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Challenges and tendencies - Sweden

As a consequence of reduced economic resources, the differences between municipalities and schools have increased. In many municipalities this development was viewed as a serious threat to the schools ability to maintain their quality and to work for inclusion. This brought clear demands for accounting and public insight, which took place via actions like quality assurance and requirements for equality. Quality assurance was seen as a way of trying to prevent the deterioration of quality, about which alarming reports were being received. The groups of children and the classes became larger, the teacher corps decreased and material shortages affected every school in the country. In order to guaranty quality, the municipalities were obliged to account for quality in schools at the end of 1990s. 

The gap between the intentions for the school in general and the local schools actual conditions must never become too wide. An effective political control therefore involves a compromise between the requirements of decision process and the local schools conditions and opportunities. Here we can see a dialectic relationship between goal and activity. When the school is continually subjected to new demands and expectations, it is up to the teachers to find the balance between all the demands and expectations. There is a risk, however, that if the teacher is alone and finds him/herself under permanent pressure, additional demands will result in them failing to deliver. It is important, that teachers have a firm basis upon which they can develop their own educational operation successfully. 

Such a complex system as a school must be designed so that it is built up at least partially from ‘grass roots level’ by having the school staff actively participate in knowledge processes and constantly try to define their own roles. Governing the professional system of a school, with demands of extensive planning documents and breakdown of goals shows an underestimation of a school’s complexity. The school’s operation makes demands on individual and situation-adapted problem solving – no school is like any other.

The big issue we can see from this construction and the link to practise is how to combine the careful use of assessment to support the pupils’ development, with the public interest of information around school improvement. Furthermore the information from aggregated assessment is supposed to be used as a measure of school quality as well as for parents’ local choice of school. The assessments that are summarised to a grade are also used for the selection of students for the upper secondary education. 

When the national assessment system, which is constructed for the purpose of supporting all pupils’ developments, including those with disabilities, also must fulfil quite different interests we can see a dilemma. For instance the pupils’ shall develop their own knowledge in relation to their prerequisites but on the other hand, this knowledge shall also measure as absolute goal levels, as described before. This seems to cause conflict in the school situation and could be a hinder for inclusion. 

The Government has decided that from the year 2006 every student in the compulsory school will have an individual development programme (IEP) . The IEP shall describe each pupil’s development toward the perspective goals in the curriculum and syllabi. It will also describe what support must be given so that the plan will be a kind of quality assurance. The pupil’s participation in the plan is of great importance. Through continuous communication with pupils and parents the plan will take form. Twice a year the school staff will have a meeting with the pupil and parents to assess the pupil’s development and to set long and short-term targets. This meeting aims at discussing the pupil’s cognitive and social development and how the school can help the pupil to achieve goals.  

All of this is described in the IEP. To give the professionals support in writing the IEP, the National Agency of Education will write down guidelines for this work.

The Swedish Government means that an IEP is expected to support the pupil in their learning and social development in school and that it also clarifies this for the parents and  teachers, but there might be some risks as well. If the IEP consists of descriptions of the pupil from just a medical-psychometric approach, then there is a risk that the learning situation will be isolated from the context. It will present a great challenge for teachers in describing the pupil’s development in pedagogical terms without any individual judgement of the pupils or their families. 

Research in Sweden has showed that quite often the measures in the Educational Action Programme (EAP) are both private and questionable from a pedagogical view.  The language used is formal, with a lot of expert expressions, and hard for the pupils and parents to understand. Yet another problematic issue is how delicate information about pupils is to be dealt with and transferred. What information is necessary in both the EAP and IEP? and who own the plans, the pupil, the school, or the municipalities? What happens with the plan when the pupil leaves school? These questions will be challenges for the professionals.

 

Sources: 

  • Dnr 2003:251. Individuell planering och dokumentation. Myndigheten för skolutveckling. Stockholm.
  • Persson, Bengt (2002). Åtgärdsprogram i grundskolan. Förekomst, innehåll och användning. Stockholm: Skolverket. (Swedish Agency for Education)
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