Folk High Schools, Sweden


In 2015, Sweden received 35,369 unaccompanied minors seeking asylum. This was two-and-a-half times the number received in Germany that year and five times the number in 2014.

Conflict and political unrest in the Middle East and Afghanistan were the major reasons for the rise in 2015, and as these pressures have receded the numbers arriving in Europe have fallen significantly. This, combined with a change in social policy in Sweden, saw the number of unaccompanied children arriving in the country falling to 1,300 in 2017.

With so many new arrivals, most unable to speak Swedish and having limited education, the Swedish government introduced a series of regulations to enable unaccompanied children the chance to access education and training aimed at helping them integrate and participate culturally, socially and economically.

A key government measure was to fund unaccompanied young people aged 17 to 21 to attend Folk High Schools (FHS), or Folkhögskolespåret. The FHS Track project works by providing unaccompanied young people with places in Sweden's existing Folk High Schools, which provide disadvantaged or uneducated young people with an alternative educational pathway into university-level study, vocational professions, or the creative industries.

FACTFILE

  • Residential schools in rural Sweden specialise in supporting young people that have struggled in education
  • The state- and voluntary sector-run schools support disadvantaged young people to get the skills needed to find a job or further training
  • Swedish government opened up access to Folk High Schools to unaccompanied young asylum seekers after an influx of arrivals in 2015
  • Unaccompanied young people attend classes and live and learn alongside Swedish peers to help them integrate into society
  • Initial feedback shows language and education standards of participants increased, and three-quarters get summer jobs

SOCIETY AND CULTURE

The first Folk High Schools were established in 1868, and the model has been translated to other European countries and parts of the United States. There are now 154 FHS in Sweden, most situated in rural areas. Most of these are linked to social movements and non-profit organisations, with around 40 operated by county councils. Folk schools are funded by the state and county councils.

Tuition is free, and the students are eligible for financial aid to cover expenses, such as accommodation and study aids. After graduating, the students are eligible to study at university.

The majority of FHS are boarding schools. The school format allows students to find their way into society and enables them to build up extended networks and contacts with the local community and employers.

FHS Track was initially introduced in five regions of Sweden, with the project being overseen by the Skane region in the southern part of the country.

Courses provided through the FHS Track scheme include Swedish, English, maths and social studies. In addition, specialist courses in media, crafts, music, drama and languages are provided, with vocational courses linked to local employers and skills needs.

Through FHS, unaccompanied migrants live alongside Swedish young people to improve their command of the Swedish language.

The FHS's existing connections with employers in the local areas are utilised to accelerate migrant young people's transition into paid employment and independent living.

REGULATIONS AND POLICY

On 1 January 2016, new regulations were introduced by the Swedish government that requires the Education and Research Department to map and assess newly arrived children and young people's previous education and academic abilities. It also requires that newly arrived young people have access to "introductory classes" and sets out the number of teaching hours they should receive to improve their quality of education.

Since mid-2016, FHS can participate in the "Swedish from day one" programme, which was introduced in 2015 as a means to offer asylum seekers meaningful activities, including Swedish language tuition, while their asylum applications are being processed.

The FHS Track project is a government-led initiative, with each participating county's municipal government holding responsibility for funding and implementing the practice. Funding covers staff training costs, salaries for project managers, knowledge-sharing conferences, and travel and expenses for staff's attendance at information meetings.

Education at the school is paid for by the government, while housing, food, and other support are funded by the school's local municipality.

The Swedish government also made amendments to the Introduction Act (2010) and implemented supplementary measures to create more opportunities for newly arrived immigrants to find work or training. This created new "fast tracks" to jobs for new arrivals in around 20 occupations where there was a shortage of workers.

PRACTICE

In 2017, approximately 70 unaccompanied young migrants attended 15 Folk High Schools across Sweden. Last year, the number of participants increased to 500 as the scheme was extended to 16 of Sweden's 24 counties. While the FHS Track project was only planned to run until August 2018, the model has been adopted in dozens of FHS throughout Sweden and is expected to continue growing.

