaamse onderzoekers als model voor Vlaanderen voorgesteld
    Zweeds onderwijs in zak en as – maar werd door Vlaamse onderzoekers als model voor Vlaanderen voorgesteld

    De voorbije jaren verwezen de universitaire pleitbezorgers van comprehensief onderwijs (gemeenschappelijke eerste graad of lagere cyclus) , van het afschaffen van het zittenblijven, van constructivistische didactische aanpakken … geregeld naar het model van het succesvolle Zweeds onderwijs. Wij hebben dat steeds weerlegd. Terecht zoals blijkt.

    Deel 1: Education in Sweden: I lost faith in the Swedish school system by Harry Fletcher-Wood·

    In 2011, I spent a week as part of a group visiting schools in Malmö, seeking to discover “fresh ideas” and “why Sweden is held up as an example”. The blog I wrote afterwards – entitled ‘Why is Sweden held up as an example of school success?’ – explained that: “the radically different priorities of the Swedish education system forced us to re-examine our beliefs about what educational success is”: As a strong welfare state, Sweden prizes the development of the individual and the pursuit of equality. Schools seek to build good citizens, with life skills and an intrinsic desire to learn. Testing is of limited importance, and goals are based around a long view of success: the adult who becomes, not the grades a child achieves; responsibility lies with the student to achieve this… In the classroom, relationships are close: students, dressed in their own clothes, address their teachers by first name. Students took pleasure in learning, the relationships they had and the support they received. In a note I wrote at the time, I recorded that it had taken a visit to Sweden to show me that you “could have a system which did not base itself around the importance of tests, but instead around the end goal of happy, well-adjusted (and then, productive) citizens.” Naturally, I wanted others to see the light too, and my blog argued that: For teachers and leaders seeking education that enables the student to become a a well-rounded, responsible and capable individual – able to pursue what Paolo Freire called a “vocation to be more fully human”, a visit to Sweden is essential. Conducting teacher training in Sweden in 2013, I remained impressed as I read the OECD’s 2012 country note, which reported: Equity is a hallmark of the Swedish education system… Relatively few young people in Sweden are neither in education nor employed (NEET). In fact, Sweden has one of the lowest percentages – 10% – of NEETs among all OECD countries. Sweden has already achieved the goal… of ensuring that at least 40% of 30-34 year-olds in the country hold a tertiary degree… Equity is also reflected in the idea that everyone is given a chance to succeed in the long run. Sweden embraces lifelong learning… Equity in education is also reflected in learning outcomes, and in Sweden, students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds perform at a relatively high level.” The OECD noted only two challenges: good education cost a fair chunk of GDP, and teaching needed to be made more attractive. I missed the cracks. So did the OECD. Image result for swedish flag Even in 2011, I argued that “if Britain is pursuing greater attainment in Maths, Science and English at 15… we have little to learn from Sweden” and cautioned that: Idyllic as some of this may sound, there were some concerns that an approach which focuses around goals which are hard to quantify and depends on students’ motivation, does not always sufficiently challenge all students. Profit-motivated free schools and school choice have led to substantial changes, many of them damaging to municipal schools and significant curricular changes introducing more tests and a less student-centred approach are happening this year. I’ve returned to Sweden five times since 2011. I’ve trained teachers, visited schools and heard from a range of educators. The evidence has made clear the limits of the idealism I demonstrated in 2011, and the limits to the effectiveness of Sweden’s schools. The OECD has changed it’s tune too; the press release for a 2015 report on Swedish schools began bluntly: Sweden has failed to improve its school system despite a series of reforms in recent years. A more ambitious, national reform strategy is now urgently needed to improve quality and equity in education…” In a series of blogs this coming week, I hope to share some of what I’ve learned. I wish I knew more about the Swedish education system, but I think I’ve learned enough to write something which redresses the paucity of detailed coverage in English. I don’t think the problems I’ll describe are unique to Sweden – or ubiquitous within Sweden; I do think they’re worth discussing more generally.


