Danish Model Reprised

The Danish Model is a system where two parties: the employer and the employee can sit down and work out terms of employment. Compromise is expected. It seems to me that the biggest advantage of the Danish Model, is that the terms of someone’s employment is usually rather technical.

To someone outside of a particular job, the things that employees might stick on may seem overly pernickity.

Who really understands what anyone else does? Until you build code or fight crime or clean offices; you can only imagine (and romanticise the details).

As with all cases of confirmation bias, even as people patiently explain to you, for example: ‘no, that word means this’ and ‘that is not what people are fighting about’, people hear what they want to hear.

If someone has convinced themselves that all Danish teachers are lazy and useless, then no teacher (even a hard working, blameless British teacher), has any chance of changing their mind with their daring tales of hard work and success in the classroom.

If another person has decided that, as hard working as Danish teachers are, they are not working the same hours as everyone else then no clarification of what ‘normalisation’ is can ever hope to get through.

The government wanted to force these changes through. Had the Danish Model been allowed to run as usual, then the suggestions given by the government would have been weakened. Not by much, if you look at the course of the negotiations.

There were two things that the teachers’ unions stuck on.

1) Teachers over 60 should be allowed to have a reduced timetable on full-pay

2) Headteachers should not get the absolute final call on how to assign teacher’s activities. There should be an upper limit of lessons a week (25 hours) and a “pool” of preparation hours that the head can assign as they will.

The government, in their intervention, refused both. And so, now the terms of employment are that reduced timetables for teachers over 60 will be phased out and that headteachers can assign teachers to as many lessons a week as they want and (therefore), some lessons will have no paid preparation time at all.

Under the Danish Model, if the government has to break the deadlock, it cannot be one sided and both parties need to come away with something. I got a pay-bump of 300 kroner a month (Gee, I hope that’s after tax, I cannot WAIT to spend it), and the offer of extra training.

There was also an ‘assurance’ that teachers would not have to work evenings or weekends.

I doubt headteachers would want to treat their staff badly and would not want to overschedule their staff. But they will not be given enough money to be professionally considerate. And thusly, the buck stops with them (and not the government or the kommunes).

If I am given too many lessons a week to prepare for, then of course I will have to take work home. I just will be expected to work more hours than everyone else on my pay grade.

Most non-teachers have no idea what is about to happen to Danish schools. They are completely ignorant of how damaging these changes will be.

If this had run on the Danish Model, then teachers would have been able to modify the plans according to their professional needs and not solely due to budgetary requirements.

What gets me the most, isn’t the lack of sympathy strikes or the lack of peaceful direct action or the way that we have been taken for granted. It’s not people calling me lazy or a liar or freeloader. It’s not the loss of income. It wasn’t even misinformed people insisting that I could stop the lockouts singlehandedly by child minding teaching children in defiance of the rules.

What gets me the most is that the children of Denmark lost four weeks of schooling, so that the government could pretend that they were independent of these changes.

They wanted to bypass the Danish Model but not get in trouble for doing so.

They refused to release documents where the stated aim was “To prepare for the employment negotiations” because “they have nothing to do with the employment negotiations”. They insisted that they needed to do the intervention because “in the Danish Model sometimes lockouts happen and this has gone on too long”. They expected the people of Denmark to believe that they wrote 70+ pages of documentation about the new changes overnight. They claim that there is nothing odd about consulting the employers about how to make the intervention but not the teachers.

And, as usual, they got away with it because everyone is too apathetic to lift a finger to save what they say they believe in.

Four weeks with no schools, in a ‘democratic’ country.

For a game.

I am not sure who won but I know who lost.

News Translation: Dirty Tricks Special

From dr.dk the state owned broadcaster: Ombudsman suspects foul play in teacher negotiations

Parliament’s ombudsman, stated on Wednesday that the Finance Ministry has the law on its side when the ministry refused Denmark’s Teacher Union access to a number of documents from the Working Group that had to prepare the working conditions negotiations with teachers.

But at the same time, the ombudsman Jørgen Steen Sørensen wonders strongly about the secrecy afforded the Working Group. This has aroused suspicion of a conscious ploy to avoid scrutiny.

“I need to underline that I cannot know what the exact background for these circumstances are. But an overview gives the impression that these circumstances were planned and committed to, precisely with the intention to avoid that the documents could be subject to public access,” said Jørgen Steen Sørensen in his statement.

The Working Group was disbanded in February 2012 by the Finance Ministry to prepare for the negotiations.

But according to the ombudsman, work stopped at the end of 2012 without the Working Group giving a report. And this arouses suspicion.

According to the ombudsman, the Finance Ministry reported that the Working Group’s work was not relevant at this time and the Working Group’s documents have nothing to do with preparing for the negotiations.

The latter is crucial for whether the documents can be exempted from full disclosure according to the rules about internal working documents.

