Sweden mulls sweeping reforms at elite schools

Sweden's education minister on Tuesday proposed stripping the country's three elite boarding schools of state subsidies and banning them from charging tuition fees in the latest twist in a long-running hazing scandal.

Sweden mulls sweeping reforms at elite schools
The Grenna School, a boarding school in central Sweden, may lose the right to charge tuition. File photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Three schools in Sweden – Lundsberg, Grenna, and Sigtuna – are designated as national boarding schools. The schools are financed by a mix of tuition fees and state funding.

Education Minister Jan Björklund has now proposed that the government strip the schools of their special status, in which the current system of special state grants would be axed and tuition fees banned. 

"It's difficult to defend that certain schools have completely different conditions to others," Björklund told Sveriges Radio (SR) on Tuesday.

The legislative proposal has been sent to out for comment with the intention that it would come into force on July 1st, 2015, essentially converting the schools into publicly-funded, privately managed 'free schools'. While the schools would then no longer be able to charge tuition fees, they would still be allowed to charge fees for boarders. They would receive public money from local authorities, calculated on their pupil numbers in the same way as for other free schools.

Björklund said he hoped that new entry requirements would permit the schools to recruit from a wider social base. 

"The schools should be open for everyone, regardless of the parents' financial situation," Björklund said. "That could mean that the schools become more popular as they become accessible to more (students)." 

That hope, however, was quickly dismissed by Mats Almlöw, head of Grenna (Grennaskolan), who laughed when contacted by Sveriges Radio reporters. 

"Have you been to Gränna?" he queried. "It's a quaint, tiny town of 2,400 inhabitants and we do not have selective entry," he said, pointing out that most of his students come from the nearby areas in central Sweden. "You can't say we have a huge supply of pupils to chose from and our fees do not impose limits." 

Primary school students aren't charged a fee to attend Grenna, while the school charges 2,000 kronor ($305) to upper secondary students who want access to after-school activities, which generates 100,000 kronor a year in income. But the school receives 2.4 million kronor revenue in state funding annually for the 37 students whose parents live abroad. If these two income sources were eradicated, the school would lose 5.8 percent of its annual turnover.

"We can manage that within our current operations," Almlöw said.

Meanwhile at Lundsberg in Värmland County, where the hazing scandal that prompted the proposed changes took place, day students pay 10,000 kronor per year, while boarders pay higher fees. 

The three elite boarding schools were all swept into the maelstrom following reports of violent hazing at the Lundsberg. A male pupil had his back burned with an iron in a hazing ritual that took place in a boarding house. The Schools Inspectorate (Skolinspektionen) briefly closed the school, but it was reopened after a court found that the state agency had no right to get involved in what happened outside the class room.

In the wake of the revelations, two former boarders, former politician Ian Wachtmeiser and author Jan Guillou, took to the air waves to debate the culture at the elite schools, long seen as training grounds for the upper class. Guillou criticised them for being based on British colonial thinking, comparing them to Eton, while Wachtmeiser defended the institutions.

In presenting his proposal, however, the education minister was quick to underscore that the new elite-school proposal was being researched long before the hazing scandal at Lundsberg made the front pages across Sweden.

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‘Sweden’s Eton’ probed after new abuse claims

Sweden's Schools Inspectorate has demanded answers from Sweden's most elite boarding school, after one or more pupils were reported to the local police for alleged sex crimes.

'Sweden's Eton' probed after new abuse claims
Lundsbergs School is in Värmland,a three-hour drive west of Stockholm. Photo: Johanr/Wikimedia Commons
Lundsbergs Boarding School counts Sweden’s Prince Carl Phillip and the scions of some the country’s richest families among its alumni, earning it the title “Sweden’s Eton”. 
But the school has repeatedly faced accusations of severe bullying, with the Schools Inspectorate ordering it to be shut down in 2013 following allegations that boys were burned with hot irons by older pupils.
According to “unconfirmed information” published in Sweden’s Aftonbladet newspaper, the police investigation launched this week relates to a secretly filmed sex tape showing sexual abuse of female pupils. 
Björn Persson, acting head for the Swedish Schools Inspectorate's investigations wing in Gothenburg confirmed to Sweden’s TT newswire that he had been in contact with the school. 
“We have had telephone contact with the headmaster after which we decided to request a written report. We want them to explain what happened and what remedies have been taken,” Persson said.
According to Aftonbladet school staff reported one or more pupils to the police.
“I can confirm that we have received such notification and that it applies to several plaintiffs,” Anders Forsman of the local Värmland police told the newspaper. “It is the school management who made the complaint and it concerns incidents that are further back in time, but have been revealed now. This is not something which has happened this year.”
However, Aftonbladet newspaper reported on Thursday that a pupil had been hit with a belt, although the school’s headmaster Johan Harryson said this had been exaggerated. 
“Two students got into a serious disagreement with one another and we have sent one home for unacceptable verbal attacks. A belt was waved around, and there was contact with the belt at one point, but according to the victim the fright was the main thing.”
Harryson, who was appointed in 2014 to draw a line under the school’s problems, said the turnaround was still a work in progress. 
“We have worked extremely determinedly to make sure such things no longer happen, but we’re not there yet” he told TT. “It simply behoves us to keep working at it.” 
Sweden’s Schools Inspectorate in 2011 roundly condemned the school in a report claiming that younger pupils were regularly humiliated and abused by their seniors, with little attempt from the school's management to intervene.