IES’ goal is to give each individual student the chance to reach their full academic potential – while also helping them to become socially gifted individuals who can deal with adversity and disappointments in life. This has defined our organisation ever since Barbara Bergström opened the first Engelska Skolan in Roslagstull in Stockholm, thirty years ago.
TOLERANT IN PRACTICE
One difference compared to then is that the world is becoming more and more polarised. Given this, our international profile is even more important as we create a meeting place for students who have completely different backgrounds, in terms of socio-economic circumstances and geographic origins. Our teachers also come from many different countries, which makes them good role models and opens up the world to our students. It is one thing to try to learn to be tolerant – we are tolerant in practice. This is something I’m proud of. If we can transform our differences into strengths, then we have come a long way.
Societal changes force us to ask ourselves every day how we should develop our organisation to achieve our goals. Circumstances also differ depending on the composition of the students in each separate school. Academic success requires a safe and calm school environment. It’s a challenge, though, since our children and teenagers are in the midst of a somewhat perfect storm. On the one hand we have just experienced a pandemic with the reduced social interactions that has entailed. On the other, there is rising mental illness amongst our children and young adults, not least caused by all the social media that demands them to be online constantly and is leading to many of them having sleeping problems. Furthermore, new research shows that children move around less after the age of eleven. This further underlines why schools need to be a safe-haven. During a school week, our students spend more time at school than at home, especially if they attend our fritids (before and after school care which follows a pedagogic curriculum). For students with an insecure home, school also becomes the place where most of their needs should be met. Neuroscience has shown that if a person is insecure, their working memory does not function properly so it becomes impossible to learn anything.
THE IMPORTANT ROLE OF LEADERSHIP
This is one of the major reasons that we place so much emphasis on having secure adults constantly visible and present in our schools. The school leaders should be role models – both for the students and the staff. This requires visible leadership; that the principal stands outside the school and greets the students, attends lessons, and sits and asks the students questions during lunch time. When the world is turbulent this becomes even more important.
INFLUENCING PERCEPTION OF QUALITY AND KNOWLEDGE
When IES started out, its activities were politically incorrect in many ways. But over the years, much of what was introduced at the time has become possible, even self-evident, in Swedish education, such as a ban on mobile phones, the matter of grades and measurement of knowledge. Today, IES has 28 schools that give grades in year four – which is now also done at an additional 20 or so schools in Sweden.
IES is also an advocate of “value added”, in other words measuring the school’s contribution to the students’ development. A number of municipalities and other independent schools have adopted this concept.
Nevertheless, it is safe and calm classrooms that many people associate with IES – which many other schools have imitated. It does not mean that there has to be silence in the classroom or corridors. Playing with friends is also an important component of the school day. But we do not compromise on our belief that a calm working environment is necessary for learning, and that each student should be able to feel safe in every part of the school, at all times of the school day. Of course, there is an aspect of upbringing to this, but it is mostly so that we can dedicate ourselves to our mission of knowledge – so that teachers can teach and students learn.
FOCUS ON EXPANSION IN THE YOUNGER AGE GROUPS
IES schools have traditionally targeted years four to nine. For the past couple of years we have been expanding into primary school ages, and we are accepting students from preschool class in more and more schools. There are several reasons for this, but it primarily come down to quality and knowledge. Students who complete their entire schooling with us experience something unique; as early as six years of age they are exposed to our international culture and gain a respect for knowledge, school, others and themselves. They also gradually become bilingual from an age when they do not even reflect that a second language can be difficult to learn. Many parents have been requesting pre-school class and primary school years for a long time, and we are happy to be increasingly able to provide this.
At times during IES’ history, there has been a great deal of media noise about our organisation. What spurs us on is knowing how important our schools have been and continue to be for many students – both for their careers and their social success. I am often struck by the fantastic colleagues we have that make this happen – committed teachers and other school staff who see and acknowledge every student every day, and who are good role models for hard work paying off.
As we now look forward to the next chapter of IES’ history, there is one thing we know will remain constant: that it is essential for us to stand firm with our ethos to continue to succeed in what we do.