Page last updated at 10:44 GMT, Wednesday, 7 October 2009 11:44 UK

Tory Swedish model for schools

By Ray Furlong
Reporter, BBC Radio 4's PM programme

Innovations in Sweden's education system could be the blueprint for changes in England's schools, if the Conservatives win the next election.

But how do independent state schools work in practice?

Teacher Christer Andersson
Christer Anderson teaches students at Campeon school

They start early, for one thing.

At ten to eight in the morning, pupils at Campeon school in the city of Helsingborg are already gossiping over coffee.

In the school's little foyer, there is a comfy red sofa, a bar area, and pine floors.

Campeon is one of Sweden's "free schools". It is run by a private company and gets a payment from the local authority for every pupil it attracts.

This means it has the freedom to do things differently.

'"We start earlier than other state schools, we have fewer breaks and longer lessons," explains Christer Andersson, who founded Campeon seven years ago.

"Our teachers have among the least working hours in Sweden: 15 hours of classes per week, compared to 20-25 in state schools, so the quality is very high," he adds.

Mr Andersson took a pay cut and took out a loan to found Campeon. He even did the cleaning himself at first.

He unashamedly admits that he poached the best teachers from local state schools by offering a new style of education. "When we started it, we had a vision. The teachers have to be able to be prepared when they come into class. They have to bring energy, enthusiasm."

Rapid growth

This ideal of highly-motivated "school entrepreneurs" is one that Michael Gove, the Tory education spokesman, wants to import to England (where education is a devolved policy) although, unlike in Sweden, the schools won't be able to make a profit.

Students Natalia and Julia
Pupils Natalia and Julia are thriving in Campeon's competitive environment

Campeon has grown largely by word of mouth, with a reputation for excellence helping it expand to 200 pupils from just 54 pupils when it first opened.

Natalia, who is in her second year, admits there is pressure at Campeon, but for a reason: "Everyone wants to learn, everyone wants 'A' grades. It's good."

Her friend Julia agrees: "One of the differences here is that you learn communication, like how to speak to a group of people. I'm much less nervous about doing that than I was before."

But there are critics of the system.

A recent report by Skolverket, the National Education Agency, said that Sweden's "free schools" were an inefficient use of funds that drove up the overall cost of education, when they are supposed to achieve the opposite.

David Cameron's Conservatives also say the schools will help social mobility.

But the report suggested that children without pushy parents were left behind in the old state schools where standards were not improving.

FROM THE WORLD AT ONE

Helsingborg councillor Thomas Nordstroem, a Social Democrat, says this view reflects local experience.

"One of the problems is more and more segregation, because the experience is that if you have a good education yourself, it's easier for you to choose a school.

"But if you don't or you're unemployed and so on, that kind of people, they don't choose.

"They stay in their neighbourhood school. We want good quality for all schools, that's the problem."

Pleased parents

In a café in Helsingborg near the school, parent Christina Risberg seems to prove the point.

She put her daughter's name on a waiting list for a "free school" seven years in advance to secure a place, because they are, she says, so much better than community schools which are run directly by the local authority.

"Campeon is run like a company," she states. "They focus on quality and if the parents aren't satisfied they take their children out and then the school doesn't get the money - whereas a community school gets the money anyway."

Christina Risberg
Christina Risberg is pleased her daughter studies at Campeon

"I think also the people who start indie schools are more interested," adds Christina.

"In community schools there are a lot of teachers who are burned out and they've lost interest. My experience with my three children shows me a great difference."

But Christina acknowledges the concerns, similar to those raised about the paid-for independent sector and state-run grammar schools in the UK, that free schools cream off children from advantaged backgrounds.

"Yes it's possible it would lead to social segregation.

"But on the other hand you don't need a degree to be interested in your children's welfare - and I think everyone can judge whether they have good or bad teachers in school."



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