HLK doctoral student to be special investigator for government inquiry

In Sweden, many pupils leave primary school without grades. How can schools be given better conditions to enable extra support to be put in place earlier than is currently the case? The government has established an inquiry to answer this question and it is Pontus Bäckström, PhD student at the School of Education and Communication (HLK) at Jönköping University (JU), who will lead the inquiry.

Pontus Bäckström is Head of Social Policy at the Swedish Teachers' Association (Sveriges Lärare), but also a doctoral student in education at HLK at Jönköping University. He was asked to become a special investigator for the government last autumn, but it was not a given that Pontus was going to accept the assignment.

Pontus Bäckström

Pontus Bäckström. Photo: Lisa Broström

“It was quite a long process for me. It was important to be able to think through the assignment: do the terms of reference allow me to make proposals that I believe in? Will we be able to contribute something to the school system? And then also to weigh the various advantages and disadvantages of taking the assignment against each other, regarding everything from my professional to private life," says Pontus Bäckström.

On December 20, the government called a press conference. Those attending included the Minister for Employment and Integration Johan Pehrson, the Minister for Education Lotta Edholm and Pontus Bäckström. They gave the background to the proposed inquiry, which in brief is that an increasing number of pupils are not completing primary school with grades, something they naturally want to change. There are several parallel inquiries into overcoming this growing problem, and while there is interaction between them, this particular investigation will focus more on how to give students with needs more teaching time.

As a special investigator, Pontus will take a lead role. . He will devote about one day a week to the inquiry, the rest of the time he will continue to work at Sveriges Lärare and at HLK where he will defend his thesis on March 8.

"I have a secretariat of three people, corresponding to two full-time positions. In addition, we also have a certain budget that can be used for various things, such as literature, travel or certain procurement of research services or data access," he says.

The inquiry

Pontus Bäckström says that the work is first and foremost about analyzing the current situation, both legally, in terms of what rules apply today, and how it works in practice in the schools.

“In relation to this, it will be important to conduct empirical studies; analysis of statistics, school visits, interviews and meetings with various organizations in reference group meetings. In this work, it is absolutely central to also look at previous research and what various evaluations have shown. An analysis needs to be made of what the government wants the investigation to look at. Hopefully all this will then lead to some well-balanced proposals regarding what needs to be done," says Pontus Bäckström.

The inquiry will submit proposals for early intervention for pupils, such as homework help, attending school during the holidays or an extra year of study. Among other things, it will investigate the possibility of making school during the holidays compulsory for those who need it and how to ensure that staffing remains of high quality.

The inquiry started immediately after the government's decision was put into action at the end of December. Pontus had mixed emotions when he was asked to lead it and there are challenges.

“The biggest challenge is the narrow time frame of our investigation, which is due to be submitted on December 6 this year. This may seem a bit ironic given that what we will be looking at is precisely the importance of time for a final result," concludes Pontus Bäckström.

Watch the press conference here. External link, opens in new window.