The Association of Independent Schools focuses on three areas:
promoting the interests of independent schools through active participation in the public debate over independent schools in Sweden and through lobbying
advising members on laws and regulations that affect independent schools (excluding pedagogical issues and their role as employers)
providing information and services of interest to members, in particular management and quality-assurance training.
Membership is open to independent schools of all levels, from preparatory and primary/compulsory to secondary, including complementary vocational. At present (2009), there are about 830 member schools. The board members (10 persons) represent the broad spectrum of independent schools (in terms of size, whether confessional or not, and type of legal organization). A small office, with a staff of five, is located in Stockholm (see below).
Independent schools in Sweden – main points
Parental right to choose between public and independent schools, not often exercised until now
A unique voucher system with no fees, designed not to discourage anyone for financial reasons
Large mix of pedagogical methods, with many innovations and an entrepreneurial spirit
Secular and confessional profiles
Mainly small schools; some larger groups, with many schools in different towns
Political debate in support or against has at times been strong
A small but growing share
The principle that parents have the right to place their children in an independent school is well established in Sweden. Initially, there were very few independent schools, but as the result of changes in legislation beginning in the early 90s, independent schools have challenged the old public “monopoly” by increasing in number. These schools offer parents a broad range of choices in terms of profiles, aims, and pedagogic methods, subject to limitations caused by the distance between the school and the home.
The proportion of students in independent schools has grown considerably since the beginning of the 90s, although the sector is still very small. In school year 1990-91, about 0.9 per cent of all Swedish pupils in compulsory education (ages 6-15, approximately) were enrolled in independent schools, whereas in 2007-08 the figure had grown to about 9 per cent. The same trend may be observed in secondary education (ages 16-18, approximately), where the share has grown from 1.5 per cent to 17 per cent during the same period.
In about 210 of the 290 local councils in Sweden, independent schools “compete” with public schools run by locally elected school boards; as yet there are no independent schools in the other local councils. The urbanized areas of south and middle Sweden, in particular in the Greater Stockholm area, have the highest concentration of independent schools.
Authorised independent schools are financed by a voucher system, by which the local council provides to the independent school resources equivalent to those provided to its own schools, on a per-pupil basis.
For pupils who need extra resources (this includes both children with physical or mental handicaps and children with learning and behavioural difficulties), extra funding may be provided at the discretion of the local school board—which, however, may refuse for financial reasons and refer the child to one of its own schools.
Independent schools are not allowed to charge fees for instruction.
Authorisation and overseeing
The Swedish Schools Inspectorate responds to an application to found an independent school in two stages. First, it grants the right to begin activities as an authorised school. Then – after obtaining the views of the local council – the Inspectorate grants the school the right to obtain funds through the voucher system. The main criteria are that independent schools conform to a nationally provided syllabus and that they teach the same democratic values as schools run by the school-boards. A prospective school must provide written documentation in its application concerning its intended profile, premises, etc.
When an independent school has started, its performance and the quality of its education are evaluated against a nationally provided syllabus, through nationally provided tests and through inspections. Within this framework, schools are free to organise their own programmes and timetables.
Independent schools are inspected by the Swedish Schools Inspectorate. An inspection may result in a request that a school make adjustments to its organisation, syllabus, or other matters, in order to adhere to nationally provided objectives and curricula. If the school does not comply, its authorisation may be revoked. Local councils are entitled to receive information from the independent schools within their areas.
The relatively fast expansion of the number of independent schools has caught some politicians by surprise. During 2002, before the September general elections, the debate was strong, at both the local and national levels, and the government threatened to impose various new restrictive measures by legislation.
Some voices argued for restricting the authorisation of new independent schools, as well as imposing an even greater degree of state or local school board inspections. Certain criticism was based on the assumption that independent schools are run with a strong profit motive, or that they will hire “anyone” as a teacher, without bothering about qualifications. Both of these allegations are quite easy to refute, but they formed part of the political debate.
Other critics said that it is highly motivated parents who opt to take their children out of local council schools, thus leaving those schools with disadvantaged children, or that independent schools impose financial burdens on the school boards by disrupting their planning.
Where comparisons have been possible, independent schools have performed better in terms of knowledge and skills than local council schools, and have achieved this at a lower cost. This has inspired some local community schools to improve their organisation and teaching in order to improve results.
By considering teaching in independent schools, teachers may find alternatives in terms of personal development that are more interesting than what is available in the public schools, as well as a wider job market. Salaries are compatible.
Telephone: +46 8 762 77 58
Fax: +46 8 762 7799
Postal address: Box 55545, SE-102 04 Stockholm, SWEDEN
Publicerad: 6 oktober 2009