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Large Preschool Groups Affecting Compliance with Curriculum

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In recent years, Swedish preschools have faced increasing demands with respect to pedagogical content. At the same time, the number of children in preschool groups varies greatly across communities. A large study from the University of Gothenburg shows that preschool teachers tend to limit their arsenal of themes, projects and methods when they perceive their groups to be too large.

According to statistics from the Swedish National Agency for Education, an average Swedish preschool group consisted of almost 17 children in 2014. However, 18 per cent of the groups had over 20 children and this share is rising. One of several current trends in the organisation of preschools is that of establishing age-homogeneous groups or larger team constellations with groups of 40–45 children.

Obstacle to organisation

The study is based on a questionnaire completed by preschool teachers at 700 preschools in 46 Swedish municipalities. The researchers also interviewed 24 preschool teachers at 12 preschools. The results show that the number of children in each group affects the way the teachers carry out their work.

‘The study shows that preschool teachers see many obstacles in organising the large group. One is that when the number of children in the groups increases overall, a consequence is that also the smaller groups increase in size, which the teachers say make it more difficult to work according to the national curriculum,’ says Pia Williams, professor at the Department of Education, Communication and Learning and one of the researchers behind the study.

Content compromised

Younger children and children with special needs require more attention in the preschool environment, at the cost of older children’s interests and opportunities to receive education in accordance with the national curriculum. One consequence, say the teachers, is that certain content areas such as science and technology, or creative activities, tend to be trimmed down or eliminated entirely.

In 2012, the Swedish Schools Inspectorate carried out a study focusing on how Swedish preschools complied with the new and stricter national preschool curriculum in the areas of mathematics, language and communication, science and technology. The Inspectorate concluded that the quality varies greatly and that, overall, the preschool sector needs to become more learning oriented.

Teachers want age-homogenous groups

Regardless of group size, the preschool teachers expressed a desire for slightly smaller groups. A large group is seen as an obstacle to the teacher’s ability to comply with the intentions of the national curriculum, as a specific aim is to provide individualised service to each child. The study shows that also preschool teachers of age-integrated groups would prefer a more age-homogenous environment.

‘So it’s important to consider the advantages and disadvantages of organising the children into age-homogenous groups and age-integrated groups,’ says Professor Sonja Sheridan, who also participated in the study.

The study was funded by the Swedish Research Council and carried out by Professors Pia Williams, Sonja Sheridan and Ingrid Pramling Samuelsson from the Department of Education, Communication and Learning.

For more information, please contact:
Pia Williams, tel.: +46 (0)31 786 22 46, email: pia.williams@ped.gu.se
Sonja Sheridan, tel.: +46(0)766 18 23 68, email: sonja.sheridan@ped.gu.se
Ingrid Pramling Samuelsson, tel.: +46(0)705 68 40 92, email: ingrid.pramling@ped.gu.se