In the introduction we asked what has become of the vision of a school for all in Sweden. We also looked back and asked what the practical implications of the school for all vision really were. Did it ever become realised or was it just political rhetoric? Does the moral ideal of democracy which is salient in a school for all, still underpins the educational policy, and can one conclude that educational practice in the 2010th decade apprehends students’ diversity as an asset in teaching and that it is important that students participate and learn in school out from their own conditions? Finally we asked if it could be stated that a school for all still holds true but is instead fulfilled through strengthening the rights of each child in school.
The historical review demonstrates that the idea of a nationwide school system for all has roots far back in the 17th century and that steps were taken at points, e.g. 1649 with the proposal of a three level school system and 1842 with the folk-school reform, but that it was not until the 1960s and the economic upswing after world war II that it became possible to finance an expansion that included all children and thus also the building of new school houses and other supporting resources. After world war II the moral ideal of democracy was in focus and although the different political parties had not at all been in agreement in the preparatory work of the comprehensive school reform they after its decision became almost strangely devoted to the ideal of a school for all which should foster the students into democratic citizenship and give them a better life. This is, we argue, the manifest result of the school for all vision the creation of a nationwide school system on the foundation of equity and democracy. Every child has today access to this system and the great majority of students like it in schools and they think that they learn there and get relevant support from their teachers. And furthermore almost every child belongs to the system of primary and secondary schools, very few per cents reside in special schools.
In today's neo-liberal educational policy the concept a school for all is not a part of the rhetoric. However, equivalence in terms of equal opportunities for all students to education regardless of geographic, social or cultural affiliation is still on the agenda. What is not, however, pointed out in today's political rhetoric or in the concrete policy measures is the moral ideal of democracy that sees the differences as an asset in teaching and in which everyone will participate according to their circumstances and where inclusion, equity and participation is the key words. All students’ rights to receive support and assistance, regardless of conditions and capacity to achieve the school's knowledge objectives are emphasized. But that the goals could be adapted to students' conditions and that the differences could also be seen as an asset is difficult to read into the policy that is advocated. The increased focus on children's rights in a legal meaning also raises concerns in relation to the concept of a school for all. Is there a shift in the perception of students as right holders in a moral sense to right holders also in a legal sense? If so how does this affect the view of a school for all? Is there a risk that schools and students and their parents are seen as counterparts instead of partners and that the distance between them will increase?
One could argue that the moral ideal of democracy underpinned the interest of the inner life of schools that was significant for the Swedish educational policy work during the 1970s. The imperative from this ideal was to make it manifest in the educational practise. As in many other countries this resulted in research about the culture of schools and the resistance to change. Local school development projects increased as a result of this interest. From this research we can learn that schools are organisations embedded in an educational institution loaded with traditions. To make life change for teachers and leaders as well as for students in these organisations long-term improvement work is required focusing both at the teachers’ (and students’) views as well as practical business of teaching and learning. The focus on local school development could be said to maintain such a long-term practical improvement work. With the new agenda introduced by the new liberal Alliance the interest of this inner-life has taken on a different turn. The Alliance could be said to still keep an interest of what is happening in schools, but instead of foster local improvement work to solve difficult issues, they make regulations and laws from it, and expand the control system, in line with other countries in a manner that make them appear like transnational technologies. The difficulties is solved on a juridical level and on a control level instead of a social level which e.g. the former Agency of School Development did by fostering dialogues with school leaders and stakeholders in the municipalities.
The intensive use of a juridical and control level in Swedish educational policy and practise shall be understood in its historical context. Those levels have as the historical review shows always been of great importance. In fact, the state’s relationship to local school actors has varied during the decades. As we have told there was a period in the 1950s where control was intensified with more testing. In the 1970s and 1980s there was a period when instead the local responsibility was focused. And now in the NPM-era the state and its control of the local actors again are intensified and this time with global economic organisations at their back. We argue that this control regime in fact overshadows the learning, equity and democracy agenda that still are there in the curriculum. The PISA focus on reading, maths and science put important values of democracy, aesthetics and social sciences in the back.
The meaning of a school for all was during the years after the comprehensive school reform in 1962 elaborated in a homogeneous society where national unity, a common curriculum and strong national governance was necessary to raise the quality of the school system. Today, we have a multi-ethnic society and a strong commercially driven youth culture, along with a digital, virtual reality that takes much of the students’ time. Not all people consider school as a way to a better life. In this context, the idea of school for all should continually confront itself with the new societal challenges, and revise its content and methods in a way that helps its essential qualities to survive. So far, the tools provided by the transnational technologies, have been of no help to solve the heavy challenges that our teachers are confronted with every day. The key word to make the ideal of school for all survive is flexibility. Therefore we argue that the national directives should not be too strict. Decentralisation and a local space for development is a step in the right way. It is important to encourage teachers’ professionalism and creativity, broaden the scope of quality and not putting it in chains by controlling quantitative learning outcomes. Another key word is confidence, a word that does not seem to exist in the economists’ vocabulary.
We argue that the interest from the state and society of what is going on in school is one part of the confronting way to renew and improve the vision of a school for all. According to Luhmann (Seidl & Becker, 2005) organisations are basically closed systems and they have to be challenged in order to improve. From the research on the inner lives of school we know that it is difficult for principals and teachers to invent problems and take actions outside the meaning of that which is constructed inside the organisation. This means that one cannot just inform schools and leave the responsibility with them. Instead of an intensive use of transnational technologies in the form of legislation and controlling, we argue for an informative technology combined with a rather intensive interaction and communication between school organisations and state organisations an interaction in which people meet and communicate in a way that creates communities of practice (Wenger, 1998) where both parties can learn and improve their respective residence of organisation. This will not only improve school organisations but also state organisations or those authorities responsible for school review information and improve strategies. In the NPM-era of economic interest this perhaps appears costly and unnecessary since one can think that the information already are there and it is just to follow it and correct the organisation of schools.
We suggest the this combination of an informative technology that review school results combined with an interaction and communication strategy could constitute a new vision where school organisations become fundamental parts of the society; a vision where schools are not just organisations where all students can acquire knowledge and skills to join the work force, but where schools are the very residence for cultivating human ideals as democracy and equity. Long ago the vision of creating a nation-wide school system where all children could enter seemed ambitious and costly. In a similar way this vision of a society-wide school system where many societal organisations interact and learn can seem grandiose and resource consuming. But it is worth to hold as a vision to strive for, because the vision of a school for all is under serious threat. There is no way back. We need a new vision that takes us into the future, a vision that will take the ideal of a school for all and a school for every child to a school for the whole of the society to engage in.