“The ombudsman may give the Finance Ministry’s information for consideration but he expresses that how it appears from the outside may appear surprising,” he said in a statement.”

It is surprising that the working group’s papers apparently were not used in preparation for the negotiations because the the group was created only in order to prepare for the talks.

From Politiken.dk: Secret documents about teachers’ working time were thrown out in the trash. (by  Anders Legarth Schmidt)

A secret report on teachers’ working time written by two ministries and the Kommunernes Landsforening (the nationwide association of borough councils), was “never used during the negotiations over new working conditions for teachers”, despite being the official and intended goal of the report.

That’s what the Finance Ministry wrote in answer to Parliament’s ombudsman as their main argument for not handing over the report to the teaching unions, which has led to a year long legal battle with the ministry to have access to the documents.

In addition to the Finance Ministry and KL, the Ministry for Children and Teacher were in the group. Civil servants worked shrouded in deep mystery.

It is largely the work of this group which has led to the complaint that the KL and the Finance Ministry have agreed in advance how the conflict will be ended and how the teachers’ terms and conditions will appear.

Denmark’s teachers’ union want to see the documents to find out how close a partnership the KL and Finance Ministry have been running.

The Finance Ministry has refused the request for access with the grounds that internal working documents are be exempted from public scrutiny, according to the Public Records Act Paragraph 7.

But, if these papers were sent from the Working Group to other authorities and administratons or have been used in other cases with the KL or the two ministries, then they lose their “internal” characteristic and should be generally presented.

Therefore, the ombudsman Jørgen Steen Sørensen asked about the characteristics of some 86 documents to determine if they can be considered internal. He stated earlier in the month in a letter to the Finance Ministry that if the documents have been used to prepare for the negotiations for a new working agreement, then they have been used in “other cases” and cannot be regarded as internal.

The Finance Ministry who acted as secretary for the working group wrote the following in response to the Ombudsman:

“But the Working Group’s documents have NOT been used in the treatment of other cases in the Finance Ministry or as previously stated neither in other cases in the Ministry for Children and Teaching nor in the KL. The Working Group’s documents were not used in preparation for the negotiations.”

Viewed from this explanation, the Working Group has not fulfilled its own goals. The Working Group’s job description, that gave the purpose of the group’s work was “…to prepare for working conditions negotiations in the public sector in 2013, and to support the shared goal of an increased teaching time share of working time in state primary and secondary schools.”

The Finance Ministry also wrote in its answer to the Ombudsman that the group was not finished with its report on teachers’ working time. The last meeting was held in August last year and there is an unfinished version of the report dated 19th November 2012, three weeks before the KL gave the demand to the Teachers’ Central Organisation to get rid of “rules that regulate the use of working time”.

The unfinished version was never made public but Denmark’s Teachers’ Union, using the Public Records Act, has obtained an excerpt of the document which describes the “factual circumstances”.

These are passages about rules for teaching in state schools, comments from old reports and other factual information that has been made public previously. But all estimates, interpretations and conclusions from the Working Group has not been given out.

However, in a footnote in the document, that the Working Group has used a press release from the KL called “Effective Use of Teachers’ Time” which came out in 2012.

In this report, it is claimed that teachers use 39.6 percent of their working time on teaching.

The KL has on separate occasions during the conflict referred to the exact number of calculated weekly lessons in the country as around 22 lessons, or 16 hours per teacher used for teaching. That teachers teacher for 16 hours a week has been a central message in KL’s public campaign about teachers’ working time. The number has been used in several full page adverts in newspapers.

Anders Bondo Christensen is the Teachers’ Central Organisation chief negotiator in the conflict about teachers’ working time. He finds it “very difficult” to understand the Finance Ministry’s explanation that the documents from the Working Group were not used at all to prepare for the negotiations about new working conditions for teachers.

“The group was set up to look at teachers’ working time ahead of negotiations about conditions. Why the heck weren’t they used in the report? There has been a lot of secrecy about the group’s work and it seems completely unrealistic to me that they wouldn’t have used the papers. It was why they were meeting. It was openly written in the mandate.”

Do you not believe the Finance Ministry has written the truth to the Ombudsman?

“When I say that it is unrealistic, it’s because I doubt that it is correct that they didn’t use the papers,” said Anders Bondo Christensen.

Denmark’s Teachers’ Union maintains its complaint to parliament’s Ombudsman, which has now asked the Finance Ministry about more detailed information. The Finance Ministry has stated to politiken.dk that the ministry will not comment on an ongoing complaint but politiken.dk learned that the negotiations about conditions were already started before the group finished the report. KL’s chief negotiator Michael Ziegler, has previously said to politiken.dk that he “assumed” that KL has used to the work from the committee but he did not personally take part in it, which was left to civil servants.

Forms of Protest

Given that the government has colluded with the KL to force an ultimatum, contrary to the Danish Model, and that this lockout was planned from Day One, I am not really sure which forms of protest would actually “work”.

