Sveriges Television's (SVT) investigative news programme Uppdrag Granskning approached some 50 free schools, trying to gain entry for two children and recording the meetings with a hidden camera. The show found that an ambitious 12-year-old girl with good grades was considerably more welcome in many of free schools, while a twelve-year-old boy with bad grades was much less welcome.
For example, the girl was immediately granted a spot at Milstens School in the upmarket Täby suburb of Stockholm. But the principal of the same school, Karin Möller David, contacted the boy’s dad to say that they simply could not accept any more students at that time.
At 27 of about 50 schools the girl with good grades was either accepted or notified that her chances were good. Only half of the schools willing to accept the girl also welcomed the boy with bad grades.
News of the report had Education Minister Jan Björklund up in arms.
"In plain Swedish, I’m furious," Björklund told news agency TT. "It is unacceptable to sort and sift through children and youth."
The education act (skollagen) is "crystal clear", according to the education minister. Schools that choose not to accept select students break the law. The system has no loophole that could allow it, Björklund underscored.
"But I do think that one has to understand that for all schools, both communal and free, it’s much easier to handle motivated students. Of course more effort is required to take care of students with social problems and learning disabilities," he added.
Björklund said the only way for the Schools Inspectorate (Skolinspektionen) to unearth abuses came from parents and staff willing to report the problem. While the education minister said he planned to ask the Inspectorate to set sail to an investigation, he said its methodology would be markedly different to that of the reporters at SVT.
"A state agency cannot use hidden cameras or false identities. But they could follow up with actual students who apply to a school," he said.
When school principal Karin Möller David was confronted she was quick to admit her mistake.
"That was completely wrong of me. It was a bad decision and I am terribly sorry for it," she commented.
The SVT team also took its hidden cameras to an employment interview for a music teacher position at a free school outside of Stockholm.
During the interview, the principal said that students with ADHD should be placed in a separate group in order to "protect the good students".
While the school planned on starting a new line of study in music, the principal made it clear that certain types of music were not welcome, as they could attract the wrong kind of students.
"Not that crap where they rap and go on about rape. You can’t say nigger anymore, but you know, that black music. I don’t want that in the school," the principal told the applicant. "Then we’ll get those people with baseball caps on backwards. No, they can go rap in Tensta and torch cars over there, but not here."
The principal has now resigned and sold the school licence to another operator.
Claes Nyberg, CEO of Friskolornas Riksförbund (Swedish Association of Independent Schools), said SVT’s program was too quick to jump to conclusions. He said the reporters did not follow through with the entire application process.
"There are just a few select schools that don’t give equal treatment," said Nyberg. "And if it is deliberate then of course it’s against the law and it’s unacceptable."
Nyberg said the principal who made racist and hateful comments did not belong in a Swedish school, but said he did not believe such behaviour was the norm.
"It’s a deviant example, which we all react strongly to."