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Reforms have increased the differences within Swedish schools

Published: 29 August 2022

The municipalisation and the independent school reform have made the conditions for teachers in Swedish schools increasingly different according to a study from Luleå University of Technology.
“There are clear signs of differentiated conditions for teachers. This applies to everything, from premises to competence development. The conditions depend very much on where a teacher is situated”, says Karolina Parding, professor of sociology.

The governance of the welfare sector changed greatly in the early 1990s. In the school system mainly through the municipalisation – where the responsibility was transferred from the state to the municipalities – and the independent school reform, which opened up for private principals to run schools. During the last three decades, the employer landscape has been reshaped – Swedish teachers are today employed by a number of different actors. In addition, the independent school reform has brought about changes in the school system such as school choice, competition, privatization and marketing.

“It has also contributed to changed conditions and conditions for teachers' work. Everyone is in the hands of a market”, says Karolina Parding.

She and Anna Berg Jansson, senior lecturer in Human Work Science at Luleå University of Technology, have conducted qualitative interviews with upper secondary school teachers in the three most common “school market types" (according to the National Agency for Education's division): markets with less than 15,000 inhabitants, 15,000-40,000 inhabitants and 40,000-200,000 inhabitants.

Difficult from an equality perspective

The situation of each specific municipality is central to how teachers experience working conditions according to the researchers. 

“We see differentiated conditions in terms of everything from premises, skills development and learning to student base, how easy or difficult it is to attract teachers and the opportunity to get a full-time job. It is very, very different on all levels and it becomes tricky from an equality perspective, that is, if we want a school for everyone”, says Karolina Parding.

Research also shows that the conditions largely depend on where a teacher works. Previous studies in the area have mainly been done in large cities, where the independent school reform has had the greatest impact.

“Our studies provide a picture of what it looks like in the whole of Sweden and not just in  Stockholm. In a rural municipality with high emigration and deficits for the municipality, the question is not always so much about pedagogical visions, but perhaps more whether you can afford to keep an education program for another year or not”, says Karolina Parding.

In other "school markets", researchers have met teachers who feel that they have everything they want in terms of competence development, resources and students' study motivation.

Difficult to push issues as a collective

“For the teaching profession, the very different conditions can lead to it becoming more difficult as a collective to pursue and decide which issues are most important. It is not at all the same to be a teacher here as there.”

Karolina Parding says that it can be argued that there have always been differences between schools, but that there are problems linked to the current situation.

“Things can be different, but still just as good. What you want to avoid are the level differences. The business rarely gets better than the conditions that surround it. There will be different types of teaching, and also different good teaching, if the teachers are given very different conditions and conditions. From a democracy perspective, it is serious when there are very different conditions for students in different schools.”

“The governance context we have in Sweden today give results like this. It results in differentiation and heterogeneity. It is up to politicians to decide whether we should have it like this or not. But it is important to make it clear that conditions are very different.”


Anna Jansson

Anna Jansson, Senior Lecturer

Phone: +46 (0)920 492979
Organisation: Human Work Sciences, Humans and Technology, Department of Social Sciences, Technology and Arts
Karolina Parding

Karolina Parding, Professor, Recognised University Teacher

Phone: +46 (0)920 493029
Organisation: Human Work Sciences, Humans and Technology, Department of Social Sciences, Technology and Arts