In Denmark, the only legitimate forms of protest are:-

  • A letter to the editor
  • A march with banners
  • A “happening”

And obviously, these are not going to light anyone on fire. That’s why they are the only legitimate forms of protest!

Other peaceful (but essentially outlawed), forms of protest include:-

  • Sit ins
  • Blocking entry to places
  • Chaining yourself to things
  • Living in a tent city

I would never do any of those because I could get deported. I would almost certainly be pepper sprayed. There could be “train tracks” (where police keep protesters tied up for hours on end in the street)

A lot of people have suggested that teachers defy the lockout and just teach. This is what would happen if the teachers defied the lockout and just taught:-

  • First they would need to contact the students/parents to let them know it was going on. They are not allowed to contact them. They are locked out of the email system.
  • If we step foot on school property, we would be trespassing and the police could be called
  • The school could instantly dismiss us because:-
  • The school will lose ALL the money the boroughs send them (and not just the money they are not sending to pay our salaries)
  • The school would be fined
  • The school would be blockaded
  • The individual teacher, who is not getting paid by their employer, will lose their financial support from the union.

Now, what if ALL the teachers did it. As an action. As a protest. Now, bearing in mind, not all the teachers agree on everything, so it would be quite the task to get ALL of them on board… If ALL the teachers did it, perhaps the consequences would not come immediately. Perhaps, the police would not be able to attend every school. But the boroughs are saving MILLIONS every day in not paying us. They would be very excited to be able to save the rest of the money they pay schools. Very excited indeed.

The KL would not be shamed into stopping the lockout by this action. They have been promised a big fat bonus for doing this. If they do not keep this going, they stand to lose a lot for their budgets.

Will the government be shamed by teachers teaching in defiance of a lock out? Considering that the unions are trying to secure the principle that our time is worth paying for, I am not sure working for free really gets that message over. I am not sure the government would do anything other than say it was regrettable that schools were fined… and they really really think that their proposed changes will make sure everyone can read when they leave school. Like they always say.

I think they have let this go too far. They hope to starve the teachers into submission and they hope that parents will turn against the teachers. But I think they have just shown themselves up as bullies and incompetents. I think when this is all over and we can go back to school, the politicians are the ones who are going to lose overall.

Hey Denmark!

Remember when there were some Iraqi refugees, given sanctuary in a church, and the police came and deported them, and there was a peaceful sit-in protest and the police beat the shit out of the protesters and you all just shrugged and said you were sure they were “organised” and “should have moved when the police said”?

And remember when there was a climate conference and the protesters wanted to do some peaceful but highly embarrassing actions and so the police beat the living shit out of them and you all just rolled your eyes and said that they were all foreign anarchists and why couldn’t they just write a letter to the editor?

Well, lookee here, now there is something that threatens the entire country. The schools are closed. They have been closed for a month and they may be closed for a month more.

Your businesses are now creches. Your workers have to stay home. International highly qualified immigrants are being put off staying here, if schools can get closed indefinitely. International teachers are being put off working here in international schools, if they can be made unemployed.

YOUR SCHOOLS ARE CLOSED. You pay tax, you are in a democracy, you want schools and you cannot have schools.

This is not the Danish Model, whatever your politics. It is not the Danish Model to agree what the ultimatum will be with the government and then starve your workers out until they accept it.

When it was the first week, you were all so sure the government would step in but they are cowardly and do not want to look like they planned this all along. And then by the second week, they realised that it was too close to May Day.

The cowards in charge of your country could open the schools but they don’t want to.

It is very simple. If you believe that the teachers are wrong and the government should step in and end the deadlock with their planned changes: you need to protest. If you believe that the KL is wrong and the government should step in and end the deadlock with modified changes: you need to protest.

But you cannot protest. You cut your own balls off and put them in a mason jar under the sink.

The best you have are a couple of marches, a letter to the editor and good natured icons on your facebook profile.

You need to be angry. You need to do sit-ins. You need to lock kommune staff out. You need to camp out overnight for weeks, outside city hall and the parliament building. Remember when one union got annoyed with one restaurant for negotiating with their staff’s union and they stopped them from having garbage collected? You can do this too.

Look at Greece, your favourite “irresponsible” country. People are starting to starve over there. They’ve still got schools. Even though it would save a Greece a lot of money to cancel education for a couple of months, the schools are still open. Why?

Two words: Molotov cocktails (TOP TIP: Do not take that as encouragement to use Molotov cocktails)

But you all know, no matter how peaceful YOU are, the police will brutalise you for standing up. You know that because that is what happens in Denmark when people make a stand. And you agreed with the police when it happened before.

And that is why you don’t have schools in your country.

