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Swedish Government to end faith schools if re-elected

The Riksdag (Swedish Parliament) in Stockholm

Sweden’s senior governing party, the Social Democrats, has pledged to abolish faith schools if re-elected at the next general election in September 2018. This move was prompted by a series of scandals in the religious free schools sector very similar to ones seen in the UK.

In 2010, the UK Government introduced its free schools programme, giving new state-funded English schools, including religious schools, additional freedoms over the curriculum, employment practices, and elsewhere. The policy was explicitly modelled on Sweden’s free schools programme. Humanists UK has welcomed the Swedish Government’s proposals and called on the UK Government to take note.

The only state-funded religious schools in Sweden are religious free schools. The Social Democrats declared by press release today that:

‘Religious influence has no place in Swedish schools. The Social Democrats want school to provide all children with a good education regardless of their background, sex, or religion…

‘Swedish schools should be places where children and young people with different backgrounds meet. Learning alongside students with different backgrounds will support cohesion and counteract social division…

‘A cornerstone of building a stronger Sweden is an inclusive school system where parents and students can be confident that their education is equipping them with knowledge based on science and proven experience, not religious dogma.’

The Swedish schools minister, Anna Ekström, said the move would support children to make up their own minds about whether to follow a religion. Public administration minister Ardalan Shekarabi, commented that his experience of growing up in Iran had shown him the error of segregating children by gender and religion. Earlier this week, the Swedish Government pledged to crack down on religious schools which promote extreme religious ideologies, such as Islamic schools found to be encouraging unequal treatment of boys and girls.

Meanwhile, in the UK, in 2011 the UK Government legislated to introduce a presumption that new state schools in England will be free schools. In late 2016 the Government proposed dropping the 50% cap on faith-based admissions at free schools. The subsequent controversy over the move has meant that no new free schools have been approved for opening in the year and a half since.

Commenting on the news, Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman said:

‘We applaud the Swedish Social Democrats for taking a human rights-based and evidence-led stance against faith schools. At a time when the UK Government is proposing ever-greater religious segregation and influence in our education system, the Swedish Government is making a sensible commitment to improving social cohesion and building an education system which puts children’s rights first. Governments in Westminster, Edinburgh, and Cardiff should look to take the same approach for children across the UK.’

Polling for the next general election in Sweden paints an uncertain picture. The Social Democrats, currently in a minority coalition government with the Greens, are narrowly leading the polls, closely followed by the centre-right Moderate Party and the far-right authoritarian Sweden Democrats.


For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigner Jay Harman on or 07970 393 680.

Read about Humanists UK’s work on faith schools:  

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At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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