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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 June, 2004, 16:25 GMT 17:25 UK
UK learns from Swedish childcare
By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Online staff

Swedish children
Play is a major part of the national curriculum in Sweden
In Sweden - unlike much of the UK - proper childcare is not a privilege of the motivated middle class but a right enjoyed by every parent.

Decades ago, the Swedes understood that the labour market was going to change, with women working even after having children.

Now their education and childcare system reflects this foresight, with children being catered for from the age of one.

Gunnel Selling-Norell is a "rektor" in Harnosand on Sweden's east coast, the principal of primary and secondary schools as well as a "leisure-time centre" which caters for pre-school and after-school classes.

Parents of young children can bring them to school at 0630 and not pick them up until 1830.

Gunnel Selling-Norell
We do pay a lot of tax
Gunnel Selling-Norell
This "whole day" approach to schooling has been proposed as a model for the UK to follow in a report by London University's Institute of Education and the Children in Scotland agency.

During the 12 hours the Swedish children will spend time playing and learning on either side of a typical school day, being fed on site and supervised by a team of teachers and after-school workers with a co-ordinated curriculum governing the whole day since 1994.

Ms Selling-Norell's complex of schools and leisure-time centre caters for children from toddler to teenager.

"I know the children from year one to 16 years old and I know the parents. It is easy for them to get in touch with me with ideas about the school or complaints.

"You get to know them and you still know them at 16 before they go to the upper secondary school."

Swedish children play
The leisure-time centre is open for 48 weeks a year
There is co-ordination between the after-school workers and the teachers, with both working together and making sure play activities are complementary with conventional learning.

For the parents of four, five and six year olds, everything is free, and for younger children fees are proportionate to income and not comparable to access to childcare in the UK.

The answer to how all this is possible is simple according to Ms Selling-Norell.

"We do pay a lot of tax."

Norway and Denmark have tried to create similar systems, but the emphasis on young children has been a success for Sweden.

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