Sunshine and Skolverket in Stockholm
The final part of the Nursery World early years trip to Finland and Sweden was spent in the lovely city of Stockholm.
Straight off the Viking Line ship, we went to the National Agency of Education, Skolverket, for a talk from Karin Nilsson, the director of education. She gave us a very interesting and informative run-through the system in Sweden.
As in Finland, children from one to five are in 'daycare', followed by a pre-school year at age six before 'compulsory school'. Most one- to five-year-olds attend pre-schools, while 3-5 per cent are in family daycare, and a small proportion in 'open pre-school' where parents and children attend for around three hours a day, a bit like a playgroup and used by a lot of immigrant families.
Take-up of daycare is 46.1 per cent at the age of one, leaping up to 86.2 per cent at two, and 93 per cent by five. Nearly all six-year-olds access the pre-school year. A maximum fee system operates, which is three per cent of gross income for one child. A small proportion of pre-schools are independent, run by parents or big companies, but the state funds attendance in the same way as at a maintained setting.
There is an ambition for all staff in pre-schools to be trained early years teachers, and this is currently running at around 54 per cent. There is again a shortage of people wanting to train, as there is for teaching jobs at all levels.
Off to pre-school
Next, we continued to the Malmgarden pre-school, one of a group of five Vastra Soders pre-schools catering for 325 children. Here we saw the Lpfo pre-school curriculum in action, working with the Stockholm city plan and the pre-school's own operational plan. The cornerstones of Lpfo are social competence, managing everyday reality, and fundamental values, with the teacher's responsibility prime, and no measuring of children or goals.
The head and pedagogical leader were very welcoming and impressive - the work is hard, with staff starting at 6.30am and working 40 hours a week with a half-hour break each day.
This pre-school had a special group of children aged two-and-a-half to five or six who were outdoors all day to sleep, eat and play. There is a waiting list to join the group.
The following day we went to a Montessori school, Vasastans, which is private, but still with the same maximum fee for parents for pre-school. Here, the six-year-olds stayed with the younger group instead of having a separate class, but had some separate activities to prepare them for school.
The pre-school children were divided into one- to three-year-olds and three- to six-year-olds. Montessori sessions working with the 'prepared environment' of Montessori materials were incorporated into the school day.
A 15-year-old girl and 14-year-old boy told us about their experiences of pre-school and school in Sweden, including at Vastastans (in very good English, of course).
All that was left was a walking tour of Stockholm with our guide Isabelle before the evening flight home.
The group was left with much to think about and many ideas to take home. The funding of early years is huge compared to the UK, but the Scandinavian systems are not without their problems, especially in recruiting highly-qualified staff.
One very noticeable and quite surprising thing was that the outdoor areas of all the settings we visited in Finland and Sweden seemed fairly limited - gritty surfaces with large pieces of fixed equipment, but no sense of an outdoor classroom with the sensory gardens, vegetable plots and mud kitchens that many UK nurseries now have.
Travel broadens the mind, however, and the chance to see another country's system in action is not to be missed.