New database ranks Sweden’s high schools

Swedish students applying for admittance to the country’s high schools now have another tool to help them compare various schools following the launch on Friday of a new database.

New database ranks Sweden's high schools

The schools listing was created by the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) and ranks a number of factors, including on-time graduation rates, average grades for graduates, and the number of students who meet requirements for continuing on to higher education.

The database includes an index based on how a given school’s results compare to the national average.

“Comparing results with others can lead to both analysis and improvement,” said SALAR head Håkan Sörman in a statement.

The database is a part of SALAR’s Öppna jämförelser (‘Open comparisons’) project, which attempts to help taxpayers better assess the results of local government spending.

But the information may also be used by students to get more information about prospective schools and programmes, helping them decide to which schools they eventually apply.

Following nine years of compulsory education, students in Sweden have the option of continuing in 3-year upper secondary school programmes (gymnasium).

The programmes are designed for students aged 16- to 20-years-old, and include a choice from 17 different specialized subjects, ranging from journalism and business to arts and construction.

In general, students apply to high schools in their municipality, with admissions based on the marks a student earns in compulsory school.

Because certain programmes are so popular, the de facto admissions requirements can vary a great deal from one school or subject to another. Thus students often apply to several programmes, hoping their grades are high enough to gain admission to their first choice of high school.

Sweden’s National Agency for Education (Skolverket) also has a special website which offers prospective students a wealth of information about the country’s high schools.

Sörman admits, however, that the new database doesn’t take into account several other factors which could affect the statistics such as the socio-economic background of the students or differences in the finances and approach between Sweden’s different municipalities.

“If you have, like in Malmö and Södertälje, many students who come from a flood of refugees, that obviously affects the results,” he told the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.

But Nihad Bunar, an education policy researcher at Stockholm University, is concerned about the new database.

“When you assign normative values like better and worse, you can easily get a picture that lacks nuance. Even if the point of comparing is to help schools improve their operations, the effect can be the opposite, with increased stigmatizing as a result,” Bunar told SvD.

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Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

Children between ages 6-9 years should be allowed admittance to after-school recreation centers free of charge, according to a report submitted to Sweden’s Minister of Education Lotta Edholm (L).

Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

“If this reform is implemented, after-school recreation centers will be accessible to the children who may have the greatest need for the activities,” said Kerstin Andersson, who was appointed to lead a government inquiry into expanding access to after-school recreation by the former Social Democrat government. 

More than half a million primary- and middle-school-aged children spend a large part of their school days and holidays in after-school centres.

But the right to after-school care is not freely available to all children. In most municipalities, it is conditional on the parent’s occupational status of working or studying. Thus, attendance varies and is significantly lower in areas where unemployment is high and family finances weak.

In this context, the previous government formally began to inquire into expanding rights to leisure. The report was recently handed over to Sweden’s education minister, Lotta Edholm, on Monday.

Andersson proposed that after-school activities should be made available free of charge to all children between the ages of six and nine in the same way that preschool has been for children between the ages of three and five. This would mean that children whose parents are unemployed, on parental leave or long-term sick leave will no longer be excluded. 

“The biggest benefit is that after-school recreation centres will be made available to all children,” Andersson said. “Today, participation is highest in areas with very good conditions, while it is lower in sparsely populated areas and in areas with socio-economic challenges.” 

Enforcing this proposal could cause a need for about 10,200 more places in after-school centre, would cost the state just over half a billion kronor a year, and would require more adults to work in after-school centres. 

Andersson recommends recruiting staff more broadly, and not insisting that so many staff are specialised after-school activities teachers, or fritidspedagod

“The Education Act states that qualified teachers are responsible for teaching, but that other staff may participate,” Andersson said. “This is sometimes interpreted as meaning that other staff may be used, but preferably not’. We propose that recognition be given to so-called ‘other staff’, and that they should be given a clear role in the work.”

She suggested that people who have studied in the “children’s teaching and recreational programmes” at gymnasium level,  people who have studied recreational training, and social educators might be used. 

“People trained to work with children can contribute with many different skills. Right now, it might be an uncertain work situation for many who work for a few months while the employer is looking for qualified teachers”, Andersson said.