Quality at IES

IES Jönköping: ”I have progressed from problem-solver to leader”

From a job as a young teacher at IES in Gävle to a position at the head office, and later as the principal of IES Jönköping. “One of the main things I’ve learnt from my 20 years at IES is the importance of being a clear leader – and to never divert from our core values,” says Simon Varley.


Mr Simon Varley

Principal, IES Jönköping

Before Mr Varley was due to have his first meeting with Barbara Bergström in 2003, he went out and bought a shirt and tie.

“I had understood that certain rules applied – and I was so eager to get the job as a teacher at IES,” he says and laughs.

His tactics may have contributed to his getting a job as a science teacher at IES Gävle later that year, where he quickly advanced to become the head of year. After two years he was enticed over to the head office to coordinate the academic work of the group. 

“It was a period of expansion with many new schools where we worked intensively to establish procedures. It was stimulating and fun. But after four years in the office I longed to go back to the students, teaching and the school environment. So when IES Jönköping was going to open I applied for the job as the principal there,” he explains.

In 2009 IES Jönköping started with plans to receive 360 students – a goal that nobody believed in. But the school filled up quickly and is the largest school in the municipality today, with 900 students.

But the road to the school’s current popularity has been far from smooth, according to Mr Varley.

“I was new in the job and way too attentive to others’ views. This meant that in the beginning I somewhat lost focus on the core of what we do and didn’t understand the importance of recruiting the right staff, who really believe in IES’ values. As an example, some parents thought that their children found the English too difficult and therefore wanted more Swedish teachers. I listened and increased the proportion of Swedish teachers, without checking that they had the necessary commitment to IES. Our results in the quality surveys started to slide downwards and, in the end, I realised that we needed to do something,” he recounts.

Mr Varley arranged a parents’ meeting to discuss solutions.

“We had prepared some suggestions for how to improve the atmosphere in the school. One of them was to open a bakery. But the parents said, “no no – we want you to revert to your ethos”.

“It was a real eye-opener for me, and I realised that the most important element of a school is its people: without good teachers and support staff that stand by IES’ values you can’t build a good school.

“Those staff members who did not believe in the IES concept chose to leave the school themselves and we were able to replace them with people who were fully behind the values.

“I spend countless hours every year on interviewing teachers from all over the world, in the search for the best possible team. I naturally look for teachers who are qualified and knowledgeable in their subjects, but more importantly I consider the actual people – their character, motivation and desire to be part of our team.

“I’m proud that the school is one of the most popular in the municipality today. And I’ve developed personally from being a problem-solver to becoming a true leader within the organisation,” says Mr Varley.

- Be present
- Be visible
- Be steady
- Acknowledge people around you
- Point out the importance of details
- Emphasise the importance of everybody pulling in the same direction
- Be fair
- Radiate energy
- Deal with difficult situations immediately
- Take responsibility

IES JÖNKÖPING - Numbers as per September 2023.
870 students
8 of 10 students recommended the school
66% students with origins outside Sweden
92% students qualified for upper secondary school
94% of parents had confidence in the school leadership