Sweden inspires when England starts 'free schools'

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EDUCATION SECTOR Britain is seeing the establishment of free schools patterned after the Swedish model for non-selective, state-funded independent schools. Generally, the Swedish model involves tax funding of a unit grant to schools for each student attending, regardless whether the school is run by the local government or privately, as long as the school meets teaching and open selection criteria enforced by the Swedish National Agency for Education. Inspired by this model, the British conservative led government has passed a similar legal structure for schools in the UK, which can be an opening for Swedish private school providers to export their know-how.

Johan Olsson, utbildningspolitisk expert.

Johan Olsson, Education Policy Expert.

The British Tory party got elected promising school reform to open opportunities for independent, private schools operating along the same principles as the Swedish school system has for nearly 20 years. 24 new schools have opened in the first year, but observers agree this is only the beginning. And, many expect their impact on the British school system to grow. National school authorities received 323 applications to start free schools, where less than 10% gained approval to open doors. But, expectations are that over 100 more such schools will open in the next four years.

Private schools are certainly not new in England, but the traditional, fee-charging institutions have long been the preserve of the well-off who can afford to pay. The new free schools, however, are publically financed through a system that calculates a unit grant per student in much the same way as the Swedish system does. The only difference is that the British schools are not allowed to earn a profit, but rather are run as foundations.

“The British press has been filled with articles on the ‘the Swedish free schools’ and many are interested in the solutions we have developed,” says Johan Olsson, Education Policy Expert at the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise. “We’re seeing England taking a step towards reforming a highly tradition bound and inflexible school system.”

Private Swedish school providers are also closely following developments in the UK. And, Trade Minister Ewa Björling also sees an export opportunity for the country.

The Swedish private education provider, Kunskapsskolan, has already entered the new market and currently runs three Academies in England—two in Richmond and one in Ipswich—with positive results. Education levels have been raised since the local government allowed Kunskapsskolan in. However, Cecilia Karnefeldt, manager at Kunskapsskolan cannot state when the next school will be opened. “Everything is still so new, so we cannot specify concretely when we will expand, or who else will enter the market,” she says, “We have to evaluate the situation.”

´The funding system is the most significant question. The British system for unit grants is not quite as extensive as the Swedish system. “But, if they come to a similar solution, it will certainly open a new export market for Swedish school providers. We do see that the educational concept on which Kunskapsskolan is based—focusing on individually designed programs—is increasingly in demand.

Johan Olsson sees other positive effects with the greater freedom of school choice for individuals offered by the free school system. “This certainly opens for a more entrepreneurial approach to education,” he concluded.

Anders Carlsson


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