It has now become something of a cliché to marvel at how the social democratic paradise that is Sweden was able to reform its school system through a series of free market reforms. Yet the reforms, which are still ongoing and still being analysed by policymakers, nevertheless provide a rich seam of data and discussion points for other European Union member states - such as the United Kingdom - which are looking to radically improve their schooling.
To recap on exactly what happened, the Swedish school voucher programme was introduced in 1992 - by the then centre-right government. Since the 1970s, the Swedish school system had declined in quality. Only the rich, who could afford private schools which charged tuition fees on top of Sweden's already high taxes, had the ability to shop around for a good school for their children.
But then, as Thomas Idergard of Swedish think-tank Timbro explains: "The school voucher program was designed to create a market—with competition, entrepreneurship, and innovation — and yet based on the Swedish and Scandinavian tradition of social justice and equality: all families should be able to choose between public and private schools regardless of their economic status or wealth. This equal opportunity philosophy, taken into its full potential, created an education market".
More recently the British think-tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs, has completed an academic analysis of the results of Sweden's social experiment in education. The Schooling for Money report looks at the role of for-profit schools and provides quantitative evidence regarding how these schools perform. It concludes that the competition that drove improvements in Sweden was only possible because of the high number of for-profit schools that were established.
Read the rest of the article on the Public Service Europe website.