As I wander around this Swedish Free School, I note the windowed classrooms, so that anyone can see inside, the wooden walls with the alphabet painted in bright colours and the very warm and carefree feel of the place. The kids are a multicultural mix, though few are black, and they are working sensibly. They move with order around the building and they seem happy.
I’m talking with one of the teachers and I ask why she left the Swedish state school system.
“Because of the chaos,” she says. “There is no discipline. The students do what they want. They listen to their iPods and mobiles in class.”
My eyes open wide. “They have their mobiles out in lessons?”
She nods. “Yes. There is nothing the teacher can do about it. There are no punishments like detention in Sweden.”
I literally stop walking. “There are no detentions?”
I hold my hand up. “Wait a minute, you’re saying that in all the state schools in Sweden, there are no detentions?”
The teacher smiles. “Well, that’s my experience and that of my friends. In Sweden, we don’t like discipline. In fact, we [this school] cannot even use the word in our brochures.”
I frown. “But here, it’s different, yes?”
She nods. “Oh yes. Here we’re all about order. They call us the Nazi school.”
I look around at the lovely wooden lockers and paintings on the walls and wonder how on earth this school could be described in this way. I should say, however, that “Free School” in Sweden does not necessarily mean “school with discipline”. Many Free Schools in Sweden follow the trend of the Swedish state sector. It is simply that this one has decided to take a radical stand against liberalism – banning phones, hats, iPods and the like, in lessons.
The teacher continues taking me on a tour of the school. We walk into a classroom, interrupting the end of a lesson where only a few students are left. The teacher immediately walks towards me and I hold out my hand. She shakes her head, holding up her shimmering palms. “Oh no! I can’t shake hands. We’ve been playing with condoms!” She laughs. “You know! For sex ed!”
I’m stunned. As I walk away, I chuckle at the idea of this school being called the Nazi school when they are probably more liberated than all of the schools in Britain. How many British teachers can say that they have covered their hands in condom goo? So why are these teachers a bunch of Nazis? Because they insist on discipline.
Sweden has been enjoying the luxury of being rich, sparsely populated (nine million people) and homogenous for some time. Immigration and modernity are changing the country. They might be getting away with their rampant liberalism in their schools for now because when the vast majority of your kids are middle class, you can. Give it 15 years. The chaos is going to come back and bite them.