Trouble in Paradise

In the last couple of weeks, I have been reading the handful of books that have come out in English about Denmark to cash in with the success of tv shows Forbrydelsen and Borgen. Two of these books were written by visitors or recent immigrants, so a lot of the text is repeating what they have heard. For example, Danish people like interior decorating because their daycares and schools are decorated nicely.

Danish classrooms
Danish classrooms
Typical classroom in Denmark
Typical classroom in Denmark










And I had to put the book down and breathe for a minute or two. Danish classrooms are functional, they get the job done… but beautiful? Who are these people feeding these quotes to foreigner journalists?

There are a lot of quotes like that out there. One chapter is about how Denmark has a wonderful welfare system because of the efforts of collective bargaining. And collective bargaining is so strong because of the efforts of Grundtvig, the 19th century school reformer. According to legend, his dream was to teach Danish people to think critically and ask the right questions in order to keep them safe from tyranny; a legacy that lives on even today.

Except. Not quite.

I can’t just upload a random picture from a few years ago to refute this, so I will have to take this part by part.

The history of the things that make Denmark attractive

In the late 1800s, there were strikes after lockouts after strikes. In 1899, a compromise was struck which ultimately ended in a system with maternity and paternity leave, sick pay, holiday pay and all the benefits that are lauded as Denmark doing things right.

This will have been a hard battle. These rights did not just appear just because Danes are so much better at democracy or seeing things realistically. People fought for these rights at great personal expense.

Whether you can credit Grundtvig’s ideas in those early stages, I do not know, I am no historian. But for the collective bargaining that was to come, having a general public that was educated in thinking critically will have helped.

Shut downs

Grundtvig’s aim is being actively frustrated right now and this threatens everything that those trade unionists 100 years ago were working for.

I read a book by an American woman about her experience at Christian college. Mostly what was taught were arguments to shut hard questions down.

In Danish schools, also, there is a similar movement but not for Christianity. Children are certainly taught to question but they are also taught the standard retorts to shut the question down when it gets too close to the bone.

These are (in no particular order)

  1. Even though Denmark is not perfect, it is still the best because some other countries are much worse
  2. Nowhere is perfect
  3. We have it pretty good here
  4. At least people are honest here
  5. We didn’t have any problems until outsiders spoiled everything

There are two interlocking reasons for the importance of these retorts.

Danishness as Religion

Firstly, Danishness has been elevated to the status of a religion. People do not feel Christian, they feel Danish. Questioning anything about Danishness is on the level with blasphemy. One housing association decides that an outside Christmas tree isn’t necessary for their community, the national media reports on it. One daycare facility decides that it’s just easier to serve vegetables, fish and chicken to their kids because they cater to kids with dietary restrictions, it is the end of the world because what happened to the pork? Some immigrant parents don’t come to twice annual meetings for all parents at their kid’s school, Danish parents pull their kids from the school even though there is nothing else wrong at the place.


The second reason is conviviality. It is important to always maintain conviviality. If one were to have a deep conversation, it might make someone uncomfortable or god forbid start an argument. Conflict must be avoided at all costs, so these arguments are stopped before they are started with the same old shibboleths. (An exception to this is when people are made uncomfortable by use of irony or politically incorrect statements, fuck conviviality in those circumstances)

If that is how you want to run a country, fill your boots. There are consequences. If you never have to ask hard questions or think deeply, your muscles atrophy.

I was sat in a large conference room with educated, politically active adult Danes. It became abundantly clear that while the majority were not exactly stupid, this lack of facility with difficult, conflict provoking concepts had disabled many of the participants in the discussion.

The course leader showed us a way of looking up information that is a matter of public record. One participant said “But why wouldn’t management just show you the accounts?” thinking this was a wonderful example of Danish humour, I turned to her, winked and said “Yeah, right(!) Good one.” She looked back blankly.

It just had not occurred to her that people often have things to hide. That people can be dishonest. That some serious Game of Thrones shit is going down most of the time.

Not being able to think of original arguments or look for hidden agendas has meant that the Danish government have been free to pull a fast one for a long time.