    Deel 2: Education in Sweden: collapsing results in Swedish schools

    Finding humorous examples of student work is rarely challenging; suggesting that one example represents underlying problems in Swedish schools is harder. Having shown how my views about Swedish schools have changed, I want to begin explaining why, by showing how low student results are and how much they have fallen. I hope the rest of the post will justify beginning with an image of a student who has rubbed everything out, realising: “F**k”. According to the OECD, PISA scores in Sweden have: “declined over the past decade from around average to significantly below average. No other country taking part in PISA has seen a steeper fall.”Since 2003, The proportion of low-scoring students in reading comprehension has risen dramatically. Sweden 21.png Isak Skogstad emphasises (in Swedish) that this level of reading comprehension makes it difficult to understand the meaning of a newspaper article. In maths, the percentage of low-scoring students has risen in the same way. Sweden 22 If we mistrust PISA, and turn instead to TIMSS, we find that results for 8th grade students have “deteriorated markedly” since 1995 and Sweden is one of a handful of countries whose results fell throughout the 2000s, according to Skolverket (the National Agency for Education, 2012. p.8 [Swedish]). Sweden finds itself over 100 points below South Korea, and significantly below the EU/OECD average (p.33).

    The silver lining Perhaps we could clutch at the unfair straw that Swedish education has focused on supporting higher-attaining students. The graph below shows however, that as the percentage of low-scoring students in maths has increased (red), that of high-scoring students has almost halved (green). Sweden 24.png Another possible straw is the claim that PISA tests fail to capture the essence of Swedish creativity. A headteacher interviewed by the BBC argues: “I think they fail to capture our innovativeness. Look at Skype, Spotify for example, they’re all from Sweden. We weren’t born that way, it comes from somewhere. “ “Sweden has a lot of internationally successful companies”, Isak Skogstad emphasises, “since we actually had a top perfoming school system a decade ago. People seems to forget this often.”

    By its very nature, its hard to quantify a decline in innovativeness, but Skogstad has suggested a couple of ways: Sweden has fallen to seventh in Bloomberg’s rankings for the most innovative countries, which South Korea tops. In PISA’s score for ‘digital-creative problem solving, 23.5% of Swedish pupils are low-scoring, compared to 6.9% in South Korea, 8.8% of Swedish pupils are high-scoring, compared to 27.6% of South Korea’s. OECD indicators on ‘soft skills’ show Sweden eclipsed in creativity, curiosity and critical thinking, rankings again topped by South Korea. Sweden Soft skills There may be more to education than what can be tested, but when all the test indicators are going in the wrong direction, it’s time to question what these untestable qualities are and when exactly their value is going to manifest itself.

    Deel 3: Education in Sweden: just disastrous policy reforms?

    As I’ve realised how poor results are in Swedish schools, I’ve lost faith in the Swedish school system But why do schools struggle? The springboard for international discussion of Swedish schools is policy, for three excellent reasons. Firstly, Swedish education policy has affected England significantly, providing both inspiration for free schools and academy sponsors ( The Learning Schools Trust is run by Kunskapsskolan; IES Breckland is run by Sweden’s largest free school chain, Internationella Engelska Skolan). Secondly, policy choices seem linked to the fall in Swedish results; Skolverket, the National Agency for Education, phrase this circumspectly: Increasing differentiation of levels of attainment coincides with comprehensive changes in the Swedish school system that have occurred since the beginning of the 1990s (2009, p. 18).”

