For most of April, schools in Denmark were either shut or running on a much reduced timetable. This was because the boroughs called a “lockout”, which is an action employers can use against their employees during negotiations in order to force a worsening in pay and/or working conditions.
When the boroughs and government were asked to account for this, to give an explanation for forcing this action after the unions had given so much up in negotiations already, they explained that they needed to make these changes so that state school reform could happen. Even though I work at an independent school, I was still affected. Even though these reforms will have nothing to do with my school.
The reforms they wanted to make but could not pay for without worsening the working conditions of all teachers:-
- Longer days for children
- “Activity” hours, mandatory play-time lessons at the end of the day
- More Danish and maths
- Mandatory homework “club” (or study hall)
The “activity hours” were dropped a month after the lockout. Reason: several parties in the opposition did not like the idea and would not vote for it.
Now the mandatory study hall is being dropped. Reason: one of the opposition parties think it should be a choice for students.
What we seem to be left with is longer school-days and extra emphasis on the basics.
Where I stand on this is that it is not good enough just to have children in the room for longer. Danish school days are short but they are not the shortest in the world. If children are not getting to the required standard, it is not how long they have in class that is the problem but the methods used to teach them.
Inclusion is the same story. The Danish government does not want to pay extra for special needs provision so wants to have children of all abilities taught together. Fine. Finland do that and it is great. But you don’t educate special needs students just by having them in a different classroom with children with no learning difficulties. You need to know how to help children with diverse needs access the curriculum. You need to teach differently.
Putting children in a classroom for an extra hour or two at the end of the day and giving them five extra worksheets to get through is not going to raise standards. You need to teach differently.
What needs to happen in Denmark is exactly what no one is suggesting will happen.
They need to look at international research of what works. They need to run large scale trials in schools to see which things actually work in the context of the Danish culture. They need to decide what outcomes they want to see.
If it is greater numeracy and literacy then they need to train all teachers to increase those skills. In England, there are two phrases you get to hear a lot:- “All teachers are teachers of special needs” and “All teachers are teachers of literacy.” You do not get to hear that in Denmark because it is not true. And it will never be true so long as Danish teachers are untrained in these skills.
And I am not talking about a couple of dreary twilight sessions after lessons with a powerpoint and no activities. I mean there needs to be coaching and workshops and showing-not-telling.
Good teachers of literacy and numeracy need to be identified and trained so they can share their skills with their school (or even town).
And any of the other things that governments often think they want to see in their population, like creativity or leadership or teamwork or what-have-you, they need to take a backseat until the changes in teaching the basics have bedded down and become an integral part of the Danish school. No chopping and changing, if there is a new government halfway through the programme.
But none of this is ever going to happen.
They are going to make the school day longer. Teachers are going to carry on doing what they always have. For some children, that means they have longer with a teacher who knows what they are doing and for other children, that means they will be in school longer with someone who cannot help them.
How do they expect standards to increase? By magic?