The Tories' plan to permit up to 5,000 new independently run schools to be set up would be a major step towards improving Britain’s education system. Their plans are based upon the Swedish model for education, which was established during the 1990’s.
Swedes are the world leaders in promoting ‘free-market education’ based upon a system where organisations or individuals can set up an independent school that is then funded by the state.
Such a free-market approach to education seems the most sensible way to increase both competition and efficiency. This new breed of schools would work at its best if given greater freedom. By being able to select which examinations are taken (for example the International Baccalaureate, European or American exams), students can choose to join a school at which their needs will be more accurately met. This extra competition within the market would mean that students from poorly performing schools would be free to move to a better one, forcing underperforming schools to either close or improve the quality of their service.
In order to meet the demands of students, firms such as Kunskapsskolan (who have already nodded towards an expansion into the UK) have developed and specialised within Sweden. This specialisation allows them to innovate to provide better quality services.
This type of system would focus the attention of education towards meeting the needs and choices of students and from away meeting targets set by Whitehall and the national curriculum, resulting in a much more effective use of resources.
For more on the Swedish model of education reform, see our recent publication Open Access for UK Schools (PDF)