The New Statesman is reporting on the apparent decline of Sweden’s free school system, which was lauded by then UK Education Secretary Michael Gove in 2000 as “the future” of schooling.
Sweden’s 800 friskolor make up about a sixth of the country’s state-funded schools. Introduced in 1992, they gave parents the ability to use state spending on education to set up new schools and decide where to send their children. In that decade, friskolor were made easier to set up, with companies given the right to make a profit from running them; other schools were decentralised and a voucher system, allowing parents to choose their children’s school and then awarding funds based on parental demand, was introduced. Tony Blair praised the Swedish model in a 2005 government white paper. For Tories, Sweden’s schools held out a simple message: that competition could transform state education in England.
Schools were merely “telling themselves and their parents that things were getting better” when there was no evidence that they were, says Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s director for education and skills. He views free schools as “more symptom than cause”.
Above all, Sweden’s decline is “the story of a weak education system that has devolved more and more responsibility to local and school level without doing much to raise aspirations, monitor progress and deal with underperformance”, Schleicher says. “The difference is that England has an established exam system and, more importantly, Ofsted. At least you’ll know when things start to go wrong.”
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