Art and Music Schools (kulturskolor) are present in about 97% of Sweden’s municipalities, reaching over 400.000 children and adolescents both in activities outside of and in collaboration with compulsory schools. A national policy has never been established for Art and Music Schools, possibly owing to the fact that they are not considered part of the Swedish education system, but instead stem from local music activities as a parallel, mainly voluntary school system. For the first time since these schools started being established in Sweden in the 1940s (originally as music schools), it might become a reality for such schools to work in accordance with national policy documents, since the Swedish government has commissioned an investigation to suggest a national strategy. Considering the current process for creating national regulation for Sweden’s Art and Music Schools, it is highly relevant and interesting to undertake a research project on those schools while it is happening.
Earlier research on Art and Music Schools in Sweden suggest that they possess a huge ideological freedom because, unlike the compulsory school, they do not have any policy documents at a national level. This article aims at contributing to a better understanding of the tension fields that emerge in the discursive practice of Sweden’s Art and Music School leaders as a consequence of government plans to create national policy documents. These emerging tension fields are explored by focusing on how the school leaders legitimise Art and Music Schools.
The data consist of video documentation from two focus group conversations with a total of nine Art and Music School leaders, from eight different schools in central and southern Sweden. The study is qualitative and builds on an abductive approach. My analysis connects to an international context of education policy research and applies the “loosely coupled systems” concept to Sweden’s Art and Music Schools.
The results expose an Art and Music School discourse, identified as a major discourse sharply contrasting to a compulsory school discourse and existing within several tension fields: financial versus educational accountability, management discourse (represented by directors) versus leadership for learning discourse (represented by headmasters), educational discourse versus leisure discourse, regulation versus freedom, informal norms versus curriculum implementation, traditional versus contemporary views of policy making, reaching all children versus improving a few children’s special skills, municipally versus privately administrated art and music schools, classical versus non-classical music, Music Schools versus Art and Music Schools.
Sweden’s Art and Music Schools are shaped by and within the exposed tension fields in relation to the process for national regulation. I argue that challenges with the national policy process in Sweden’s music and arts schools, such as resistance and fear of losing flexibility, are already manifest. Hence, Art and Music School leaders can be seen as policymakers, since they are already enacting policy, even before the national policy has been made.