In the early 1990s, Sweden decentralised its national school system into 290 municipalities, after which a school market was introduced. The system was intended to foster competition, make schooling more efficient and, above all, offer individual parents greater choice. One of the system’s underlying principles had been to avoid the segregation of pupils from different social classes into separate schools, creating an inclusive and egalitarian school system.
Currently, segregation between schools is one of the biggest challenges for the Swedish school system identified by the Swedish National Agency for Education. This study reveals that a tiered school system exists in 29 out of Sweden’s 30 medium-sized municipalities and that in 16 of these, school choice has further contributed to the segregation. Students whose parents are well-educated and/or Swedish-born are, to a large extent, served by schools and teachers different from those that are serving students with Swedish-born parents with a low level of education, and/or students from an immigrant background. While this study shows general segregation that has its basis in housing segregation, the strength of segregation caused by school choice at the lower secondary level in the 16 municipalities is remarkable. Such school segregation has a number of negative social and economic consequences, both within the schools and for the surrounding society – consequences that stand in stark contrast to stated ambitions of the Swedish Education Act.