SWEDISH FREE SCHOOLS-WHAT’S THE STORY?

Selective quotes serve to mislead

There have been a number of highly selective quotes used by some politicians about Swedish schools, in an attempt to disparage the free school initiative , the most recent from Ed Balls in the Commons on 21 June in an exchange with the Education Secretary Michael Gove   when he quoted   the Swedish Schools Minister  who said

“free schools are generally attended by children of better educated and wealthy families making things even more difficult for children attending ordinary schools in poor areas”

However  Swedens  Schools Minister  was keen to set the record straight. He has said that the article from which Labour (and Ed Balls) quote was -“very biased. It is taken out of context…I have not warned the British Government against introducing Free Schools. I clearly said to the newspaper that the Swedish Free Schools are here to stay and that is something positive”.

Gordon Brown in the election campaign had suggested  that the head of Swedens Ofsted (Sweden doesn’t actually  have an equivalent to Ofsted, although some Swedes argue they should)  had said that the Swedish free market school experiment has not been successful. ‘The evidence of the Swedish equivalent of Ofsted is that it has led to lower standards and growing inequalities’  intoned Brown(12 April)

However Per Thulberg, Director General of the Swedish National Agency for Education, whom Brown was  almost certainly referring to, actually  agreed that Swedish free schools had probably helped raise standards, not lower them, as claimed by Brown. His quibble was that  free schools  might have fostered  segregation in schools,  although other studies suggest this is overstated.

A report just out  by Rebecca Allen, from the Institute of Education,  found a “moderately positive” impact of  Swedish free schools on academic performance when pupils were 15 and 6, but  added: “The biggest beneficiaries are children from highly educated families; the impact on low educated families and immigrants is close to zero.”  But as The Economist pointed out this week six other reports looking at  free schools  have reached rather different conclusions.

The fact remains that Swedish free schools achieve, on average, better results than state-run rivals. And most  Swedes  agree   that free schools have raised standards across the board , are non selective , have  improved choice and, crucially,  are very  popular with parents.

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