    Thirdly, problematically, changes in policy are easier to discuss and report than changes in pedagogy and practice in schools. In 1992, Sweden began Kommunalisering, the devolution of education to municipalities (communes). The school system went from being one of the most centralised in the world to one of the most decentralised. Central involvement and direction is minimal: almost all important decisions are made locally, in communes or by heads. Each of Sweden’s 290 municipalities has its own per pupil funding system, mostly dependent on local priorities and taxes. Salaries are determined by individual heads. The result has been an atomised system. Kommunalisering coincided with a serious recession. The initial deal in 1992 offered more money to teachers in return for more controlled time and individual salaries – which unions thought would allow career progression. In a time of stretched budgets, municipalities saw teachers as relatively well paid compared to their other employees however, particularly since the value of paid hours outside school (for planning and assessment) was not always understood. Education funding was not ring-fenced: support staff were removed and, after the initial 1992 deal, salaries stagnated. The status and attractiveness of teaching has fallen: recent absolute rises in teacher pay have not redressed the relative disadvantage compared to other professions, Skogstad stresses. As one teacher puts it, teachers went “from well-respected state officials to municipality workers in one decade.” lost-places-1647655_960_720 The Swedish system is heavily deregulated: Per Kornhall describes it as the “most marketised system in the whole world”. Schools are managed by objectives, but goals are set very loosely. Student results are decided by teachers; national tests – which only exist in certain subjects, and are also assessed by teachers – merely ‘contribute’ to student results. I’ve argued previously that high-stakes accountability makes some very shady practice likely. Reliance on teacher assessment makes shady practice almost inevitable. Kornhall describes the corrupting effect of this system: parental choice is used as a lever, not to demand better schools, but to demand better grades. Although national tests are moderated, Isak Skogstad argues there is no reliable data on how different schools are doing, so there can be no comparison of effective and ineffective practices. In a free school in Malmö, I was astonished to hear a headteacher open a talk by explaining: “Our objective is to make money”. Free schools can set up wherever they like and were originally exempt from the school law. The key thing is to attract and keep pupils: all funding is distributed per pupil. This affects how money is spent – schools offer incentives like free Ipads to attract pupils; it also affects the relationship between students and teachers: in many ways the onus is on teachers to keep students happy. This combines with the problems in assessment: part of a school’s offer is ensuring that students receive good grades. Inequality and segregation in education have increased, in schools and in Swedish society more broadly.

    Simply arguing this is a direct result of free schools is lazy, but a connection seems plausible. Skolverket explain that: Even if the majority of Swedish studies have found that segregation of schools has increased, there is little agreement about the degree to which school reforms are the root cause. One confounding problem… is that residential segregation has increased during the same period… residential segregation is a crucial factor behind differences in pupils’ attainments and educational choices, and there is a certain amount of support, from studies carried out in the 2000s, to indicate that school-choice reforms have also contributed to an increase in segregation between schools (2009, p. 22).”

    An easy answer: poor policies killed Swedish education In the Malmö free school mentioned earlier I was astonished to meet students skipping lessons. They weren’t skulking away in empty classrooms, they were sitting near the entrance, just outside the hall in which the principal was telling us about his focus on profits. Students told me they weren’t challenged by staff over absence – if they failed, the school could always collect the money for them to resit their courses. So it’s clear: Sweden’s educational problems are a case study of the disastrous effect of market reforms on education. But a story which begins and ends in school policies is incomplete, for two reasons.

    Firstly, Sweden is a case study in the disastrous effects of poorly-designed reforms. Market reforms may have positive or negative effects; any time you invite people to make a profit and ask them to measure their own success, it will end in tears. More importantly, discussion of problems in Swedish schools too often ends here. Policy changes were probably necessary to this collapse in standards, but they are not sufficient to fully explain them. What are Swedish schools doing differently? What has happened in the classroom since 1992?

    In almost every recent English-language article, 80-90% of the discussion has been of school reforms and politics. There’s another side to this story. I’ll begin it in my next

    Deel 4 : Education in Sweden: chaotic behaviour in the classroom

    This is Jasmin Andersson’s summary of her first week in her second training placement: The hardest thing has been the work environment in the classroom. Many students became very upset, angry or ‘offended’ when I asked them to put down their screens and mobiles, take their bags off the tables, stop talking with each other and take their headphones from their ears. A pupil I asked to close down his computer or go out answered: ‘It’s not my fault that my match hasn’t finished’ and another who I asked to take out his earphones answered ‘Why do you care? I get to do what I want’. The attitude is that the work environment, listening to the teacher and each other and showing respect aren’t important. Mobile ban in the school? Yes thanks. Then of course there is a need for more steps to get a good classroom climate.

