What does a January 2013 review of evidence say about market intervention in education in Sweden and Chile?

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The Academies Commission (2013) found it’s difficult to come to conclusions about the Swedish free schools programme because Sweden doesn’t routinely collect test and demographic data. The Commission cited Bohlmark and Lindahl (2012) who concluded the programme had improved educational performance and this was driven by the effects of competition. But Bohlmark and Lindahl warned against applying findings from Sweden to other countries because school types and external factors differed. The Commission cited Cook (2012) writing in the Financial Times: the improved educational performance attributed to the Swedish free school programme was extremely modest and the slight positive effects were “not very impressive given the scale of the policy intervention.”

Meanwhile, the Bertil Ostberg, a senior civil servant in Sweden's Education Ministry, told the BBC (2012) that his Government was setting up an inquiry into profit-making companies running many of Sweden’s free schools. The latest information about the inquiry is here.


The Academies Commission (2013) found that Chile’s voucher system resulted in over 60% of pupils attending privately-run schools. These schools can charge extra fees above the value of the voucher. A 2000 study found no difference in performance between subsidized private schools and state-funded municipal schools. Chile’s performance in PISA tests remains relatively poor.

Meanwhile, students in Chile have been rioting for more than a year against Chile’s for-profit schools. And the Chilean education minister looks to England for inspiration – not to the present Government’s free school and academy programme but to the Cambridge Primary Review (CPR). The CPR, which took six years to produce, was rebuffed by the last Government. This rejection was described by the late Mike Baker as a “dismissive, knee-jerk response.” Nevertheless, 147 countries have accessed the CPR website for ideas to reform primary education.

The Academies Commission Report can be downloaded here.

Published 16 January 2013   Updated 30 June 2013