Sir:

     As one who was a pupil, student and free school teacher in Sweden for many years, I find Civitas’ overview of the Swedish situation (issue 7743) out-of date, misrepresentative and unrealistic. The 1992 Reform Bill that Civitas mentions was open to abuses without legal control so it was re-reformed in 1994. Subsequent governments have not been able to make new laws fast enough to cope with the ever changing free school scene. This has caused Sweden’s leading newspapers Aftonblad and Dagens Nyheter as also Sveriges Radio to protest that the system is rotten and many politicians demand drastic closures.

     The free competition Civitas praises is an illusion. The local community may support a Montessouri school or a Waldorf, Baptist, Lutheran, American, Muslim or a weird political enterprise and locals of different opinions have only the choice of leaving the district. Muslim friskolor (plur.) introduce Arabic as their teaching language which forces out local non-Muslims. Schools using mainly English are producing pupils who cannot write Swedish.

     Civitas’ idea that friskolor are more proficient than state schools is another illusion. Any Tom Dick or Harry who can find 20 pupils may start a friskola (sing.). He then employs non-qualified or unauthorised staff and cuts out all expensive lessons like Communication Science, Physics etc., making large profits. As yet, there are no laws against this. State schools have far better control of staff with wider curricula and range of subjects. The friskola pupil is thus not prepared for a university course and the suicide rate is high. As I have experienced, friskolor trustees and Heads tend to be laws unto themselves and woe the pupil or member of staff who dares to have individual wishes.

     There will probably be 1,500 friskolor in Sweden at the end of this year. Growth is enormous. The local community pays 85-100 % of the costs per head and the state pays teachers’ salaries though it is usual, as in my school, that teachers plough, say, a month’s salary per year into the School kitty. Theoretically friskolor do not usually charge fees but costs for board, books, sport equipment, ‘graduation’ ceremony requirements etc. are often high and force poor families to send their children to a state school. One now speaks of the ‘friskolor industry’ as donors and investors plough huge sums into the schools. Bure Equity alone makes millions for shareholders. According to the Swedish press, friskolor make an average profit of fifteen million crowns per year. Some make three times that amount. As many friskola pupils look for jobs in Denmark where the work market is better than in Sweden, Danish critics such as Nils Brock argue that the investors look to the Swedish pupils’ pockets rather than their school careers.

     I doubt very much that Sweden’s friskolor will become popular in England as the average Englishman has too much common sense and a feeling of fair play apart from being a sound democrat. Christians will rightly view the friskolor with great suspicion.