    I have been in fantastic teacher-led lessons this week, but with just half of the students listening to the teacher, the rest are taken up with their computer game (!), conversations with each other (!), or in social media (!). And these are the fine students who need a framework for a working environment and teaching the most. To see good teachers unable to settle the work environment is terrible. It’s not the teachers’ fault, but how can one not add resources and support to teachers and invest in order in the classroom. There’s a need for a comprehensive approach to behaviour with all teachers and staff, leaders and parents, working to illustrate the importance of the work environment in school, and the value of education. Andersson’s experience illustrates the challenges of student behaviour which do so much to prevent learning in Swedish schools. Having summarised how my views about Swedish schools have changed, Sweden’s falling results and the policy background, this post begins to discuss what has changed in classrooms, specifically, the deterioration of student behaviour, and why it has happened. How common is Andersson’s experience?

    The statistics suggest it’s pretty common. Around a third of Swedish students say they are disturbed by their peers in most or nearly all of their lessons (the exact figure is 29% in högstadet (age 12-15))and 32% in gymnasium (16-19)). Over a fifth describe a disturbingly high noise level. (See Isak Skogstad’s blog, using Skolverket data, in Swedish). The percentage of students in högstadet who say they are disturbed by other students has almost doubled since 2006. Data from Skolverket, see Isak Skogstad’s post (in Swedish) How serious is this, compared to other nations? Based on visits to scores of schools in Britain and a handful in Sweden, my impression is that behavioural challenges found in the most disorderly English schools seem normal in a far broader spectrum of Swedish schools. PISA appears to uphold this. This table shows the percentage of students who came to late school late three or more times in the two weeks before PISA 2012. sweden-lateness Sweden, Finland, Norway, Germany, Japan; (UK, 6.8%) (OECD, 2013, p.42) Over half (55.6%) of students in Sweden came late at least once in the preceding fortnight, placing Sweden fifth-worst among 64 participating countries (in the UK, the figure was 31.8%). Whether this reflects disaffection among students, lack of support from parents or poor enforcement by schools, school looks more optional than compulsory. The picture is similar for truancy: this table shows students who missed one or more lessons in the two weeks before PISA: Andelen elever som skolkade från lektioner under två veckor innan PISA-mätningen. Källa: OECD Sweden, Finland, Norway, Germany, Japan, (UK, 12%) (OECD, 2013, p. 48)

    Why is behaviour so poor? Democracy, relationships and student feelings have gained excessive weight, at the cost of safety, respect and rigour. The opening sentence of the Läroplan (curriculum) runs: The school system rests on the basis of democracy. (Skolverket [Swedish]) This is the kind of thing I found inspiring on my first visit to Swedish schools and teachers strive to make it work. But just as a functioning democracy requires strong institutions and safe polling stations, the classroom requires basic safety and respect to allow participation. Not only is this frequently lacking, according to a large number of trainee teachers, I have struggled to convey to some trainees the potential harm that reluctance to exercise authority in the classroom can cause. The number of students who are frequently disturbed in their learning underscore the absence of these foundations. Alongside this, expectations have slipped, in a way that may be familiar to teachers who have worked in challenging schools. After several years of teacher training, a friend described having observed many teachers who were able to interact positively with challenging classes – but none who were able to get unwilling students to work. Another teacher told me there was no point in challenging students to put away their phones: the arguments this caused more trouble than it was worth. I can’t say if she was right or wrong; I can say that one student did not look up from his phone in an hour’s lesson. Where models of success are lacking, new teachers’ expectations are suffer, and a cycle perpetuates itself.

