Sweden clamps down on for-profit education providers while England moves nearer to allowing schools to be run for profit

Janet Downs's picture
‘Sweden’s education minister, Jan Bjorklund, has announced plans to “radically change” the country’s regulation of its free-school sector to make it tougher for short-term private equity investors to buy and run schools.'

TES 30 August 2013

This follows an investigation into the for-profit education providers that run most of Sweden’s free schools. One of the chains collapsed earlier this year leaving 10,000 pupils uncertain about their future education. The bankruptcy contributed to growing opposition against Sweden’s free school system in the country.

Sweden hasn’t rejected the idea of profit-making schools entirely - even the Swedish opposition Social Democrats support continuing to allow such schools to operate. However, this may be prompted more by the realisation that it’s too late to turn back the clock than enthusiasm for the concept. Stefan Lofven, the leader of Sweden’s opposition Social Democratic Workers’ Party, told TES in July that Sweden was turning into the ‘Wild West’ and warned other countries not to follow Sweden’s free school example.

However, the Swedish government have recognised some pitfalls – it wants to deter the involvement of investors whose main interest is making money.

‘We had a venture capital company that didn’t know much about education taking over Swedish schools,’ Bjorklund told TES, ‘They thought they were going to make big money, discovered it wasn’t easy, got tired quickly and quit. In my opinion, that sort of behaviour is totally unacceptable.”

It’s unclear how the Swedish government could prevent venture capitalists from taking over existing for-profit providers. IES, the Swedish firm which won the contract to run Breckland free school, was taken over by US-based private equity firm days before IES Breckland opened in September 2012.

The Independent (July 2013) revealed secret plans to allow English state schools to be run for profit. Sweden’s tightening-up of rules surrounding its for-profit free schools and the warning from the Swedish opposition should act as a brake on any plans to open up the English state system to companies whose motivation is making money for shareholders.

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