Swedish schools inspire new Tory plans

12th March 2010 at 00:00

The Swedish model of independently run, state-funded schools working in competition with local authority schools has provided the inspiration for the latest Scottish Conservative education proposals.

Michael Russell, the Education Secretary, will be able to check its merits during a fact-finding visit to Sweden and Finland next week.

By breaking the state's current monopoly over education provision, Sweden has shown that the standards in poorly performing schools would be raised, said Elizabeth Smith, the Scottish Tories' schools and skills spokesman. Teachers would be given more control and parents more choice.

"These schools would remain state-funded and would not be allowed to charge fees or to become selective," she said. "They would remain subject to the same, very rigorous HMIE and Care Commission inspection processes which exist just now for all schools. In some cases, they could be run by educational charities, not-for-profit trusts or by other philanthropic bodies."

But they would not be subject to the same catchment rules as local authority schools and would have more say over the curriculum, with scope to become specialists in chosen areas or focus on particular special needs. With local authority schools struggling to offer a full range of Highers and Advanced Highers, she foresaw independently run schools coming into their own for senior pupils who wanted to specialise in a particular area.

The average per-pupil spend would follow a pupil who opted to attend one of the new schools, she said. Poor schools would be forced to improve for fear of being left with no pupils. This would, she conceded, require tougher policies on poor teachers.

"There would also be scope for local authorities to transfer a school or a cluster of schools to an educational trust - something along the lines of what has been suggested by, interestingly enough, an SNP councillor in East Lothian," she said.

Ms Smith detected support for the East Lothian model of trust schools from Mr Russell, given comments in his book, Grasping the Thistle, that "choice and diversity are the hallmarks of a mature and confident society".

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