    Who is responsible? They’ll give the principal the middle finger, what can I do?” This, from a mature trainee, emphasises the leadership void which underlies this deterioration in behaviour. The power and the will to change this seem lacking. The limited sanctions available, like detentions and exclusions, are very rarely used. Isak Skogstad suggests that attempts to enforce rules can lead to parental complaints and risk student enrollment (see the post on policy, on the importance of student enrollment), so principals collude in suppressing teacher concerns. Teachers almost invariably report having to negotiate with students and parents, without support from leaders. Asked by one teachers’ union if they feel well-supported by their leaders in upholding rules and behaviour, less than half of teachers agreed strongly or partly: Conclusion Behaviour seems to obstruct learning, for a large part of the day, in a large number of Swedish classrooms. A decline in authority, a fixation on students feelings and a lack of working examples lead to a decline in expectations. School leaders and national policy alike seem to need revision to address these challenges. As I’ve realised how poor results are in Swedish schools, I’ve lost faith in the Swedish school system But why do schools struggle? The springboard for international discussion of Swedish schools is policy, for three excellent reasons. Firstly, Swedish education policy has affected England significantly, providing both inspiration for free schools and academy sponsors ( The Learning Schools Trust is run by Kunskapsskolan; IES Breckland is run by Sweden’s largest free school chain, Internationella Engelska Skolan). Secondly, policy choices seem linked to the fall in Swedish results; Skolverket, the National Agency for Education, phrase this circumspectly: Increasing differentiation of levels of attainment coincides with comprehensive changes in the Swedish school system that have occurred since the beginning of the 1990s (2009, p. 18).” Thirdly, problematically, changes in policy are easier to discuss and report than changes in pedagogy and practice in schools. In 1992, Sweden began Kommunalisering, the devolution of education to municipalities (communes). The school system went from being one of the most centralised in the world to one of the most decentralised. Central involvement and direction is minimal: almost all important decisions are made locally, in communes or by heads. Each of Sweden’s 290 municipalities has its own per pupil funding system, mostly dependent on local priorities and taxes. Salaries are determined by individual heads. The result has been an atomised system. Kommunalisering coincided with a serious recession.

    The initial deal in 1992 offered more money to teachers in return for more controlled time and individual salaries – which unions thought would allow career progression. In a time of stretched budgets, municipalities saw teachers as relatively well paid compared to their other employees however, particularly since the value of paid hours outside school (for planning and assessment) was not always understood. Education funding was not ring-fenced: support staff were removed and, after the initial 1992 deal, salaries stagnated. The status and attractiveness of teaching has fallen: recent absolute rises in teacher pay have not redressed the relative disadvantage compared to other professions, Skogstad stresses. As one teacher puts it, teachers went “from well-respected state officials to municipality workers in one decade.” lost-places-1647655_960_720 The Swedish system is heavily deregulated: Per Kornhall describes it as the “most marketised system in the whole world”. Schools are managed by objectives, but goals are set very loosely. Student results are decided by teachers; national tests – which only exist in certain subjects, and are also assessed by teachers – merely ‘contribute’ to student results. I’ve argued previously that high-stakes accountability makes some very shady practice likely. Reliance on teacher assessment makes shady practice almost inevitable. Kornhall describes the corrupting effect of this system: parental choice is used as a lever, not to demand better schools, but to demand better grades. Although national tests are moderated, Isak Skogstad argues there is no reliable data on how different schools are doing, so there can be no comparison of effective and ineffective practices. In a free school in Malmö, I was astonished to hear a headteacher open a talk by explaining: “Our objective is to make money”. Free schools can set up wherever they like and were originally exempt from the school law. The key thing is to attract and keep pupils: all funding is distributed per pupil. This affects how money is spent – schools offer incentives like free Ipads to attract pupils; it also affects the relationship between students and teachers: in many ways the onus is on teachers to keep students happy. This combines with the problems in assessment: part of a school’s offer is ensuring that students receive good grades. Inequality and segregation in education have increased, in schools and in Swedish society more broadly. Simply arguing this is a direct result of free schools is lazy, but a connection seems plausible.