Danish Teachers’ Strike 2013

A lot of people are finding this blog by searching for “striking Danish teachers” or “Danish teachers’ strike”

It is not a strike. A strike is for when workers are unsatisfied with their pay/conditions. The government has locked teachers out. This is to “soften them up” during negotiations.  A lockout is to enforce a worsening of pay/conditions on a workforce. We are unemployed for the duration but are not allowed to claim benefits, even unemployment insurance we have paid into. The union issues an income (but it varies from union to union on how much and under what conditions)

The lockout can be ended in three ways:-

  1. The local government association/finance minister could say “Oh alright, let’s restart negotiations,” or “Let’s just go with your suggestions, the unions!”
  2. The unions could say “Fine. Whatever. We will do whatever you say.”
  3. The government could say “Right, you two bloody kids, I should knock your heads together. THIS is how it’s going to be,”

At first I thought the lockout would be ended with 3) but it doesn’t look like it will be for some reason. (The government was not competent enough to hide their involvement from the beginning, so an intervention will appear one-sided and be unpopular with some voters. They are waiting until the opinion polls turn against teachers)

Now it looks like it might be ended with 2) When the unions run out of money, what other choice will they have? And then the government can claim the unions “agreed” to the plans.

I do not know when the unions will run out of money. If they keep getting support from other unions, it might be never.

Glad to clear up the confusion.

How I would Improve Danish Schools

Never let it be said, I don’t take requests.

Here is a rambly long form response to “You should be talking about school improvements. Not about how the lockout is a savings exercise.”
PART ONE: Or ‘un-informed people talk about school improvements all the time, man’

Back home, if I let it slip at a party that I was a teacher this would invariably occur:-

  “A teacher, eh? What, primary school? WHAT? Ok. Wow, you’re brave. What subject? I remember my physics teacher. He was a JOKE man, the experiments never worked. I really liked my English teacher. She was so inspirational. Anyway, you must love your holidays! That is amazing that you get so much time off! And you finish work at 3pm, what a great job. I would do it but I just don’t have the passion that my English teacher had. I think that is what you need. Passion. But what are you guys even teaching them? Kids today don’t even know who Hitler was. They can’t even read. In my job, I meet 16 year olds and they are thick and ignorant. Still. What do you expect with the quality of teachers and schools today? I wish I had a physics teacher like you *leer leer*”

So, it got to the point where I would not tell anyone at parties what I did. I could not give a flying fudge what they learned in their Physics O Level and so would not invite the anecdote into my life. I also have a problem with being told how lazy I am by a newly made acquaintance.

By this mark, shall ye know them
By this mark, shall ye know them

Schools can be improved. We still have not worked out how to secure achievement for children who are living in shocking circumstances. When people tell me about children who cannot even read! or count! or know who Hitler was! in this day and age! They think they are comparing some Golden Age in the past where 100% of children left school with basic skills with now:- where a minority underachieve. This Golden Age never happened.

In fact, before the welfare state, those children with similar shocking home circumstances also stayed ignorant and illiterate because they were underfed and sickly and most likely working two jobs. After the welfare safety net was put in place, those children would often be victims of low expectations and fail. And now, we have high expectations for them and they still fail.

Why do young people fail after so many years of school? Often, and I’m not being flippant, it is because their parents are on crack. Or similar. There are children that are hell to teach because they got attacked by a family member the night before. Or they had to move piles of rubbish to get through their home and slept in their dirty clothes and there’s no food in the house. I had one 14 year old child bite the face of another for saying he was late to the lesson. It turned out, he had been a child soldier and his dad had PTSD. How am I going to teach the poor guy about magnetic fields under those circumstances?

Then there are children who underachieve despite having reasonable home lives. This can be for a lot of reasons.

The easiest reason to reach for is:- the teacher is a lazy waste of space. Or:- the teacher was working hard but doing all the wrong things.

Possibly. When a lesson of mine goes badly or I discover my class haven’t “got” a thing I was certain that I had taught properly, I reflect on it. What can I learn from this? Where did I go right? Where did it go wrong?

After this reflection, sometimes I think of new ways of trying the same material or more ways of checking understanding as we go so I do not get any nasty surprises down the line. This time to reflect is really vital. Back in London, I had next to no time to do this, but it needed to be done. So I would lie in bed thinking, obsessing really, about my lessons. On the tube. On the bus. Walking. Eating. Everything I did was coloured by my reflection on my work.

And instead of making my lessons better, it made them worse. You know when you are trying to solve a puzzle and you keep trying the same two things and they never work? Then you go for a walk, forget about it and then you can solve it? Teaching is like that. You need time to reflect and you need time to forget.

I say I worked 50+ hours but it was more like every waking moment. This is not healthy.

