A life less sweet for the Swedes;Career development

25th June 1999 at 01:00
Sweden used to be a land of plenty as far asin-service training is concerned. But those days are long gone, reports John Walshe

Sweden was the first country in Europe to introduce five "study days" for teachers, way back in the Fifties. That was, of course, long before a certain aspiring British politician was old enough to introduce his own five "Baker" days.

Until the Eighties, Sweden's teachers had little to complain about. Central government provided the money and off the teachers went on their study days to learn a bit and enjoy themselves. In the schools, change came "dropping slowly", to borrow Yeats's famous phrase.

But then change came charging in fast. If you think British teachers have been bombarded with reforms you should listen to the litany of Swedish "initiatives". Previously, the nice nanny state told them what to do, but now Swedish teachers have a dramatically changed curriculum which they have to adjust to local circumstances. The new assessment procedures are also much more complex.

The biggest shock of all, though, is their changed social status. The country's 110,000 teachers used to be part of the sedate civil service but are now at the mercy of the Kommuns (local authorities). Some of them have relatively little understanding of what goes in schools, which now have to compete with other public services for a share of the municipal budget. The Kommuns can also decide to spend cash on textbooks rather than in-service courses, as most of the earmarked central funds for training have vanished.

Add in the effects of public spending cuts - or, as the Swedes call them, "cut-downs" - and you find that less money is spent on in-service training in some Kommuns now than in 1990.

The five "study days" have also been overtaken by an agreement between the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and the teachers' unions for 104 hours of "competence development", some of which is expected to take place during the summer holidays.

Until the 1980s, the National Board of Education suggested themes for in-service training, such as the environment, quality or special education, and the universities issued lengthy catalogues to schools. In other words, the schools picked from a smorgasbord offered by the universities while the board suggested some flavourings. The board has since been abolished and schools are now expected to prepare their own menu in collaboration with local authorities and training-providers.

Swedish teachers now find that the possibilities of using INSET to further their careers are limited. If they want to progress they often need extra qualifications and there is little money available from official sources for personal development of this kind. This year only 1,600 applicants are receiving government funding to attend courses, which seldom last more than five weeks.

National funds for in-service training targeted at school improvement are also limited. This year about 1,500 schools or Kommuns have applied for these funds but there is only enough money for one in three of them.

The passing of the old certainties and generous funding policies is lamented, but optimists see the current reforms as an opportunity to enhance their professionalism. Although there may be less money available for training and further study, teachers have increased discretion over how they go about their work. That's a fair exchange as far as some are concerned.

John Walshe is the education editor of the 'Irish Independent' and the principal author of 'Staying ahead: in-service training and teacher professional development', published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

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