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Vocational programmes
Conclusions (> Slutsatser)
National Conclusions: Sweden

Göran Årman
Stockholm Institute of Education

February 2000 (revised) 

Reference: SE: Vocational Programmes.

Overall it can be said that vocational education has drawn a certain interest in Europe both in political circles and from representatives engaged in several forms of industry and, at least in Sweden,  particularly the manufacturing industry. In Sweden one of the catchwords has been competence, however, the interpretation of that notion has, as one could expect, been somewhat differentiated depending on the arena discussed in.  In a broad sense improved competence should, apart from the professional implication, lead to parity of esteem, and the vocational education was subject to an academisation in an effort to make it possible for the students choosing that route to get access to higher education.

Since the vocational education is expanding in the academic area it is in a way submitted to the traditions and culture in that area. Students taking advantage of  the possibilities from the enlarged general education would no doubt benefit from the reform while those with a more practical disposition will see it as a burden.  Certain programmes are considered as less prestigious then others, an opinion  not only expressed from the students but even from teachers. Those differences in status and prestige between teachers and as a consequence the students could possibly depend on the considerably less academic education for the vocational teachers compared to teachers in general subjects. One of the ambitions with the changes in the upper secondary education over the years, not only the latest reform, has been to lessen the social  gap  between the different pathways of education and the participants herein. This has not happened, there are even indications that  it has to some extent increased. The attractiveness of some vocational programmes are in baisse, in focus is the Industry Programme where difficulties to recruit students has been experienced.

The teachers have faced great challenges  with the new curricula, not every teacher had had knowledge of the motives and the underlying philosophy of the reform. There are examples of teachers who know the reform but do not accept it, and others who find confirmation that their way of teaching is in line with the reform. There are also an ever increasing group of teachers who see the reform as an opportunity to  renew the pedagogics and didactic  forms of teaching in a way that both they themselves and the students find stimulating and rewarding. In the incipient phase of the reform co-operation between teachers was considered to be more difficult then in the former system. Today there is an increasing level of contact between teachers, and the real potential of development, as our national study verifies, lies in the schools were the vocational and general subject teachers co-operate to integrate their subjects. 

The Swedish curricula leave freedom of movement both for the students to their choice of certain courses and the teachers to perform their teaching.  Vocational education in this concept is not intended to be a complete education in a certain profession but rather a prepatory stage, even though at an advanced level, from where the employer should finalise the education at a specialist level. In the previous system there were about 500 options which have been reduced to 16 programmes divided into 50 branches of which 43 are vocational.

There is an inherent weakness with this system since some employers (smaller enterprises) do not have the means to invest in human capital in form of education but rather employ skilled staff. In the Norwegian system the students will benefit from a 2 year long period of apprenticeship at a chosen work-place. This should be compared to 15 weeks  in the Swedish model. A study from 1998 by the National Agency for Education shows that within all vocational programmes difficulties were still  experienced when to find suitable work-place training facilities, even though support from the industry as a whole  seems to have increased compared with previous studies. On average only 63% of the students in year three will have the work-place training they are formally entitled to. There are considerable variations between programmes to find work-place training. The most succesful programmes in that respect are the Health Care and Child Recreation Programmes, both of which are aimed towards the public sector. In an attempt to remedy the situation representatives from the schools say that they intend to enlarge the co-operation between schools and enterprises and between the vocational teachers and the work-place supervisors. It can be assumed that models with apprenticeship, e.g. the German model, will be looked into in the future. Contrary to the common knowledge there is an existing vocational education with apprenticeship in Sweden, however, only with a handful of students. The organisation with divided responsibility between the municipalities and the employers is considered to be the reason for this, together with the prevailing legislation which sees the student as an employee among others. 

The reform means that support measures of different kinds are in high demand at certain programmes. The situation differs between programmes. In some of the programmes it is the increased heterogenity in others there is an added problem with low-achievers in general subjects, particulary in mathematics. That barely 50% of the students leaving the Industry programme (1997) had the necessary marks to get access to HE gives an indication that further measures have to be taken. It must, however, be taken into consideration that several students were accepted at upper secondary schools with low marks in certain subjects.

During the course of the INTEQUAL and DUOQUAL project it has come clear that most of the participating countries have a consensus view on the need of general subjects in vocational education both to increase the general competence as to make the students more flexible at the labour market and to enhance their social integration.

National Agency for Education;  ”Samverkan skola arbetsliv”   1998;
National Agency for Education;  Report nr. 149, 1998.

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