    Skolverket explain that: Even if the majority of Swedish studies have found that segregation of schools has increased, there is little agreement about the degree to which school reforms are the root cause. One confounding problem… is that residential segregation has increased during the same period… residential segregation is a crucial factor behind differences in pupils’ attainments and educational choices, and there is a certain amount of support, from studies carried out in the 2000s, to indicate that school-choice reforms have also contributed to an increase in segregation between schools (2009, p. 22).” An easy answer: poor policies killed Swedish education In the Malmö free school mentioned earlier I was astonished to meet students skipping lessons. They weren’t skulking away in empty classrooms, they were sitting near the entrance, just outside the hall in which the principal was telling us about his focus on profits. Students told me they weren’t challenged by staff over absence – if they failed, the school could always collect the money for them to resit their courses. So it’s clear: Sweden’s educational problems are a case study of the disastrous effect of market reforms on education. But a story which begins and ends in school policies is incomplete, for two reasons. Firstly, Sweden is a case study in the disastrous effects of poorly-designed reforms. Market reforms may have positive or negative effects; any time you invite people to make a profit and ask them to measure their own success, it will end in tears. More importantly, discussion of problems in Swedish schools too often ends here. Policy changes were probably necessary to this collapse in standards, but they are not sufficient to fully explain them. What are Swedish schools doing differently? What has happened in the classroom since 1992? In almost every recent English-language article, 80-90% of the discussion has been of school reforms and politics. There’s another side to this story. I’ll begin it in my next post.

