SANDSTROM AND BERGSTROM
2002 Report revisited
Swedish Free schools are non-selective, competition drives up standards and free schools don’t harm municipal schools
The anti-Academies Alliance ,Compass, the left wing lobby group, along with some parents, teachers, union activists and local councillors are doing all they can to try to limit the expansion of both Academies and free schools .The inspiration for free schools comes from both America, in the form of Charter schools and Swedens ‘free schools’. The Swedish free schools example has been particularly problematic for the left because its social democratic model ,combining as it does a strong egalitarian, civil society with a generous welfare state, underpinned by solid economic performance over the longer term, has been much admired by the left and championed as a model of how socialism can combine with capitalism to deliver equity. But breaking the state monopoly in education in 1992 allowing a market in schools in which private providers could run local schools paid for by the taxpayer was a step too far for many on the left. So Swedens schools have been attacked not so much in terms of their performance which can easily be shown to be better on average than municipal schools but because some perceive them as creating division and a two tiered system , so that they are socially divisive indeed much the same criticism as has been meted out to both Academies and free schools here. Evidence is sought by both sides of the argument but it is worth re-visiting the seminal independent research of F. Mikael Sandström and Fredrik Bergström ‘ School vouchers in practice: Competition won’t hurt you! 2002’ The Research Institute of Industrial Economics, Stockholm
Their research examines in considerable academic detail what effects competition from independent schools have on public schools. To recap, under the Swedish system, municipal schools and independent schools receive public financing on close to equal terms. Provided that they fulfil certain basic requirements, all kinds of schools are eligible, including religious schools and schools run by profit corporations .In order to receive public funds, they must pledge not to charge an additional tuition fee from the students .Further, the freedom in setting the rules of admission is limited. They must be open to all children. So they may not base admission on ability or on religious or ethnic origin. In short these schools, and this apparently has to be spelt out again and again, are non-selective. Among the approved schools are schools owned by teacher or parent cooperatives, non-profit organizations and privately owned firms. The municipalities are allowed to give an opinion on whether they consider the establishment of an independent school to be harmful to existing schools, and their views are taken into account by the National Agency for Education. However, the
municipalities have no veto, and are bound by law to finance an independent school once it has been approved. Enrolment in independent schools, at the compulsory school level, ranges between zero and almost twenty per cent.
To cut a fairly long story short, and the report is fairly complex to the layman, the researchers address the claim that increased competition between schools is beneficial to educational quality. They find that ‘A number of empirical studies have shown this argument to be valid. The present study confirms the finding that greater competition improves the standards of public schools.’ So, surrounding municipal schools improved in direct proportion to the competition. Increasing the percentage of pupils educated in a free school by 1 percent produced an improvement in results of all pupils equivalent to a 5 percent increase in funding
The second key conclusion of Sandstrom and Bergstrom is “ A widespread concern among opponents of school choice is that competition will hurt the public schools. The present study shows this fear to be without foundation”