At lunch yesterday I met Anders Hultin, CEO of Gems Education in the UK, which is associated with the highly successful Konskapsskolan school chain in Sweden. So I was getting some good tips about what makes Sweden’s school voucher system work. I thought I might pass on a few of them to the Tory schools spokesman Michael Gove MP, who wants to engineer the same supply-side revolution here. Though he probably knows it all already, but just can’t say it because of political correctness.
In Sweden, the average cost of a municipal education follows the choices of parents. Even if they send their kid to a private school, that budget – about £6,500 – follows. To get the money, private schools are not allowed to charge top-up fees, and there is no academic selection. But it’s easy to get a licence to enter this system, and 1,100 new schools have sprung up because of it. Most, about 800 of them (Gove please note), are profit-making. Many are small schools but in big chains (some with turnovers of £100m and more), which actually have a successful model for organising and running schools, and take that successful brand to one school after another.
Nor surprisingly, this supply-side revolution, a deregulation of the school sector, has brought plenty of new investment. In the UK it might cost £25m to set up a new school. In Sweden, it costs the state nothing, because parents, teachers, companies and others raise the money they need – and usually work out ways to do things far cheaper than the state can. And it works. the new schools have 20% better educational outcomes.
There seem to be four lessons from all of this. (1) Make it easy for new people to come in and provide education. Standards, yes, but allow people to start small, maybe renting empty office or warehouse space, rather than insisting that everything has to be built and run as the state builds and runs it. (2) Allow profit making, because that is what drives the investment and the risk-taking. (3) Don’t keep subsidizing failure, but reward success. (4) Let people spread their success. That is what makes the Swedish system work: it’s about knowing how to deliver education effectively, and taking that expertise far and wide.