Sometimes, the conclusion I would arrive at was that my students were not trying hard enough. They did not do their homework, they did not do the reading, they did not listen in class. The English system (and the Welsh, to a lesser extent. No idea about the Scottish), explicitly tells teachers that homework, student preparation before lessons and attention are not the responsibility of the student. If a student isn’t listening, it is because the teacher isn’t interesting. If the homework isn’t done, it is because the teacher isn’t on top of it.

The students feed off of this. It’s a Golden Ticket, nothing they omit to do is their responsibility. It is a disaster.

Politicians in Denmark are attempting to turn the population against the teachers and so the teacher blaming begins. Everyone seems to know exactly where teachers are going wrong.

You know what is interesting about which professions are given a trial by media when the politicians decide they need to save some money?

Nurses and teachers.

Other public servants do not get nearly as much scrutiny.

Soldiers, bin men, doctors, builders… imagine if the media started calling them lazy/uncaring/unprofessional or encouraging “debate” about how they could improve their professional lives.

Teachers (and nurses), work in a caring role and this is seen as being more ‘intuitive’ and more of something anyone can do. Which is why so many people feel entitled to give their opinions about how to do it better. The word ‘vocation’ is invoked.

Vocation means ‘calling’ and is a word to describe people in the religious life. Priests, monks and nuns are supposed to hear a small voice from God saying “be a priest, yo” and they are ‘called’ to their vocation. They vow to be chaste, poor and obedient.

I did not hear a voice from God telling me to be a teacher. I have made no vows about the quality of my life or my behaviour. What happened to me was this:-
PART TWO: or ‘Why I am a teacher’

I wanted to be a scientist. I did not like being a scientist. I enjoyed explaining science. I had some ideas for bringing science to little kids. I was going to get a double decker bus and kit it out like a school lab and go to primary schools, so they could get some hands-on experience of school science. I thought ‘maybe I could get a teaching certificate, that might make my business model more credible’. I graduated and started the teacher training course.

I have NEVER worked as hard before or since than on that course.

I realised that there was a lot more to this teaching thing than I had arrogantly thought. I also realised that I loved teaching very much.

Nine years later, here I am.

Teaching is not a vocation. It is a job. It is a job that I enjoy very much. It is bloody hard work. At times, I work more hours than I am paid for without any hope of gratitude or recognition. I do it because it needs to be done and because I have feelings of good faith with my employers.

It seems to me that very few professions would be expected to work for free on a continual basis. Cooking, cleaning and caring. They are the areas where the most piss is taken.
PART THREE: Or ‘How to improve schools. SPOILER: doesn’t include calling teachers lazy and useless’

The thing is, education can always be improved. How can we reach the minority of children who fail? How can we push the minority of children who could excel but coast instead? How can we get the majority of children who are not underachieving but could be pushed to do more? New research is coming out all the time. Teachers find things out from their practice and share it with colleagues. Being a teacher usually means constant re-evaluation and renewal.

What I resent is someone coming to the discussion with “But my son is underachieving, therefore all teachers are useless.”

I do not want to hear it. Personally, if my son was underachieving, I would do more than rail against everyone in the teaching profession.

Denmark’s schools may need an overhaul and there is definitely room for change. This could be an exciting process where they research studies from other countries, invite outside experts in, trial improvement programmes in schools, look at teachers sharing best practice, all that good stuff.

Decide what you want

The first (not necessarily boring) step of changing the school system in Denmark is to decide what you want for the learners. A lot of international parents find that education takes too long to get going in Danish schools. Children do not start school until seven and they take the first few years easy. There is no pressure to spell correctly in the first year or two, for example. Despite the slow start, Danish teenagers at high schools are completing work to the same standards as their counterparts in British schools.

Yet, there is a problem. A significant portion of children are not achieving to the standard that will “increase their life chances” (to use the jargon from back home). And Denmark needs highly qualified immigrants to come in and do jobs the natives cannot. And no one on Danish facebook seems able to spell “sgu” correctly.

So, it depends what you want and what you value in a population. Maybe you want Danish people to be able to recall facts, in which case you need to drill them on facts. Maybe you want them to be able to think innovatively, in which case you need to set them creative problem solving exercises. Maybe you want them to be able to think critically, in which case you need to give them the tools to question. If your priority is literacy and numeracy, then you can make children repeat years until they master the basics. Or have special outreach classes to catch them up. Or make sure all teachers are trained in addressing those skills in their subjects.

What I personally think is going wrong in schools

If you made me “king” of Danish schools, I would make a lot of small changes and a couple of big ones. I have been reading books about education during the lockout, the most recent is about “flipped” classrooms and “flipped mastery” classrooms. There are some interesting ideas that would form the basis of my changes.

Schools today are based on an industrial revolution model. You prepare students for their jobs in factories. There are bells, they sit in rows, they listen to the boss, you give them tasks to do, you give them your assessment of their task. Danish schools have “project week” which breaks out from this model a little bit but it is still about being set a task by the boss and doing it in a set way.

