Wednesday, March 05, 2008

School Vouchers in Sweden

Although I don't think government should be involved in education at all, it is interesting to see examples where at least some competition is allowed within a socialized system. And surprisingly Sweden offers us such an example.

A few telling excerpts from the article:
The second charge is that this funding system creates educational apartheid. If money follows pupils, won’t a socially damaging segregation between the best and worst schools be a natural consequence? Were it not for the evidence of the Swedish model, it would be easy to imagine any such proposal being still-born in this country. But there is now a mass of academic studies — one surveying 28,000 pupils — showing that such fears are unjustified. In education, a rising tide really does lift all boats. The older schools improve as they are galvanised by the pressure of the new: shape up, or lose pupils and money. It works.


‘There is a trade-off,’ says Ledin. ‘If we can’t find a school next to a playground, we make a deal with a nearby sports centre to use its facilities. If parents find that unacceptable, they don’t send their children to our schools. Simple.’ Kunskapsskolan’s speciality is what it calls personalised education. Each child starts the day with a tutor, and is set an individual timetable. Other schools offer a more traditional approach. This array of competing pedagogical styles is the main fruit of the Swedish approach. (emphasis added)


Yet there is one part of the Swedish system which is too openly capitalist even for the Tories: allowing schools to make a profit. In the Prime Minister’s Office in Stockholm’s old town, Mikael Sandström, a state secretary for the Moderate party administration, explains why the Tories are wrong. ‘If you’re a not-for-profit school, then the longer the waiting list the better,’ he says. ‘It’s a lot of trouble to expand, so they don’t. Also, profit-making schools have been shown to have less social segregation.’ And then he says something one would be surprised to hear in the White House, let alone the Rosenbad in Stockholm. ‘The question for me is whether we should abolish non-profit-making schools,’ Sandström says. I am not at all sure he was joking.

I visited another school which illustrates Sandström’s point. Engelska Skolan, which teaches primary children in English, had two founders who disagreed whether to seek profit. They went their separate ways. The original school still stands, on its own in a trust, six applicants for every place. The profit-making version is now a chain of eight English-speaking schools. If the waiting list grows big enough, they open another one.
HT Art De Vany


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