Equivalence in the Swedish education system:
: An investigation of ‘equivalent education’ and its impact on schooling and teachers’ identity in upper-secondary education

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This research investigates the extent to which the traditional egalitarian values of Swedish education can be retained in a market-oriented school system. In particular it focuses on the concept of ‘equivalent education’ and its impact on schooling and teacher identity in Swedish upper-secondary education.

The 1992 Swedish School Voucher Reform marked an important shift in education policy, allowing any individual or organisation to apply to start a school and, if successful, to receive public funds from municipal school budgets. The intention was that a more diverse and competitive system would drive improvement in national and international comparisons and cost-effectiveness, while banning fees and selection would preserve egalitarian principles. However, some commentators have argued the changes have increased segregation and the new focus on ‘equivalence’ has downgraded commitments to equality.

This research explores how upper-secondary schools construct and enact equivalence, the implications of these constructions and enactments for teachers’ professional roles and identities, and their implications for the central values of Swedish Education.

These issues are explored through case studies of two upper-secondary international schools in Stockholm. Methods include: interviews with staff; observations of school activities, pedagogical approaches and assessment; reviews of national and school policy documents and reports; and analysis of national statistics on school populations and results. The exploration is theoretically located within policy sociology, social constructionism and analytical tools drawn from critical discourse analysis.

The study shows that equivalence is interpreted differently in the case study schools, resulting in radically different organisational structures and approaches to curriculum delivery and pedagogy. It illustrates how policy reform has created new, narrower, notions of quality, based on attainment under a revised assessment regime and suggests that diversity and competition have weakened collective professional identities and ties. The study argues that these developments represent a serious challenge to traditional Swedish commitments to solidarity and an equal education for all.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorSharon Gewirtz (Supervisor) & Alan Cribb (Supervisor)

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