Swedish warning: Do not repeat our free school errors

2nd April 2010 at 01:00
Model so admired by politicians has increased segregation and proved costly, says unionist

Sweden's free school movement has increased segregation, encouraged secrecy between schools and given unfair advantages to independents, a top Swedish union official has said.

Ann-Christin Larsson, a senior officer with teaching union Lararforbundet, told The TES that the UK should avoid making the same mistakes as Sweden.

"It was decided when independent schools (free schools) were created that there should be more competition between schools, they would create more pedagogical renewal and they would be more cost-effective," she said. "But the schools have not created any new pedagogical ideas - when schools compete they tend to be more quiet with their ideas than before.

"The new schools have not been more cost-effective either; there have been huge planning problems, so it becomes very costly."

The comments are particularly timely, coming after Scottish Education Secretary Michael Russell returned from a fact-finding trip to Sweden. The Conservative Party in England has also drawn much inspiration for its education reform policies from Sweden's free school movement.

Ms Larsson added: "Independent schools have also created more segregation. Pupils attending these schools are from better off, more educated families. It's because they are more informed and they know how to work the system better.

"At the moment, public schools have not really been affected. But most pupils entering upper secondary level want to go to schools in the centre of the city and this is where most of the independent schools are. So while public schools in city centres will attract pupils, those in the suburbs could suffer."

Lararforbundet has been campaigning for fairer regulations within the school system for a number of years, and there is a new act making its way through Parliament in Sweden that will oblige independent schools to follow the national curriculum.

The Conservative's education spokesman in England, Michael Gove, commented: "It is striking that even the unions in Sweden don't want to get rid of free schools. Parents are happy with free schools and the academic evidence shows that they have driven up standards for all and reduced segregation.

"In this country the rich can buy their way to a good education by private schools or expensive houses, while the less well off are too often left with the worst schools".


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