What are Swedish Free Schools?
Swedish ‘free’ schools have no fees and are not academically selective. Beyond that they vary widely. Many are old rural schools run by parents who wanted to prevent them closing. Others have ‘child-centred’ approaches, while many are more traditional in style.
This means that parents in Sweden can choose the right school for their child from a wide range. Swedish schools admit pupils according to ‘first come first served’ – whoever applies to the school earliest gets in.
In 1992 the Swedish Government allowed groups to set up free schools. The new schools received 85% of the per-pupil funding of traditional state schools. This was eventually raised to 100% of funding.
Over a fifth of all schools in Sweden are now free schools. They are often smaller than traditional schools, and have a range of approaches. The average size of a free school is 132 pupils.
Who runs Swedish Free Schools?
There are four broad groups of people running Swedish schools:
- Parents and community groups, many running schools in rural areas.
- Schools offering alternative pedagogies, like Steiner and Montessori.
- Teachers and headteachers attracted by the autonomy and flexibility of new schools.
Are Swedish free schools popular?
The very rapid expansion of free schools is evidence of their popularity – and surveys have shown parents are happier with them than traditional state schools. 91 per cent of parents whose children attend free schools are happy with the results compared to just 63 per cent of parents at state schools.
Do Swedish free schools work?
There is evidence that not only do free schools work, they improve the results of schools across the area. Two studies have found that the more children in free schools in a given local authority, the better the performance of the authority as a whole.
Since 1992, the results have been extremely encouraging:
- Students at free schools get better results. Students in Swedish free schools get much better scores than in traditional schools. The Grade Point Average (GPA) in free schools is 20 points higher than in state schools.
- Swedish free schools improve standards across the local authority. Several studies have found that an increase in the number of children attending free schools improves performance across the area. A study by Anders Bohlmark and Mikael Lindahl of Stokholm University found that an increase in the percentage of free schools in an area increased pupil performance across all schools. Most of this increase was due to competition in the school sector, forcing all schools to improve their quality. Åsa Ahlin of Uppsala University found that a ten per cent increase in the number of children attending free schools led to a five per cent increase in Mathematics performance across the area. Similarly, the National Agency for Education found that municipalities with larger proportions of pupils in independent schools were more likely to say that the presence of independent schools in their jurisdiction had contributed to school improvement in compulsory schools in their municipalities.
- Parents are happier with new independent Swedish schools. 91 per cent of parents whose children attend free schools are happy with the results compared to just 63 per cent of parents at state schools. Parents are happier in every single area – the quality of the teachers, the management of the school, and the achievement of the pupils – than parents whose children attend state schools.
- Parents think independent schools are a good idea. The Swedish National Agency for Education has found that more than 90 per cent of parents think that parents and children should get to choose what school children attend. More than half of parents think it is good for schools to compete with one another.