In October 2008, the Swedish Schools Inspectorate was established as a governmental body. The Swedish Schools Inspectorate was assigned three main areas of responsibility: educational inspection, investigation of complaints and approval of applications to start independent schools. During the years that the Swedish Schools Inspectorate has been in operation, new approaches to school inspection have been developed, and methods and procedures are still under development
The main aim of all inspection activities is to ensure the right of all children and students to a good education in a safe environment. It is also stated that the Swedish Schools Inspectorate, through the use of different inspection tools, shall influence each inspected school to improve, but the Swedish Schools Inspectorate also has the task of contributing to improvement of the whole educational system.
Inspections of schools
The Swedish Schools Inspectorate relies on four main tools of inspection. The first is the regular supervision, which covers all schools according to a schedule which runs over a period of four to five years, and which mainly focuses on issues of legality and equality of education. The second is thematic quality evaluations, which focus on quality issues in particular school subjects or special functions. The third is investigation of complaints from individual students or their parents. While the starting point is the individual child, the investigations may also attend to different systems and functions within the school. The fourth tool of the inspectorate is scrutiny of applications to start independent schools, and inspection visits to newly established independent schools.
In 2010, a new system of differentiated inspections was introduced. A so called “basic inspection” is done in schools which on the basis of the initially available knowledge are judged to be well-functioning. For schools where there are uncertainties if this is the case, a so called “widened inspection” is carried out. The selection of schools for widened inspection is based on grades and results on national tests, observations made in previous inspections, complaints, and questionnaire responses from students, parents and teachers. The differentiated model also takes into account a number of factors that according to research characterizes successful schools. School leadership which gives priority to educational achievement, high expectations on the students, and common social norms are examples of such factors.
Two inspectors participate in the school visit, which lasts one, or two days, but occasionally longer. Prior to a regular supervision visit, a survey is completed by the individual schools and by the responsible authority, which may be a municipality or the board of an independent school. Existing materials, in the form of statistics, quality reports, previous supervisory decisions, and reports from quality inspections, are relied upon during this process. The aim is to get an overview of the responsible authority’s activities and identify any shortcomings.
When inspecting a municipality within the regular supervision, all schools are visited. School leaders, teachers, and school nurses are interviewed, as are pupils and the politicians in charge. The aim is to have the activities of the school described from several perspectives. When observing the school environment, lessons or other activities involving children, pupils, or students, close attention is paid to how the work is carried out in relation to the regulations. Thus, both legal aspects and quality aspects are attended to.
The regular inspections focus on fulfillment of national objectives, students’ achievement levels, safety, orderly classrooms, equal access to education for all students and legal rights of the individual.
After a visit to a school within a regular supervision, the inspectors give oral feedback directly to the head teacher. A couple of weeks later, the results are published in a report for the inspected schools and the municipality. The responsible authority and the head teachers are given the opportunity to make comments on the inspectors’ preliminary written report. Then a formal decision is made, which is aimed at the responsible organization. If the operation does not meet the requirements, the Swedish Schools Inspectorate demands that the responsible organization takes action to rectify these shortcomings.
The Swedish Schools Inspectorate has the right to sanction municipal schools and to withdraw approvals and public funding for independent schools that do not fulfill their obligations in accordance with rules and regulations.
Studying school inspections in Sweden
The project runs for a total of three years (January 2011-December 2013); each year from September to November, principals in a random sample of 1167 schools offering primary grades, and 987 schools offering secondary grades are asked to participate in an online survey, measuring the changes they implement as a result of school inspections. The results will be analysed using a time series design, in which the timing of the inspection visit in the three years of data collection is taken into account.