The on-site accommodation at Folk High Schools makes possible the provision of supervised yet largely independent living conditions for unaccompanied migrant youths, while also giving them opportunities to get to know their Swedish peers.

Providing unaccompanied migrant youths with the material security to complete their education and take part in summer jobs or internships enables them to develop the skills needed to transition successfully into paid employment as young adults. Meanwhile, enabling them to live within a community of young Swedish nationals is believed to provide them with the immersion needed to develop familiarity with Swedish culture and achieve fluency in the Swedish language.

Ideally, unaccompanied migrant young people leave their FHS placements as competent young adults who mix confidently with Swedish nationals and are able to support themselves and contribute to their community through participation in paid employment.

The FHS Track project aims to help young people to gain qualifications for university entry, vocational professions, or the creative industries; gain work experience via summer jobs or internships in the local municipality; develop fluency in Swedish; and become familiar and comfortable with Swedish culture.

This programme is immersive and involves face-to-face, financial, and material support. Education is largely delivered in group settings, whereas counselling and mentorship are provided on an individual basis.

Lessons are delivered daily for a duration of at least one hour. While the coaching, counselling, and mentoring components may only be delivered in once-weekly sessions, the training and education themselves are likely to be provided on a daily basis. Accommodation, catering and funding are provided for the duration of the studies, and the length of the studies themselves are tailored to the individual needs of the young people. Although a minimum of one or two semesters of attendance at the FHS is recommended, attendance may last much longer in cases where the youth's previous exposure to education is limited.

OUTCOMES

The main method of impact assessment for the FHS Track project is through follow-up surveys and case studies of migrant young people, conducted after they have spent a period of time as residents in the schools. The follow-up surveys demonstrated that despite being one of only a handful of migrant young people in a largely Swedish community, most participants in the project enjoyed their time at the FHS and left with a wider social network, good language skills and 75 per cent secured a summer job.

However, the project also highlighted key bureaucratic, administrative, and circumstantial obstacles that hindered its expansion.

The FHS Track project suffered from low take-up initially, with some FHS struggling to garner enough interest for their four to six young migrant places to be filled. According to analysis by Skane, this was partly due to a lack of awareness about the scheme, both among caseworkers and the migrant young people. There are hopes that increased presence on social media and at conferences will alert the relevant stakeholders to the extension of the Folk High School scheme.

The practice has been assessed for its impact using case studies and follow-up surveys. These have focused on the experiences of the participating young people. A formal evaluation assessing the effect of the programme upon key outcomes such as learning the language and obtaining a job has not yet been conducted.

EXPERT VIEW

By Jo Cobley, director, Young Roots

The concept of Folk High Schools is inspiring. It's forward thinking, holistic and focused on the needs of young asylum seekers.

At Young Roots we find the young unaccompanied refugees and asylum seekers we work with have considerable strength and resilience. However, not speaking the language and having missed large chunks of education because of war and long journeys to the UK are barriers to moving forward in their lives. We find social isolation, not understanding the culture and systems in the UK - not to mention the hostile environment - are also serious barriers to integration.

This initiative has a starting point of trying to address the issues holistically. Boarding with Swedish young people, having specific programmes on language learning, a focus on vocational training as well as counselling and other support all in one place must make it easier for young people to make progress and ultimately reach their potential.

The numbers of unaccompanied asylum seekers in the UK are very small in comparison with Sweden, but the support in the UK for this very vulnerable group is inadequate.

The charity sector provides much support but we're working within a system that feels hostile on many fronts. As we don't have anything like the Folk High Schools in existence for non-refugees in the UK, it feels that unfortunately this model isn't directly replicable.

However, there are definitely lessons to be learned - such as providing as much support as possible for young asylum seekers in one place, developing integrated activities with non-refugees and focusing on longer term education and career goals.

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