It’s the last place you would expect to find competition in education, but Sweden seems to be leading the richer countries in a new type of school choice. In the early 1990s, Sweden, a byword for cradle-to-grave welfare, had a monolithic public school system. Then in 1992 a centre-right government that briefly replaced the Social Democrats began offering public funding to private enterprise groups with the freedom to choose their own teaching methods and staff, and manage their own buildings. By running schools more efficiently the private companies make a profit from the bulk funding they receive. They are not allowed to charge tuition fees.

Despite misgivings and criticism the new schools have flourished, accounting now for 17 per cent of high school students and nine per cent of primary schoolchildren. They remain completely government financed, but some, at least, are managing to increase their profits. At the Vittra chain of 27 schools owned by Bure Equity (listed on the Stockholm Stock Exchange) children of different ages share classrooms and have individual curriculums designed for their needs and skills. Andrew Coulson, an education expert at the Cato Institute in the US, says the system needs to be more flexible about how money can be spent, students recruited and curriculums chosen. “It’s not a very market-like programme. But since it’s the best thing around in the rich world, it’s definitely worth watching,” he said. Britain’s Conservative party is among those keeping an eye on it.

Some Swedes say the private system drains funds from public education, but officials say independent schools have forced public schools to raise their own standards and improve efficiency. One public school has increased its roll fivefold as a result. Importantly, parents have a greater say in all schools now. Even the Swedish Teachers’ Union has accepted private ownership of schools and officially has no opinion about which is better. ~ Washington Post, July 26

 

Jennifer Minicus

Jennifer Minicus lives in New Jersey with her husband and son. A former French, Latin and mathematics teacher, Jennifer currently enjoys the responsibilities of a "domestic engineer", particularly making...