    Deel 5: Education in Sweden: constricted curriculum, problematic pedagogy

    Aside from the poor behaviour discussed in my previous post, what actually happens in a Swedish classroom? Here’s one new teacher’s first day: Exhausted after four hours introduction. One student was taken away with a (female) guardian to be fingerprinted by the Migration Agency, another didn’t know how many siblings he had (counted as far as fifteen, not clear whether he himself was included). NO ONE in Class 7D knew what a craftsman was, and one wondered when we would ‘tell our memories from the summer holidays’ (which I hadn’t planned to do). All wanted to know where their locker was placed and all except two wanted an ice cream then the van came to visit.” It would be crass to take a trainee’s first day and pretend it reflects the entirety of Swedish classroom practice. It does offer tantalising hints about the constraints of curriculum and pedagogy in Sweden however, whether in students’ limited knowledge, the focus on their own experience, or the enthusiasm for the ice-cream van. The constrained curriculum A trainee teacher, educated abroad, started me thinking more carefully about the curriculum when she suggested it seemed less challenging in Sweden. She’s right. An incredible percentage of Swedish fifteen-year olds say they have never heard discussion of polygons: Andel elever som uppger att de aldrig har hört talas om polygoner Sweden, Finland, France, Canada, Poland (OECD, via Isak Skogstad (Swedish)) As Isak Skogstad puts it, “high school maths in Swedish schools is upper elementary maths in most other nations”. PISA shows that some nations focus on applied maths, some on formal maths. Sweden is an outlier: it seems to focus on neither. Källa: OECD (2014a), PISA 2012 Results: What Students Know and Can Do (Volume I, Revised edition, February 2014) The OECD note that: Sweden shows a mean of less than 0.8 on the index of exposure to formal mathematics, meaning that Swedish students almost never encounter such problems in their mathematics lessons, compared to the highest performer in mathematics in PISA 2012, Shanghai-China with a mean of 2.3, which indicates that students encounter such problems in mathematics lessons sometimes or frequently (OECD, 2014, via Isak Skogstad’s post (Swedish)).” In part this is due to limited time: among the forty-two participating countries in TIMMS, Swedish students receive the least time in maths Av samtliga 42 länder som deltar i studien har Sveriges åttondeklassare minst matematikundervisning. Källa: TIMSS Number of hours of maths education received by 8th Grade students: Sweden, Hungary, Norway, Singapore, China, Chile (TIMMS, via Isak Skogstad’s post (The government are now increasing the amount of time spent on maths to address this problem). The retreat of the teacher Time is one problem, but even within that time, the teacher’s role has been reimagined radically. Swedish schools have adopted an “extreme constructivist pedagogy”, in Per Kornhall‘s words. This can best be summarised by discussing a book published by Professor Jonas Linderoth in August, who set out to “apologise for the pedagogical ideas of the Nineties”. Linderoth’s guilt is visceral, as he describes the anti-knowledge, anti-teaching messages he spread as a young academic: Today my whole body shudders in shame when I think of the simplistic and populist message I conveyed.” Linderoth describes the reforms of the Nineties having “changed the story on what a good teacher is” and undermined the existing teaching corps: The timeless forms of teaching in which those who are able to do something tell others so that they can too came to be associated with abuse of power and iron discipline. Instead, the good teacher should support students’ independent learning, classroom work should derive from students’ natural motivation, boundaries between subjects should be dissolved and the school’s physical space should be be designed to support students’ own work rather than teachers’ story-telling.” Linderoth is particularly critical of an official report from 1992, which set out the new kind of teaching: The key words to describe students’ activities were exploration and discovery. The teacher’s role was to stimulate, support and guide. The report hardly mentions the students’ role to listen and understand, or the teachers’ role to tell, explain and instruct. Bit by bit the teaching profession’s historical identity and status was removed.” Those who didn’t embrace this new thinking were said to think problematically, “advocate iron discipline and enjoy giving low grades (All quotations taken from Linderoth’s article in Dagens Nyheter (paywall, Swedish))”. The results of ‘individualisation’ The consequences of expecting students to work individually and discover things for themselves are unsurprising. They are clearly visible in a 2009 report by Skolverket, the National Agency for Education. In a slightly ambiguous discussion of ‘Individualisation’ the report noted that teachers were broadly guided from the 1990s to adapt teaching to pupils needs. Rather than flexible (and student-led) learning, as was hoped, the result was a “shift of responsibility from teacher to pupil”. One consequence has been that: home support for schoolwork (where parents’ level of education and cultural capital are central) has gained increased importance for the performance of individual pupils” In discussing school choice and residential segregation, I mentioned that too much writing about Swedish education stops short having considered policy.

    This is a good example: policy is important in understanding why parental background increasingly affects students’ results, but pedagogical changes are the unexamined side of the coin. “More and more time is given to work”, Skolverket continue, while “instruction for the whole class is allotted less time”. Skolverket note with disapproval that this means less group work and no increase in student influence on teaching content. In due course they reach the underlying point however:It should not be taken as a given that schoolwork in small groups and independent investigation will necessarily benefit learning and understanding of the natural sciences. Many studies indicate the reverse, that special problems arise when pupils are left on their own to seek information or draw conclusions. Pupils need more teacher support in this endeavour than they actually get.” Skolverket recognise that the retreat of the teacher has not worked When working independently and at their own pace, pupils’ own schoolwork will tend to increase, with the result, in practice, that pupils are left more to themselves without a teacher being actively involved.

    Taken together, this research has shown that the shift towards more individual schoolwork has not enhanced pupils’ knowledge development.” Skolverket’s point concurs with Linderoth’s argument: teachers explain less and instruct less; classroom time goes to administration, information and instructions. Students lose out: they are no longer taught (Skolverket, 2010). Conclusions Just as Sweden reshaped the school’s position, it reshaped the role of the teacher. Given limited time, teachers came to focus on discovery learning and independent work. As the student’s role and status increased, the teacher retreated. The catastrophic fall in results in Swedish schools is partly political; it’s also partly pedagogical.


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