This model does not encourage deep understanding of topics. Bright students can teach themselves to the test, so they look like they understood something when they just gamed the system. Middle students can cram before tests. Weak students can fall behind entirely.

Possible change of model:-

How about we introduce a topic with a list of all the things we want the students to learn, where they can find the information from, a list of required activities and a list of possible ways of proving their understanding?

There is a lot more emphasis on the child taking control of their learning and can mean that faster students progress to the next topic/extension work more quickly, while slower students can take it easy.

Ban Homework

The first thing I would change is homework. I would ban homework tasks that require help. Children with no help at home fail. Children with lots of help at home watch as their homework is done for them.
One good task for homework would be watching a video of the lesson’s lecture. Instead of listening to a teacher for 15 minutes (and getting distracted or losing the thread or getting bored), in a lesson and then writing a paper (and getting discouraged or doing the wrong thing or copying and pasting in desperation), at home; why not watch the lecture on Youtube (and get to pause and rewind and rewatch whenever you want) and write the paper at school (and get to ask the teacher detailed questions about the task).

Homework is, in my opinion, only there for the parents. I hate chasing it up, I setting it for the sake of it, I hate it when the child has obviously cheated, I hate it! Parents love it because they get to see what their child is doing, feel useful and keep a hand in with the education of their kid.

I usually end up asking students to “find out x” but then they just google something and never think about it again. Or I ask them to do some exercises and they do them. Unless they get stuck, then they don’t or they copy. I never know what happened because it was not on my watch.

So. I would ban “homework” and replace it with a task where students find out about the topic they will be working with in class.

Get rid of lock-step lessons

Once they are in class, I would do away with “lessons”. As in “Today’s lesson is Ohm’s Law”. In class, they would definitely learn about Ohm’s Law, do some labs, read some stuff, write some stuff but maybe not on the same day as the other children in the group.

This means that children do not need to be placed in year groups or according to ability. It means that children with learning difficulties can be in the same group as children with no learning difficulties.

Stop wasting time

I would do away with “makework”, where you basically waste a child’s time just to keep them busy until you are ready for the next lesson. Some makework looks like it is not makework. For example, answering comprehension questions, writing a paper, working through exercise drills. Those activities are pedagogically sound but can drift into makework territory once a child has already learned that thing you wanted them to learn. If you can factorise an equation, it is time to move on to something else.

Trust teachers but develop their skills properly

Another thing I would do is leave the lesson planning largely up to the teachers. Denmark is privileged in that teachers currently enjoy professional trust. They can plan anything they like, with little oversight. Back home, teachers were untrusted and often have to write lesson plans to a certain formula (or follow the lesson plans of others). That said, I have attended too many training sessions where an expert has outlined an interesting way of improving lessons and the teachers shrug and say “Well, that’s nice but I’m going to do the stuff I always do.”

I would overhaul professional development, so it is never some wise person wittering on about multiple intelligences for 45 minutes after school. I would require that they demonstrate exactly how they would apply the theory. Teachers are magpies, if you show them a way to teach something that fits their teaching style, they will snatch it up and make it their own. In my opinion, lessons need a variety of activities and students need to be as active and responsible for their learning as their maturity allows.

Other teachers have different priorities. As long as the students get a range of teaching styles, I do not see the harm in exposing them to different methods.

Reduce meetings and change what happens in them

Danish schools have too many meetings and they are too long. The topic of conversation is often irrelevant to teaching and learning. Many meetings could be replaced by a memo “This is happening from now on. Kthxbai” Very few meetings result in minutes with “action items”, as in a lot is said but not a lot is planned. I would change meetings into planning meetings, where what gets discussed is who does what and when.

I heard of one place where the teachers go for a walk during their meetings. In smaller departments, that could be great. There is some hippy dippy study about how walking in step makes people work together better, plus walking around gets the blood flowing and prevents phone fiddling. I probably would not make this mandatory but I would trial it.

I would also make parents decide if they want written reports or face to face consultations. They cannot have both.

I seriously dislike the oral exams at the end of 9th class. They are too subject to the whims of the examiner. If you (as I have experienced), get a teacher who has misunderstood a key part of a topic you have taught, then they can award grades that are unfair to students who have demonstrated understanding of the topic.

The grades are also too wishy-washy for my liking. I would have statements that are not subject to interpretation like “Student can draw a pie chart” or “Student can explain scientific concepts using models” or whatever. Not “Student has an excellent grasp of the subject with only a few flaws.” I hate it!

Whatever these statements are, very much depends on what the society values. And I am not sure what I would choose. Though, it would show more than recall of facts.

I like the idea of practical exams, don’t get me wrong, I just think they should be more rigorous and more reproducible. If a student of mine is capable of a B at GCSE, I don’t think they should be getting 02 in their Danish exam. And vice versa, if they cannot get more than an F in GCSE, how on earth are they getting a 10 in the Danish exam?

