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Building a new school: Municipal school planning during the Swedish comprehensive school reform 1950-1970
Uppsala Universitet.
Uppsala Universitet.
Uppsala universitet.
Linnaeus University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of pedagogy.
2017 (English)Conference paper, Presentation (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

In times of increased globalization, the national level has been challenged as the prime unit of education policy analysis, generating an increased interest not only for international policy, but also for regional and local policy making. This paper explores how municipal variations – in terms of educational and socio-economic resources, local initiatives and decisiveness – have affected municipal responses to national school reforms in the case of Sweden. The Swedish school system generally has relied on a complex balance between national, regional and local governing and responsibilities, but though municipalities always have been important school policy actors, municipality agency has been quite neglected in historical school policy research in Sweden (Roman et al., 2015).   

This study is part of the comparative project ‘Who has governed the Swedish school?’ which started in 2014 and will finish 2017. The overall project aim is to compare over-time variations in balance between municipal and national school governing in different Swedish municipalities. We trace local school policy events 1950 – 2010 in three distinctly diverse municipalities  (a big city, a mid-range city and a rural community). Our main research questions are: To what extent has the Swedish school been homogeneously organized and acted out? What actions have been taken to claim municipal interests, while dealing with national directives and guidelines? Which international influences are visible in the context of municipal school policy? 

This paper concentrates on the materialization of the Swedish comprehensive school reform of the 1960s, focusing the planning, construction and furnishing of school buildings and school-supporting facilities ( such as audio-visual support centers, libraries etc) as a fundamental means for enabling the comprehensive school reform ideals: to introduce a highly standardized and modern school throughout the country. Design and location of school facilities was a key education policy issue during the reform period, and appears as a good case for comparing municipal variation. The national standards associated with the introduction of the comprehensive school met with a very fragmented educational landscape, affecting pace and strength of the standardization process at the municipal level. The Swedish comprehensive school reform was strongly promoted as a main road to modernity, democracy, rationality, prosperity and internationalization.  Our contribution lies in the interest for these reform changes from a local point of view, taking both national and transnational education policy into account.

Theoretically our project draws on the curriculum theory tradition developed by Dahllöf (1967, 1971), Lundgren (1977, 1979, 1984) and Englund (1986/2005), focusing societal and political prerequisites for education and educational change. This structural approach though has generally emphasized the national level of schooling, with regards to policy formulation and to actual school activities and outcomes, while partly ignoring local variations. We stress the importance of historical studies of local school making, in order to produce sophisticated reform analyses. To support this theoretical claim, we relate to international research on decentralization, marketization and globalization (cf. Ball et al 2007; Hopmann 2008; Schriewer 2009; Lawn & Grek 2012). These theoretical strands constitutes an analytical framework where the historical comparison of local school policy relate to intertwined local, national and transnational policy arenas, which together constitute a complex socio-political context for local policy navigation(Nóvoa & Yariv-Mashal, 2003).

In this mainly descriptive study, we make use of the concepts of geographical asymmetry and geographical justice (partly linked to the concept of spatial justice, Soja 2010, Clement & Kanai 2015) within and between different local policy-arenas. These concepts cover fundamental infrastructural disparities between different types of geographical areas,  in this case specifically referring to school buildings and educational resources.

Method

We use a comparative approach in search for similarities and differences in terms of functional equivalence (Schriewer, 2011), This includes thick descriptions of how local policies relate to and handle educational problems, for instance their supply of school buildings and facilities. Education policy in three Swedish municipalities are being described and compared. Our three chosen municipalities are in many respects distinctively different. Stockholm is a major city and the national capital, Växjö is a mid-size city and a regional capital while Tierp is a rural community. This means they differ in general conditions (geography, demography, socio-economic and political conditions, level of education) and educational infrastructure (types and numbers of schools and other educational institutions) before and during the reform periods studied, yet allowing for irregular initiatives and changes enabled by local actors. In our project, two empirical descriptive themes are displayed: 1) Political actions, including national policy exchange and local administrative development; 2) Educational efforts, including communication technology investments and transnational exchange. In this paper we elaborate on these descriptive themes through the lens of school building policy. The main empirical material in our project is municipal school policy documents from our three case municipalities during the period of 1950-2010, giving empirical weight to the first half of this period. We regard this period as constitutive for how municipalities established the Swedish comprehensive school. The municipality archives include varied and detailed materials and are rich on content. This material provides substantial information on the different local educational situations and initiatives as well as municipal relations to national school policy. Archive material of this kind has not previously been used that often in similar historical studies, as municipal school policy has, as mentioned, been rather neglected. In addition to the municipal archive material, we also use data from official and semi-official sources at the national arena, such as National School Agency (and its predecessor) and Swedish Municipal Association (SKL), and media articles (newspaper and agency journal articles).

Expected Outcomes

Municipal school policy changes following the 1960s school reforms in Sweden implied increased conformity, both at the municipal and the school level. The reforms increased the amount of national regulations, limiting the municipal scope of action and leading to a more homogeneous school, as 9-year comprehensive schools and upper secondary schools were established nation-wide. But municipal school-administrative conditions and traditions kept being highly relevant for school-making, and the national standardization agenda met with more or less resistant local conditions and aspirations. We define this interplay as a matter of geographical justice, suggesting that each municipality has had its unique way of materializing political visions. The comprehensive school reform of Sweden took more than two decades to complete. Comprehensive school buildings and supporting facilities thus were constructed and furnished during quite different conditions, depending on demographic varieties and changes in building standard ideals. Cities mainly faced the challenge of combining population growth and school system exchange, which meant handling a lot of construction work and teacher recruitment while expanding its administration. Rural municipalities partly faced similar challenges but rural population decline interfered with the reform ambitions, causing inter-municipal competition and animosity about qualifying for secondary schooling. School always has varied due to geographical asymmetries leading to different municipal conditions and actions. The interplay between municipal conditions-actions and nationally run reform agendas, and the municipal consequences of that interplay, must be understood as key components in the establishment of new schools as part of school reforming. Relating historical comparisons to different policy arenas enables a more complex analysis of school governing in the tension-field between centralization and decentralization, exceeding a simplified logic of implementation. In addition, it enables historical school policy analyses which emphasize the local importance of education in its own right, as part of a local infrastructure and local traditions.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2017.
National Category
Pedagogy
Research subject
Pedagogics and Educational Sciences, Pedagogics
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:lnu:diva-67443OAI: oai:DiVA.org:lnu-67443DiVA: diva2:1136233
Conference
ECER
Projects
Who has governed the Swedish school? Municipality, school and state during 60 years of Swedish school reforms in a world of change
Funder
Swedish Research Council
Available from: 2017-08-26 Created: 2017-08-26 Last updated: 2017-08-26

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