Sixth-form colleges run by private industry came top in a survey of pupil progress released by Sweden's ministry of finance. Of the 12 most successful, the top two were a technical sixth-form college run by ball-bearing maker SKF in Gothenburg, and car and truck-maker Volvo's sixth-form college in Skovde. Tenth place went to an industrial sixth-form college run by electrical equipment maker ABB in VAsteraa.
The results will give political ammunition to the British Government, which has pledged to increase the involvement of private firms in the running of schools and to introduce more specialist schools. Of the top 12, six were run by private organisations, even though only 3 per cent of sixth-formers attend privately run colleges. Six of Sweden's 73 privately run sixth-form colleges are run by commercial firms, 20 by for-profit school management companies, 32 by foundations, and the remainder by charitable bodies.
The report reveals marked differences between the 382 surveyed sixth-form colleges, all of which had at least 30 leavers taking university entrance exams in 1999.
Instead of looking at the final marks received by the pupils, the survey measures the progress they have made since they started.
"This is a new way of looking at things," said Lennart Grosin, a researcher at Stockholm University. "It completely changes the order of ranking among the schools."
The method, derived from international school research, gives schools from less wealthy areas a chance to improve their ranking, even though their pupils' marks are lower than at the prestigious colleges, Grosin says.
There is a risk that the prestigious colleges force pupils, who are good when they start, through three years of education without them actually making progress. Schools that have a well-defined educational leadership achieve the best results as they can check that the pupils actually reach their objectives.
In third place is the county-run agricultural sixth-form college at Sala. VAstra Bergslagens educational centre, run by the local authority at Ludvika, came fourth.
In Sweden, LEAs are responsible for schooling, and the government and parliament have a say in objectives to be reached, while the individual schools have great freedom to organise their work.
Although no nationwide results have been published before, interest in quantitative measurements of the performance of pupils and schools has increased over the past decade, along with the number of privately-run schools and colleges.
In the first three months of 2001, the National Agency for Education received applications to start 485 private schools, up from 422 a year earlier. Of them, 190 are for sixth-form colleges; last year the figure was 138.
Privately-run colleges cater for 3 per cent of sixth-form students. Six of these are run by commercial firms, 20 by for-profit school-management companies and 32 by foundations.