Team teaching

I think I would increase the amount of team teaching. I really appreciated working in pairs with colleagues. It was especially powerful when I could take small groups out to work with them, while the main teacher took the rest of the group. I liked how I could tailor my teaching for the strengths of the small group. I also liked getting to see how others teach because I am nosy (and a magpie).
Class size

I would be very careful about class size. Apparently, class size does not make much of a difference to students’ attainment but I find that when a group gets larger than 25, the quality of my teaching drops off significantly for every “extra” member. Working in a practical subject, I also hate having more than 20 or so students. I cannot really get stuck in helping one group of students, when the possibility for mayhem behind my back exists.

Part four: Or ‘I bet you wish you didn’t ask.’ Or ‘TL;DR’

In conclusion. Danish schools could be better. But I think non-teachers should be more humble about their contribution to the debate and they ought to examine whether what they are saying is coming from a place of true reflection or is just ill-informed patronising guff. I think any improvement of schools needs to start with a discussion about what you even want from learners and needs much input from people who actually teach. I think consulting studies from other countries is a good starting point. I think a lot of what I suggest could be done for the same price or cheaper than now but many changes would require extra money.

I think making it about how many hours are spent teaching or in school or how much money school costs is a bad idea if you want to improve things. But a good idea if you want to make things cheaper.

The Logic of the Lockout

Danish education is expensive.

We want to save money.

Salaries are the most expensive part of running a school.

If teachers take more lessons on, we can fire surplus teachers and save on salaries.

If teachers are not paid for the time they spend preparing for and assessing lessons, we can save on salaries.

If we close down special needs units, we can put those students in the classes that were already there, we can fire special needs teachers (who get paid extra), and save on salaries.

If we say class sizes should be larger than they are now, we can fire surplus teachers and save on salaries.

Let’s pretend we are putting special needs students in larger classes with teachers who have had no extra training, to help them. So the voters don’t get angry. Let’s claim, when teachers fail to reach a significant minority of their students under these conditions, it is because they are bad teachers.

Let’s bring up that some studies have claimed Danish schoolchildren are underachieving.

Let’s ignore studies that are ambiguous or claim that Danish schoolchildren have been improving recently.

Let’s ignore studies that say teacher quality is the factor that most affects achievement (increasing teacher quality might mean increases in salary)

Let’s say:-

If Danish schoolchildren were in school longer, they wouldn’t underachieve anymore.

Let’s avoid:-

International studies do not suggest there is a relationship between contact hours and achievement.

Let’s suggest that teachers have a working time agreement in place where there is no upper limit of lessons they teach a week and some lessons will have no paid time to prepare or assess.

Let’s say no other job has paid preparation time. (And ignore that soldiers de-brief, lawyers research, politicians consult with civil servants, doctors write and read medical notes, plumbers get supplies from the wholesaler). Let’s pretend preparation time means deciding what topic to teach each morning.

Let’s claim that the plan is in the best interests of the students.

If the unions refuse, let’s make the teachers have a month or two with no income and the parents have a month or two with no (or a lot fewer) lessons for their children.

Every time someone complains this is bullying or unacceptable behaviour or unfair on students, claim that the unions can stop this any time they want.

Claim that the changes are for the students. Not the budget. The students. Keep claiming it.

Run national slur campaigns in the press and online. Make a lot of claims that put teachers in a bad light.

Ignore that children and adult learners who do not attend state schools are affected by the lockout (but already have different outcomes at the end of their education and will not be affected by the folkeskole reforms that are the ‘reason’ for the lockout.)

Ignore that losing the goodwill of your staff does not improve productivity or work quality.

Ignore that students missing out on these weeks will not get this time back. Ignore that a twilight session or a summer school or a Saturday cannot undo the damage of an indefinite number of weeks away from school. Do not address that students and teachers may be unavailable for the catchup hours.

Save millions on salaries every day the teachers are punished for being in a union that is fighting to have their value recognised.

Praise yourself repeatedly for using a model of negotiation where, through cooperation, both parties reach a mutually satisfactory outcome.

Outrageous Lock out.

I was not sure if I would go to the big demo in Copenhagen. For one, Copenhagen is far away. For another, it is expensive to get to. But then, on the way to Aarhus yesterday morning, something snapped inside of me. I got angry.

This came as a completely surprise. I have been feeling shock and confusion for two weeks. This was supposed to last two to three days. Nine working days at worst. And here we are. No end in sight. I walked past the protestors near the railway station at 8am and I was furious. They were waving and smiling at cars. They should have been at work. They should have been doing what they actually trained for.

Now, without getting into the rights and wrongs of the actual negotiation, this action is completely unconscionable. I am furious.

There are layers of fury. I am like a furious onion. The top layer is fury for myself. I want to go to work. I effing love teaching, I do. I also love getting paid every month. I went into teaching because I know I cannot take the highs and lows of freelance. I went into teaching because I want to help people get better at my subjects. I did not go into teaching so I could march around in a yellow vest.