Worsening Conditions

All the things Guardian journalists like about Denmark are under attack. They are under attack for the same reasons they don’t exist (or are not as good), in countries like the UK: they make labour cost too much. They make the country unable to compete globally.

Danes have great parental leave benefits, great support during unemployment, holiday pay, decent wages and pensions. This is because Danish workers are not just grateful for having a job in the first place, they have unions that meet every couple of years with the employers and secure these rights.

But this is unsustainable, so the government has been weakening the unions for a while so they can do what they want. And no one has the ability to fight back.

They are able to complain about immigrants and their foreign ways. They are able to say how their country is one of the best. They are not able to see the way they are being tricked or how their services are being ruined in cost cutting measures. The things that make Denmark special are the very same that are being dismantled. Not enough people understand how powerful they are and how they could stop it. And for that, I blame the teachers.

School Reform: Private Schools

Private Schools

What surprised a lot of foreigners (including me), during the lockout was that private schools were affected at all. The reason for this was that most private schools receive funding from the state. Teachers at private schools which are financed in this way are state employees.

One thing that gets forgotten in all this is who exactly was affected. These plans were drafted to change how folkeskole schools worked. These are free of charge schools maintained by the town councils. When we talk about school reform, we usually only mention these folkeskole schools and how it has affected them. But this has also affected the private day schools, the boarding schools and the language schools.

Terms and Conditions

Historically, private schools have had different working terms and conditions than teachers in folkeskoler. This makes a lot of sense in terms of boarding schools, where teachers are on-call at different times of day and have a different set of duties and tasks. It makes some sense in terms of private day schools too, they run things differently so they perhaps need a more flexible framework.

Now, the systems are almost identical. The changes made ‘for’ the folkeskole reform have affected the private sector. Each private school in Denmark had a choice:- go with the default system (as in ‘normalised’ working hours) or negotiate a local agreement balancing the needs of the staff and management.

Local Understandings

Some schools tried the ‘middle way’ of not doing the default system but not signing a local agreement either. This is a risky strategy for schools because teachers are able to demand in this case, via the union, that the default system be followed. If schools try to provide terms and conditions that are worse than the default arrangement (for example, not paying staff properly for going on overnight trips. Under the default system overnight trips are completely unaffordable), then the union can demand the ministry look into it. Across the country, a lot of union time is being spent on making sure that teachers are not being required to work for free in order to make ends meet.

But what is increasingly happening is that teachers are accepting this practice for the good of the school, for the good of the students.  Teachers are being asked, for example, to be on site between 8am and 3pm and the extra hour per working day is to be spent on planning at home. If the job actually requires more than that, too bad. Not the school’s problem. Or teachers are given a list of duties and told their working time is 42 hours per week (we aren’t paid for our weeks off, we just work longer hours in term time), and to figure it out for themselves. If they can’t, too bad. Not the school’s problem. The schools claim they have individual agreements with each of the staff and if the teachers can’t get everything done in the time allowed then it is on the teacher.

If these teachers are anything like me, they did not go into the job so they could keep a spreadsheet detailing the hours they actually worked. They did not go into teaching so they could stop halfway through a task because they’re not getting paid for it any more. They did not go into teaching so they could nickel and dime their school. Teachers also tend to be compliant with authority. They want their classes to succeed, they want their lessons to go well, they want to do the best for their students. They are not going to want to make waves and advocate for themselves.

The trouble now is that the system necessarily makes teachers have to choose between their work-life balance and their students’ success. If a parent is impatient with the amount of time their child’s teacher spends on preparation or other tasks, they won’t get mad at a system that is not fit for purpose. They will get mad at the teacher for putting themselves first. Meanwhile, the teachers that go the other way are at greater risk of burn out due to their higher workload. (Not that a year or two with a high workload usually burns people out, you can sustain it for a little while at least. But when exactly does the workload come down after you demonstrate you can get everything done and not cost any more money?)

Plenty of choice in the “burned out teacher” image search     Image credit:


Private school teachers are paid less in basic pay than teachers in folkeskoler. This has been true for a long time. There is a pay supplement that must be negotiated every year that is intended to be used to bring the two salaries in line. For a long time, there was a minimum base for this supplement but before the lock-out this minimum was removed. It was never intended to be zero but it is perfectly permissible for schools to award nothing at all.

