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'Free' schools suffer as enrollments drop

Published: 05 Sep 2012 10:29 GMT+02:00
Updated: 05 Sep 2012 10:29 GMT+02:00

“It is a shrinking market and it is key to try to keep as many students as possible. Some schools won’t survive,” said Anders Hultin, CEO of JB Education, Sweden’s next to largest free school concern, to Swedish business daily Dagens Industri (DI).

According to a report by the Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket), the number of high school students has fallen by 30,000 in three years and another 60,000 are predicted to disappear within the next two academic years.

Sweden’s free schools make up a quarter of the market and if the number of students keep falling as expected, free schools will lose some 16,000 students, which correlates to an the annual loss of around 1.6 billion kronor ($238 million).

And experts are saying that there is a clear trend showing that fewer students apply to the formerly very popular free schools today than in past years.

Signs of the changing fortunes for Sweden's free schools began to emerge last spring, when fewer than half of Stockholm's 120 free high schools had managed to fill half of the spots available, according to a May report by Sveriges Radio (SR).

Three of the Stockholm schools didn't even have one student set to enroll for the autumn term.

In addition, no new free schools have started up in the last year and three existing schools were forced to close down, according to DI.

Despite schools have been aware of the decrease in students for some time, they are still struggling to adapt financially, due to long lease periods among other things.

Marcus Strömberg, the CEO of free school Academedia, believes that Sweden will see more schools go out of business over the next few years as the margins for free schools continue to shrink.

“Profit margins for free schools are at 6-8 percent. The margins have fallen by a few percent compared to two or three years ago,” Strömberg told DI.

TT/Rebecca Martin

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Your comments about this article

10:51 September 5, 2012 by Heebz
1.6 billion kronor is not equivalent to $238,000!
11:06 September 5, 2012 by The Local
@Heebz thanks for checking our maths. We've since corrected the figure.
12:20 September 5, 2012 by StockholmSam
This topic could get very interesting.

I have worked at two different free schools. One was absolutely fantastic. The other was a dreadful experience for both students and teachers. The really funny thing is that the fantastic school never once stated in staff meetings that being the best was a goal; all they wanted was to improve what they were already doing well, which was teaching. And they treated their teachers with endless respect. It was a joy to work there. The worthless school invested massive amounts of money marketing itself as a premiere school and a feeder for top universities. They continue to market themselves as "the best" and every time I see this arrogant, overly competitive attitude come out in their advertising, I just shake my head and think of those poor kids and poor teachers. The teachers were overworked, underpaid and abused by management.
12:27 September 5, 2012 by engagebrain
Stoeckholm Sam

as a parent is difficult to assess schools - which school was good and which bad ?
14:09 September 5, 2012 by Programmeny
I don't understand this article. It says free school students number are dropping. Okay, but why? And why is it of any importance if those students study in private school? I don't see what's wrong with that.
21:22 September 5, 2012 by aussie_expat212
I find this article rather misleading. I also work for a free school and our school is over-subscribed every year. We have around 160 places in each year group and we have 800 children in line...and that is for enrollments in 2018! Our company doubles in size every 3 years and is growing at an exponential rate...so yes, some free schools may be failing to gain numbers etc, but others are performing in leaps and bounds beyond all other schools, and not just 'free' schools.
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