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Agency analysis of the Swedish Schools Inspectorate (2017:3)

On commission by the Government, Statskontoret (the Swedish Agency for Public Management) has carried out an agency analysis of the Swedish Schools Inspectorate. This means that we have made an overall analysis of the Schools Inspectorate's conditions, activities and results. We also make a number of recommendations to the government and the Schools Inspectorate.

The Swedish Schools Inspectorate fulfils its commission

Statskontoret considers that the Schools Inspectorate fulfils its overall commission. The agency maintains high productivity and is generally efficient and well-functioning.

The strategic direction of the Schools Inspectorate is questioned, but its remit as a supervisory authority has limitations

There is some criticism by the agency's target groups that the Schools Inspectorate's focus on regulatory compliance is too narrow. Among the education authorities, staff and management in schools there are many who call for a broader focus on central issues of quality and more support for development. Criticism is also aimed at the Schools Inspectorate's requirements for documentation, which are seen as excessive.

The target groups for the Schools Inspectorate's activities feel that the agency's feedback of knowledge is far too limited. This generally relates to its supervision, but also to the agency's more thematic quality audits.

The Schools Inspectorate has a large amount of freedom to organise its inspection activities as it considers most appropriate. A main emphasis on compliance with regulations or on more qualitative approach is thus not a given, but may be structured as the agency considers appropriate.

However, Statskontoret notes that the commission as a supervisory authority imposes limitations. The commissions of the Swedish Schools Inspectorate and the Swedish National Agency for Education already overlap. Should the Schools Inspectorate move toward a more supportive and advisory role, this is likely to lead to further problems in defining boundaries between the two agencies.

The government should clarify the future role of the Schools Inspectorate

The government's steering of the Schools Inspectorate is not detailed and allows for a relatively large amount of autonomy on the part of the agency. Statskontoret considers that this is an appropriate method of control for a supervisory authority such as the Schools Inspectorate.

However, Statskontoret finds that the various signals reaching the Schools Inspectorate on how to structure its supervision are not easy to reconcile. The government's trust reform, for example, is aimed at striking a balance between the need for control with trust in employees' specialised knowledge, which would speak for a more limited control of deviations from the rules. On the other hand, there is a requirement on the Schools Inspectorate to check how schools and education authorities comply with the Education Act and other regulations, and to ensure that public funds are spent on the activities for which they are intended.

Statskontoret therefore recommends that the government clarify its expectations on the agency's work with supervision in the future.

The government should review the advisory council

Statskontoret recommends that the government review the benefits of the advisory council at the Schools Inspectorate.

The government should monitor the trends in the number of complaints

The number of complaints received about individual students' situation in school has increased significantly in recent years. So far the Schools Inspectorate has coped with this well by increasing the efficiency of its case management. If the trend continues, however, the agency and ultimately the government will need to decide whether this task should be given higher priority and, in which case, how the processing will be financed.

The Swedish Schools Inspectorate should improve feedback of knowledge

There is a large demand from the Schools Inspectorate's target groups for better feedback of knowledge regarding inspections made by the agency.

Statskontoret considers that the feedback of knowledge by the Schools Inspectorate should be improved, both regarding decisions and assessments from the agency's regular inspections and the Schools Inspectorate's quality audits.

The Schools Inspectorate should create a greater exchange of information between the regional departments

The Swedish Schools Inspectorate has a regional organisation with departments in five locations. The agency works actively with process-oriented control of its key tasks, which are generally focused on efficiency and productivity. This has helped the agency to streamline its case management. However, we also note that the agency has too much detailed control in some areas and has shown great reliance on the benefits of comprehensive steering documents. The agency has started to reduce the number of steering documents.

Statskontoret believes that this is a correct priority, but we would also like to encourage the agency to look into the possibility of creating more exchange and learning between the regional departments. This could lead to increased consistency between school inspectors' supervisory assessments in the different departments.

The Schools Inspectorate should review its skills supply

Staff turnover at the Schools Inspectorate is relatively high. Rates of sick leave have also increased over the last few years, albeit in line with general developments in government agencies. Since long-term sick leave has also increased at the agency, however, there are reasons for the agency to monitor developments and review its procedures.