Free Education

For the first time in a teaching career that spans almost a decade (eek!) I am about to enter an educational system that is not that of the UK. For the first time ever I

For the first time in a teaching career that spans almost a decade (eek!) I am about to enter an educational system that is not that of the UK. For the first time ever I am waving goodbye to the National Curriculum, compulsory exams – whether SATs, I/GCSE, A Level or IB – and jumping through endless hoops set by the DFEE or LEA.  It is going to be an interesting journey of discovery, particularly as the Swedish Educational system has often been projected in the UK as an exemplar of what we should aspire to.

The UK system, once upheld around the world as an excellent education, is said to be failing. Students leave school with little or no understanding of basic grammar; universities note that new students struggle to structure a simple essay; employers complain that young employees lack social skills and simple literacy or numeracy.  The older generation say, with some disdain, that exams are getting easier year by year or accuse teaching authorities of ‘dumbing down’ the curriculum. Sadly, It no longer seems shocking to see young people on shows such as ‘Big Brother’ showing complete ignorance of politics, Geography or current events – in fact if they do they are labelled ‘boring’.  Anybody remember the first season when they were given topics to discuss and they mostly seemed to have a modicum of intelligence?

So should the UK be looking towards the Swedish model? I’m not going to attempt to answer that question, I simply don’t know enough about it yet. But I am looking forward to finding out now that I am employed by a Swedish ‘Free’ school – a school which has enjoyed great success and rapid expansion across Sweden, and a school that recently met with David Cameron to discuss the possibility of bringing the Swedish free school to the UK.

In Sweden, the education system is divided into the following components: Förskola (Preschool), Grundskola (Comprehensive school; age 7—16), and Gymnasieskola (High School; age 16—19). Swedish children generally begin their school life at 6 or 7 and have 10 years of compulsory education in total, although 98% of students who finish compulsory school go on to High school.  Although the students are monitored closely and regular contact between parent and teacher is strictly enforced, students do not receive any official assessment until they sit their National Tests in Grade 8 which is a UK Year 10. This test will be marked by their own subject teachers and not sent to an external examiner. Students are graded with a 3 grade system: G:  godkänd, VG: väl godkänd and MVG: mycket väl godkänd, which equates to: Pass, Merit and Distinction (or good, very good and extra very good as I like to think of it!) Other than these National tests, students sit no kind of formal examination. It is quite daunting that my two Grade 9 (Year 11) classes, 66 students in total, will be relying solely on my assessment of their level as their final grade after 10 years of schooling. Strangely, I trust my own judgement in this matter more than the lottery that is the GCSE.

Internationalla Engelska Skolan Enskede (IESE), where I now work is not a private school. It is international in name but it is not an International school like BIS, my previous school which was a fee paying business. The school is owned by a non-profit company as it is one of Sweden’s Free Schools, in which all students are given a voucher (sum of money to pay for their education) which they are free to take to any school of their choice, whether state or ‘Free’. They do not have to live in a ‘catchment area’; this was intended to offer all students equal opportunity despite social status, location or financial situation.  At IESE there is no entrance requirement for the school but it is completely bilingual, students are taught equally in English and in Swedish although English is primarily the working language. Even teachers are encouraged to speak Swedish and learning the language is compulsory according to Swedish law, therefore the school is obliged to provide Swedish lessons to all non-native speakers. Students who have another language are also entitled to a tutor of their own language to teach them in school once a week. Therefore the school is very multi-cultural and enjoys great success due to high academic achievement and a ‘tough love’ discipline policy which does not seem to exist in state Swedish schools. All students and teachers receive a free lunch every day and believe me, the food is GOOD. Even Mr. Nebbett would be impressed. There is usually a selection of 3 meal choices, a vast array of salad, vegetables and bread and fruit is available at all times. The staffroom fruit bowl is emptied rapidly!

IESE has been introducing IGCSEs over the last few years. Swedish law prevents the exam from becoming compulsory to all students, and the school is unable to fund the exam as this could be construed as favouritism. Students will opt to take the exam and part of my role this year is to encourage students to sit the exam, teach the classes and introduce IGCSE Literature alongside Language which was offered last year. I will be running IGCSE Literature as my club choice this year. Clubs incidentally are timetabled into our normal working schedule! I already have 18 signed up and even more asking. Seems that my PR is working – maybe I should consider a career change?!

There are many things that I want to write about regarding my new job as I am fascinated by working within a new system but I will save that for another time.


4 thoughts on “Free Education

  1. I totally agree that the UK schooling system has a problem! It is all about examinations, and passing those examinations.

    When I was 12 my math teacher taught our class (the top level math class) only what we needed to know to pass the exam that year. The year after when we were passed to another math teacher, and had to undergo more examinations, the new math teacher realised that the whole class knew barely nothing, and we had to be demoted!!!

    At the same time I like that the UK system had mutliple markers per each exam paper, this way their decisions are completely unbiased, but aside from this the Swedes definately have something right going on. I certainly can’t complain that they are also paying for my education- and I’m not even Swedish!

    1. It does strike me as a bit odd that there is no moderation on marks in the Swedidh system too. I have argued for hours with other highly skilled English teachers about what is a C or an A and it’s often difficult to agree. I can’t see how there is any consistency when each individual teacher gives the grade.

  2. Really ?nterest?ng. Thank you.
    Off the top?c a l?ttle – I’ve just f?n?shed my PYP tra?n?ng yesterday where they sa?d “we should not be encourag?ng ch?ldren to ra?se money or collect food for the needy as ?t just tra?ns them to look for qu?ck f?x short term solut?ons and says that ?t’s ok to g?ve ?n order to make yourself feel better about yourself. Instead they should be encouraged to look more deeply at soc?al ?ssues w?th an ?nqu?r?ng m?nd so that, as tomorrow’s leaders, they can help to solve them .

    1. Hey, PYP huh? Another feather to add to your already finely strung bow!

      I agree that long term solutions are better than short term quick fixes but surely charity and a charitable mind is also important? So no money raising cake sales for you guys then 🙁

      How is the school?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.