Free school applications hit new highs

Sweden's independent school sector continues to expand, with applications for new schools increasing 12 percent on 2010, according to new figures from the Swedish Schools Inspectorate (Skolinspektionen).

The increase follows a steep climb in 2010 and represents a 52 percent increase in applications to open independently-run “free schools” in comparison with the figures for 2009.

A total of 454 applications were submitted in the year up to the end of January 2001. Among the applications, 288 were for elementary or secondary schools and a further 25 were for special needs schools and high schools.

Stockholm heads the list of new applications, with 179 schools.

Around half of the total number concern schools in the big city areas of Stockholm, Västra Götaland (Gothenburg) and Skåne (Malmö) with 179, 106 and 105 applications respectively.

The agency will now send the applications to the relevant municipalities for consultation, with the applications considered in the light of the impact on municipality-run schools.

The Inspectorate will then decide on the applications in the autumn with most of the applicants in line to receive a decision by the end of the year.

The Schools Inspectorate took over the application process from the National Agency for Education (Skolverket) in 2009, so the figures are not directly comparable with previous years.

“But it remains clear that the number of applications has increased in recent years and in 2011 we received a record number of applications, 767,” said Schools Inspectorate statistician Mattias Svantesson in a statement.

The expanding free school sector came into focus in February when Sweden’s education minister Jan Björklund sharpened his tone against the privately-run, publicly-funded schools, conceding that there are several indications that profit takes precedence over quality.

Björklund acknowledged a degree of naivety from the political centre-right in regards to their view of independent schools.

The minister has previously announced a parliamentary inquiry to look into how free schools which fail to meet accepted standards can be prevented from taking out profits, but has stopped short of echoing opposition criticism of private equity firm ownership.

The three largest free school enterprises – Academedia, John Bauer and Pysslingen – are all owned by private equity firms.

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Prominent Muslim head of free school seized by security police

The chief executive of a largely Muslim free school in Gothenburg has been placed in custody by the Swedish Migration Agency on the orders of the country's Säpo security police. It follows the arrests of other Imams in recent months.

Prominent Muslim head of free school seized by security police
He was seized on Wednesday and taken to an immigration detention centre in the city, Sweden's Expressen newspaper reported on Thursday
Abdel-Nasser el Nadi, chief executive of Vetenskapsskolan, is the fifth senior member of Sweden's Muslim community to be placed in custody in less than a month. 
Three prominent imams are now in custody: Abo Raad, imam of a mosque in Gävle, Hussein Al-Jibury, imam of a mosque in Umeå, and Fekri Hamad, imam of a mosque in Västerås. Raad's son is also being held. 
Sven-Erik Berg, the school's headmaster, told The Local that he had no idea what was behind the arrest. 
“We don't know anything. I don't know anything more than you,” he said. “We are doing nothing, but the school is naturally maintaining a dialogue with the Swedish School Inspectorate and their lawyers.” 
He said it was inaccurate to describe the school as a 'Muslim school' as it has no official confessional status. 
“The chief executive is a central person among Swedish Muslims, so naturally the group of people we recruit from are often those who have a relation to Islam or Sweden's Islamic associations,” he said. “But the school does not go around telling children what they should or shouldn't believe.”
On its website the school declares: “At our school everyone is treated equally irrespective of gender, religion, ethnic background, appearance, opinions, or abilities”. 
“We are one of the best schools in Gothenburg. You just have to look at the statistics,” Berg added.  
A spokesman for Säpo told Expressen that he could not comment on any of the five cases or on whether they were in some way linked. 
But according to the Swedish news site Doku, which investigates Islamic extremists, Säpo is probing whether el Nadi has any links to a network of Islamic militants.
In an article published last October, the site alleged that El Nadi's activism was part of the reason that so many young men from Gothenburg had travelled to fight for the terror group Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. 
El-Nadi was previously the school's headmaster, and the school was in 2018 criticised by the Swedish School Inspectorate for not sufficiently promoting equality between girls and boys.
When he was interviewed by Dagens Nyheter a year ago, he asserted his loyalty to Sweden. 
“I have five children, all of whom were born in Sweden, a big family, and I want to protect this society in the same way that I have protected my children,” he said.  
El-Nadi was born in Egypt but has lived in Sweden since 1992. He has twice applied to become a Swedish citizen, in 2007 and 2011, and twice been rejected.