There is fury for schools.  The independent schools are going to suffer for this. Maybe they don’t have to pay the union wages but not everyone in independent schools is in a union, they need paying. The parents could refuse to pay for this month. The state will refuse to pay for this month too. So, where’s the money for rent and heating and electricity and wages coming from?

Then I am outraged as a taxpayer. There is a social contract here and it is being broken. I pay taxes so that they can send the kids to school. Instead, they are with grandma and hanging around shopping centres. The government is pocketing the millions meant for our salaries and spending it on.. what? Our union support payments are taxed as if they were an income *and* we have to pay them back. So, the government gets to keep half our “wages” when we don’t even. The government gets to skip out on paying a month’s salary with no accountability but still gets the same in taxes from us. You see this in dodgy dictatorships, not Scandy socialist paradises.

I am also angry because of the lack of fair play. The model of negotiations is that if both parties cannot reach a compromise, then a lockout hurts both parties until negotiations re-start. The KL is not being hurt by this. They are about the only party to this mess that is not being injured by the lockout. I am furious that they were able to threaten a lockout on day one, I am angry they had nothing in the way of compromise, it is outrageous that the politicians claim THIS is the Danish Model and refuse to consider re-starting negotiations.

The incompetence is also horrifying. Apparently, every time the teacher union man, Bondo, says “Oh for heaven’s sake, just do a political intervention already, stop the lockout out!” it pushes the political intervention back two days, so the precious Danish Model is not called into question. The politicians did not expect this much popular support, they thought people would turn against ‘lazy, spoiled teachers’ in much greater numbers. The politicians thought they could starve the unions out in two weeks, they have money for a month. The politicians thought they could run things like this and no one would notice the loss of a system that Danish people value. The politicians are possibly going to wait until after May Day (a celebration of the labour movement), before they do an intervention because they do not want to look like hypocrites as they praise the Danish Model.

I am angry that there is now no political movement in Denmark that supports me. There are the blue who hate me because I am unashamedly foreign and the red who mistreat me because they don’t think they can afford me. I expect the blue team will win next election and where does that leave people like me?

But most of my outrage is for the students. They deserve better than this. Some countries have longer holidays but the trade off is longer school days or there are activity camps. Having an indefinite time off of school means you cannot use the time for good. I don’t know how many of my readers have taught children with special needs or unsupportive families? After the summer holidays, you have to teach them things you already taught them. You need to make sure they can still read. You need to lay the ground rules again. It takes about a month to get up and going again. Those students will be especially ill-served by this government. And then there are disabled children who really need routine and certainty. Facing them with “I don’t know when school will start again,” is cruelty. And then there are students in their final year who have been preparing for exams. The government solution is “Well, we’ll just give you your average grade.” Why not do that every year then, if the exams are not important?

All the students of Denmark are being held hostage by incompetent politicians. All they needed to do was come up with suggestions the unions were likely to take, after some negotiation. They did not need to plan this whole “starve ’em out!” plot. Or they could have suspended the Danish Model and used “There’s a financial crisis on!” Or they could have let the discussions deadlock for months and months, until the people got pissed off with the teachers, and then made a political intervention. It is outrageous that they locked out the students and teachers as the first resort.

This action is completely unacceptable in a modern democracy and exposes Denmark’s rotten political workings for all to see.

“You had to be Danish….”

Personally, nothing gives me greater pleasure than when someone who has just been banged to rights replies “it was Danish humour.”

I will tell you what Danish humour is not. Danish humour is not license to say whatever you want. Danish humour is not a Get Out of Jail Free Card.

Culturally, what is considered “Danish humour” is the use of teasing amongst friends. There is also a bit of sarcasm and exaggerated regional stereotypes that count toward the genre. Danish humour can be quite dark, finding humour in adversity or misfortune. Many countries have similar veins of humour.

But who knows that? Danish people?

People in other countries cause offence all the time. Sometimes (usually?) they do not see what all the fuss is about and make the famous non-apology “I AM SORRY BITCHES CANNOT TAKE A JOKE!”

If a Danish person shits the bed, for example causing a major international diplomatic incident or damaging the reputation of a company or simply insulting someone socially; they can claim language barrier and/or humour barrier.

Hardly anyone speaks Danish outside of Denmark, so why not? Why not say that the translation was dodgy? How would anyone know? Very few are familiar with what tickles Danes, so why not? How can anyone prove it was not just a joke without any negative intent?

These two excuses make me happy. Because I do understand Danish and I do understand what counts as Danish humour.

“The translation is wrong,” translates to “I didn’t expect what I said would be translated,” and “It was Danish humour,” translates to “I have no way of defending what I said, so I must resort to lying.”

Which means the discussion is over and they lost.