Sweden’s education results is falling but the country 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, according to a new OECD report published in May 2015.
The OECD Perspective says that the country’s performance in the OECD’s PISA survey has declined over the past decade from around average to significantly below average. No other country taking part in PISA has seen a steeper fall. In the most recent test in 2012, Sweden ranked 28 among the 34 OECD countries in mathematics, 27 in reading and 27 in science.
“Sweden should take advantage of the broad consensus among teachers, schools and politicians of the urgent need for reform,” said Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director of Education and Skills, launching the report in Stockholm with Swedish Education Minister Gustav Fridolin. “Agreeing a national education strategy with clear priorities and responsibilities and stronger accountability will be critical to promoting long-term quality and equity.”
School discipline has worsened, with students more likely to arrive late for school than in any other OECD country, according to the report. And despite high job satisfaction, only 5% of lower secondary teachers believe that teaching is a valued profession in society, among the lowest levels across participating countries in a 2013 OECD survey on teaching and learning (TALIS).
Rising immigration has only had a limited impact on declining performance overall, says the OECD, but the gap between immigrants and native-born remains a challenge: almost one in two immigrant students (48%) perform below the baseline level in maths, compared with 22% for native-born students.
The report recommends that Sweden:
- Improve the quality and attractiveness of the teaching and school leadership profession. Only half (53%) of lower secondary teachers would choose the same career if they could decide again, partly due to the heavy workload and relatively low salaries for experienced teachers. School leaders and their employers should prioritise pedagogical leadership and encourage greater co-operation among teachers and invest more in professional development. A publicly-funded National Institute of Teacher and School Leader Quality would help improve recruitment and the quality of teaching and leadership in the education system.
- Review how school education is funded. The current funding mechanisms are not meeting the objectives of improving quality while maintaining equity. There are different options Sweden can use, including earmarked funding, defining criteria for municipalities and schools, and student funding formulae, to ensure equity and especially consistency in school funding across Sweden.
Strengthen support for disadvantaged students. This should include greater focus on enhancing language skills for migrant students and their parents; high quality reception classes; extra assistants in the classroom; and improved access for disadvantaged families to information about schools.
- Put in place a national school improvement strategy. School evaluation should be strengthened and the Swedish Schools Inspectorate should assist schools through more follow up and targeted support. It should help bring about a shift in culture from administrative compliance to responsibility for improvement.
The Swedish government asked the OECD in 2014 to review its school system. To prepare this report, the review team had meetings and exchanges with a wide range of stakeholders, including government officials, municipalities, schools, parents, students, teachers, unions, employer associations and key institutional players in education.