Thursday, March 23, 2017

Free schools in Sweden

I visited Sweden already some years back and was intrigued by their Free schools. The Free school system was instituted in 1992 and already for sometime, serves as a model for the charter school reform in the UK. Free schools are publicly funded by school vouchers.

In 2011 (figure reported in March 2011[ii]), some 15% of Swedish children go to free schools (friskola). In general, parents view the opportunity of selecting the school for their children as an important part of their freedom. Parents with children in private school (87 percent) are more satisfied than those with children in public schools (74 percent)[iii].

There is currently a big debate going on around Free schools in Sweden. The most controversy is around some small number of private companies that run tax-funded schools "for profit". For example the biggest enterprise, Academedia, in 2009 had sales of SEK 2.1 billion, compared with 2006, when turnover was 222 million SEK. According to Wikipedia, the Group has in total around 44 000 pre-school children and students, and approximately 20,000 adult learners in their activities (figures from 2012).

The quality of education in Free schools has also been in headlines. Additionally, the debate is on-going whether they also increase equity gap among Swedish society. For example Pasi Shalberg says "In Sweden, everybody now agrees free schools were a mistake. The quality has not improved and equity has disappeared.[iv]"

For profit debate:

  • In 2012, there are 906 companies who offer free schools and kinder gardens. 97% of them are small with one to four schools. On average, they are run on 3% marginal of profit. 54% generate a surplus.
  • A small number of them are run on risk capital which has made big headlines lately. Recently, bankruptcy has been claimed while previously such schools were paying hefty profits to their risk capital funders.
    • See for example John Bauerskola, which now has failed bankrupt, but previously, according to headlines, put about 2.6 million euros of tax payers' money into paying school rent to big banks (e.g. see: John Bauerskolorna, som gick i konkurs i juni 2013, betalade 24 miljoner i räntor på sina lån 2012[v])

Quality debate:

One free school enterprise called Distra Utbildningscenter in the south of Stockholm is risking to face a penalty of 500.000 kronor if the results do not show better quality. The school inspectorate refers to weak leadership, unqualified teachers and lack of competences in special education. The school is small, only about 30 students, the same company also runs an upper secondary school that also received complaints by the school inspectorate.  (translated from:

Website by the major newspaper (Svenska Dagbladet) to help choose a school: