Establishing the IES concept (1993–2002)
IES was founded in 1993 by Barbara Bergström and a teaching colleague after the Independent School Reform was passed by the Government in 1992. Barbara Bergström is a US citizen who worked as a science teacher in a municipal school. She had a clear vision of a better way to run a school if she was free to do it outside the municipal system. Therefore, she left her teaching position to start the English School, as IES was called at the time. From the beginning, her school was based on the three key pillarsthat still permeate the school today.
The first school was located at Roslagstull in central Stockholm and for which the Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket) granted a license. From the outset the educational concept and energy behind the school was appreciated by parents in Stockholm and the school filled up quickly. A key reason was what the English School stood for in terms of discipline and academic focus, was in sharp contrast to the dominant approach at municipal schools at the time.
In 1998 the partnership between Barbara Bergström and her co-founder ended. Barbara retained ownership of the company, but moved the school to new premises in Gubbängen, a suburb of Stockholm, where an upper secondary school was established in 1999. In 2002, Barbara accepted a request from Järfälla Municipality to take over and develop a compulsory school that was facing significant challenges at the time.
The initial growth phase (2003–2011)
Barbara Bergström stayed on as principal of the school in Gubbängen/Enskede until the spring semester 2003, when expansion was also initiated outside the Stockholm area. Initially, three new schools were established in August 2003, within a two-hour commuting distance from Stockholm: Gävle, Örebro and Linköping. In August 2005 the school in Bromma was established, as the City of Stockholm made the old Riksby school at Brommaplan available to IES. In the fall of 2006 new compulsory schools were started in Eskilstuna and Täby for grades 6-9.
With the ambition to expand the business for the future, the board of directors entered into several projects during 2007-2008 that did not materialize. One was to also establish upper secondary schools outside the Stockholm area. Parents with children in the now large IES compulsory schools in Gävle and Linköping expressed a strong desire for their children to be able to continue in an English upper secondary school. The plan materialized with new buildings and recruitment of principals.
However, it turned out that the wishes of the parents were not always in line with the wishes of the students when it came time to choose upper secondary school. Established schools with high status retained their attraction, while a high percentage of students in cities such as Gävle chose vocational programs. In addition, there was also a demographic drop, with a sharp decline in the number of 16-year olds for several years. Against this backdrop, the board of directors decided to cancel the plans to establish new upper secondary schools.
During 2007-2008 IES also attempted to establish itself in Spain, a country in great need of a more widespread mastery of the English language and with vast experience of alternatives to publicly-run schools. After careful investigation with the help of the Swedish Trade Council, an agreement was concluded with an expansive municipality located outside Madrid. The project was ready to start construction when the global financial crisis occurred, which particularly impacted the Spanish economy and construction market. The board of directors subsequently decided to cancel the project.
Having gained this experience, the board of directors decided to revert back to an expansion in the grades in which IES had its core expertise - what is internationally referred to as “middle school”. IES also started to enter into schooling for younger ages, by adding grades 4-5 in compulsory school to the prior focus on grades 6-9. In addition, the concept of “middle school” was being re-established as a result of the new compulsory school curriculum and the introduction of national tests in grade 6. An expansion into younger age groups was relatively straightforward to implement, as experienced principals were already in place and the students in the waiting lists could be offered places a couple of years earlier. There were also substantial educational advantages to starting English language immersion at an earlier age, and familiarizing children early on with the type of work discipline and goal-orientation that distinguishes IES. Moreover, demographic forecasts were favorable.
New compulsory schools were established in Jönköping, Karlstad and Sundsvall in 2009, in Gothenburg, Borås and Nacka in 2010, and in Hässelby and Uppsala in 2011. At the same time several of the already established schools expanded further to include grades 4 and 5. In some places, this was made possible by renting new buildings, in order for “junior school” (grades 4-5) to have its own premises.
In 2011, the English Summer School was also initiated, through a subsidiary, which offered language trips to the United States and England. The operation was successful but due to the administrative burden the operations were rendered dormant in 2013.
Professionalization and continued growth (2012–present)
In August 2012 Barbara Bergström entered into a partnership with the Boston-based international private equity firm TA Associates, whose capital comes mainly from leading US universities, pension funds and research foundations. TA Associates acquired a 75 percent share in the Company, while Barbara retained 25 percent and stayed on as executive Chairman.
In 2012, IES signed an agreement with Sabres Educational Trust to operate a school in Brandon, Suffolk, north of London. The school opened its doors in September 2012.
As an attempt to gain experience for the future, the board of directors decided to expand the school in Jönköping to also include grades 1-3, as there was extra space available. These operations started in August 2012.
Additional experience from this education segment, which also involves operating pre- and post-school activities (Sv. “fritidshem”), was gained in Eskilstuna and Gävle. In the 2012/13 and 2013/14 academic years another six schools were established in Sweden (Halmstad and Västerås in 2012 and Huddinge, Skärholmen, Lund and Krokslätt/Gothenburg in 2013).
At the same time, an initiative was launched to reinforce and improve IES management efficiency and thereby create better conditions in which both the principals and the schools could focus on quality and academic content.
In 2013 Ralph Riber was appointed as CEO of IES. Shortly thereafter Fredrik Åkerman was recruited as CFO and a number of key individuals were appointed, mainly to positions supporting school principals, including a full-time lawyer who had held an advisory position at the Swedish Schools Inspectorate.
In fall 2014 another three compulsory schools were established, in Liljeholmen (Telefonplan), Tyresö and Falun. In fall 2015 new successful compulsory schools were launched in Umeå, Hässleholm and Kista. In the 2015/16 academic year IES operated nine of the ten largest independent compulsory schools based on the number of students.1 The number of students has grown from 11,200 in the 2011/12 academic year to approximately 21,400 in 2016/17, an increase of just over 2,000 students per year.
In 2014/15 the Swedish Schools Inspectorate conducted a quality survey of 36 education providers. Only five of them received no adverse remarks, one of which was IES. Following an inspection of half of the IES schools in 2014, the Swedish Schools Inspectorate concluded that “The schools within Internationella Engelska Skolan have good academic results and those in charge are maintaining a strong focus on quality”.
In July 2016, IES entered into a conditional purchase agreement to acquire 50 percent of the shares in the three school companies that together form Grupo Educativo Elians, a family business operating private schools with education in English in Spain. This agreement is intended to provide a foundation for expansion into Spain, this time through an existing team experienced in education and the Spanish educational system.
In spring 2016 Barbara Bergström stepped down as executive chair. She will continue as a member of the board of IES and remains committed to both the recruitment of school leaders and the IES culture. The internal training of future school leaders has been extended through programs in “The Barbara Bergström School Leadership Academy”.
In August 2016 a new compulsory school was established in Älvsjö, Stockholm. It started with 12 classses and approximately 370 students and already has a long waiting list. At the beginning of the academic year 2016/17 IES operates 30 schools in Sweden with approximately 21,400 students. As at June 30, 2016 there were 112,000 registrations on the IES school waiting list to receive a place the following year.