Page last updated at 02:33 GMT, Thursday, 18 February 2010

Swedish schools 'will make little difference'

Campeon school in Sweden
The Swedish schools receive public money, but are free from state control

A Swedish model for schools, which the Conservatives hope to adopt if they win the election, would have little impact on the system here, a study claims.

The Centre for Economic Performance says parents in England have more school choice than those in Sweden had when the policy was introduced in 1992.

In Sweden, non-profit and profit-making groups can set up schools funded by the government, but free from its control.

The Tories said the study was flawed and said parents wanted more choice.

The party wants to give parents' groups, charities, trusts and voluntary groups the chance to set up and operate schools, based on the Swedish model.

These schools would be non-fee-paying, funded by the taxpayer, run on a not-for-profit basis and independent from state control.

Parents want more smaller schools with smaller classes
Shadow Schools Minister Nick Gibb

But in an article in Centre Piece from the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP), researchers say: "Importing the Swedish model may not make very much difference to the UK's educational status quo.

"In the early 1990s, Sweden started from a position of no school choice: all pupils had to attend the state school in their neighbourhood.

"In the UK, however, there is already much school choice and a diversity of provision."

Cost effectiveness

The CEP article also raised concerns about the practicalities of creating new schools.

Setting up new schools could be "an expensive policy if large capital outlays are required", the article said.

In Sweden this was not the case, because the schools tended to be small and used former office or school buildings.

Nick Gibb
Nick Gibb said setting up new schools improved standards

"The reality that governments will have to support simultaneously the new schools and the older 'bad' ones, and that the latter will not exit at an efficient rate, needs to be factored into the expected cost effectiveness of a 'school creation' policy."

Furthermore, the freedom from political control enjoyed by the Swedish schools was not as great as supposed, as they still had to follow the national curriculum.

"This is not the case in the UK, where it is only a requirement for English, maths, science and information and communications technology."

The article also said many parents were not in a position to take advantage of the choices on offer.

"Not all people in the UK are empowered to exercise choice because they do not have the money to move to an area with popular schools or the personal resources to access and understand information about school quality.

"Therein lies another challenge."

'Deeply flawed'

The Conservatives rejected the report as "deeply flawed".

Shadow Schools Minister Nick Gibb, said: "This report misunderstands our policy and ignores the most respected academic evidence which shows without doubt that allowing new schools to start up, as done in Sweden and parts of America including by Barack Obama, improves standards.

"Parents want more smaller schools with smaller classes and that's what they will get if we win the election."

The article was published a week after the BBC Newsnight programme found not everyone in Sweden was convinced the system had raised standards.

Per Thulberg, director general of the Swedish National Agency for Education, told Newsnight: "This competition between schools that was one of the reasons for introducing the new schools, has not led to better results," he said.

"The lesson is that it's not easy to find a way to continue school improvement.

"The students in the new schools they have in general better standards, but it has to do with their parents, their backgrounds. They come from well-educated families."

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