What will free schools mean for the quality of education — in the new schools, and in the old ones they compete with? In Sweden, they don’t have to guess. They have almost 400 free schools, and data from millions of pupils. The latest study has just been published, and has strong results that I thought might interest CoffeeHousers (you can read the whole paper here). It makes the case for Michael Gove to put the bellows under the free school movement by following Sweden and let them be run like expanding companies (that is to say, make a profit). It finds that:
1. Growth of free schools has led to better high school grades & university participation, even accounting for other factors such as grade inflation.
2. Crucially, state school pupils seem to benefit about as much as independent school ones. When ‘bog standard comprehensive’ face new tougher competition, they shape up. They know they’ll lose pupils if they don’t. As the researchers put it: ‘these positive effects are primarily due to spill-over or competition effects and not that independent-school students gain significantly more than public school students.’
3. Free schools have produced better results on the same budget. Their success cannot be put down to cash. Or, as they say, ‘We are also able to show that a higher share of independent-school students in the municipality has not generated increased school expenditures.’
4. That the ‘free school effect’ is at its clearest now because we now have a decade’s worth of development and expansion.
The survey was large: every Swedish pupil who finished school between 1988 and 2009.