When the school organised a parents’ meeting, four people showed up. When the school management invited people to a Middle-Eastern party, 200 parents came.
“The parents’ participation in – and attitudes towards – the school are enormously important. When people have an innate distrust of all types of authority, unconventional methods may be required,” comments Damian Bunker, the principal of IES Eskilstuna.
At IES Eskilstuna, 77 per cent of the 1,200 or so students come from homes where Swedish is not the first language. At least eleven languages are spoken by the students and Somalian and Arabic are two of the most widely spoken. The school is located in Fröslunda, one of the areas of Sweden that the police have classified as a socially vulnerable area. The district grew during the 1950s in response to the housing shortage in Eskilstuna at the time, as well as the new ideal of modern homes for industrial workers. During recent years, the area’s socio-economic challenges have increased resulting in high unemployment, insufficient integration of the many foreign-born citizens, and a large proportion of people on social welfare. The school was in crisis, the gangs were taking over, and violence was part of everyday life.
JOINING FORCES TO LIFT FRÖSLUNDA
Over the past few years, under the leadership of the Mayor Jimmy Jansson (S) the municipality has joined forces with others to bring about a real lift to the area of Fröslunda. The goal is to reverse the negative spiral and turn Fröslunda into a place where a diversity of people enjoy being, feel safe, and want to live and meet each other. A new initiative, SSPF, has been initiated by the municipality together with other local stakeholders. The idea is that school staff, social services, the police and fritids staff (providing before and after school care which follows a pedagogic curriculum) collaborate better to detect youngsters who are in the risk zone for criminality.
The school is at the centre of the initiative, where IES in 2020 made a significant investment and built out the school under the leadership of Damian Brunker.
“Fröslunda is exactly where we should be in Eskilstuna. It’s here we can make the greatest difference. We can be part of the solution when it comes to lifting young people up and giving them hope and the opportunity for a bright future,” he says.
Damian Brunker has had plenty of experience of tough school environments after teaching in problem schools in some of England’s old coal-mining towns. He grew up outside Manchester with a father who was also a head teacher and who inspired his choice to become a teacher who aspired to improve society. Over time, love brought Damian Brunker to Eskilstuna where he got a job as a teacher at the IES secondary school there. That job led to an assignment at the head office as the head of academics for IES.
“But I missed working at the sharp end, close to students and teachers. That’s why I wanted the job of principal when IES and the municipality decided to invest in the school in Fröslunda,” says Mr Brunker.
REQUIRED COMMITMENT – AND COURAGE
The built out and renovated school opened in the autumn semester of 2022. The organisation is divided into primary, middle and lower secondary units and the objective has been to create a safe environment for all students whilst also giving them access to pristine new premises adapted to each year. The premises include a new sports hall and playground too.
A great deal of commitment and courage has been required from all staff, not least the principal, to make the intended safe environment a reality.
“In the beginning we had to deal with smashed windows every Monday when we arrived at the school and there were a number of incidents in the playground – including a shooting,” he explains.
SAFE ENVIRONMENT AND HIGH QUALITY IN TEACHING
With the help of a fantastic group of employees the trend has been bucked. The rumour has spread in the area that the school is a good, safe place and a positive force for the youngsters, and it’s been a long time since any of the school’s windows were smashed.
“One example that illuminates the view of the school is that even students with substantial challenges who don’t want to participate in lessons come to school as they feel safe here,” says Mr Brunker.
“The tough environment has helped to create strong bonds between the staff and also with the students. When I recruit a new employee, I do all I can to discourage them. If they are still interested in the job then I know that they are the right person,” he continues.
In spite of the tough reputation of the area, the school has attracted students from other parts of Eskilstuna and from other neighbouring municipalities such as Arboga and Katrineholm.
“This is sound proof of the quality of the teaching we provide here. The school hasn’t only become a safe place, we also have talented teachers, which is evident in the excellent results the students achieve.
“One of my most important messages to all students who attend the school, regardless of where they come from, is that they should be proud of who they are, and that their background does not define them as a person,” says Mr Brunker.
IES ESKILSTUNA - Numbers as per September 2023.
7 of 10 students recommended the school
77% students with origins outside Sweden
96% students qualified for upper secondary school
76% students achieved the knowledge targets in all subjects