Before the lock-out, you could argue that with the two very different terms and conditions, pay could be lower. You could say that private school teachers do not work as hard or for as long as folkeskole teachers, hence the lower pay. But after the lock-out, these terms and conditions were made exactly the same. So, now the argument is that class sizes are typically smaller in private schools, hence the lower pay. But now some private schools are filling up at the expense of class sizes in the folkeskoler. Besides, a lot of the work of the teacher does not have much to do with the size of the classes. Class size affects time spent on marking, data entry and school-home contact. It’s a matter of a few dozen hours a year. There is no way those hours are equivalent to a 2-4k pay hit per month. It is starting to be indefensible for private school teachers to be paid differently than those in the public sector in a lot of private schools.

What is also starting to happen is that new private schools are opening all the time because of the increased demand. Running a school is ridiculously expensive, especially in the early start up period because of low student:staff ratio. In the first year of operation, the pay supplement does not need to be negotiated, it is usually zero. After that, it must be negotiated but the answer can very well be “nothing this year, our budget won’t stretch to it” and there is not much the teachers can do other than ask for outside arbitration. Many teachers just don’t bother because they understand the pressure their school is under. On a school-to-school basis, this seems reasonable. No teacher wants to demand that they are paid more if it means that their workplace disappears.

You know when you’re too close to a problem to see it clearly? Magicians use this to their advantage. And so it seems, do politicians. The scale of this thing is what is important. It is not about individual schools or individual salaries. More and more teachers in Denmark are private school teachers, and increasingly they are being told there is no money in the budget to pay them the same as folkeskole teachers. More and more private schools are having financial difficulties. Some go bust. Others chunter along, getting away with paying their teachers less than they would get in a public school because they are allowed to and because no one wants to make their own school go under.

Private school teachers have the same terms and conditions, often the same class sizes, sometimes more duties and responsibilities as in the public sector. But if they advocate for higher pay, they could sink their school. A higher proportion of Danish children are taught in private schools and even though the state pays the school to educate these students, if budgets can’t stretch to paying the going rate in salariesthe government are not paying enough. And this is happening on an alarming scale. The shortfall in the state budget is made up with the salaries of the private school teachers.

Teachers tend to be risk averse people, they are not entrepreneurs for a reason. Having a market where workplaces regularly go bust and many people in your trade are unemployed makes workers much more pliable.

“I wasn’t trying to make an instruction manual”

There are too many private schools, so ends can never be expected to meet. These schools ought to fail but are kept afloat by teachers playing nice and agreeing to being paid less for the same work as down the road.

As more and more teachers in Denmark are in this sector, this means the average wage for teachers in Denmark is dropping. I doubt the resolution to this will be increased wages for the public sector, somehow, I think a case will eventually be made to normalise folkeskole salaries in line with the private sector some time down the line.

Was the plan to make folkeskoler chaotic and unworkable all along or is it just a happy coincidence? Was the game plan all along to reduce the spend on education by pushing children into schools with cut-price staff?

If you look at each issue in isolation, it just looks like regular incompetence and poor planning. The change over to unlimited number of lessons, the reduction in preparation time, the mess with the ‘normalisation’ of hours, the inappropriate application of the public system to the private, the poor implementation of inclusion in public schools, the poor implementation of extra numeracy and literacy, the rise of the local ‘understanding’ as opposed to negotiated agreements, the drop in average teacher pay, the rise in numbers of private schools in financial difficulty, the rise of unacknowledged overtime, the increase in teacher illness and absence… all of this in isolation is unfortunate. But as a gestalt, this is horrifying.

Can it be all down to incompetence and a failure of forward thinking? And is that better or worse than some of these terrible outcomes for students and teachers were planned all along?

School Reform Folkeskoler


Several changes happened all at once in Danish folkeskoler. This sort of ‘shock and awe’ tactic is becoming more common in political governance. Politicians make a huge crisis (or wait for a huge crisis), and then make all the changes they want. All at once. People are so turned around by the crisis the changes become a ‘new normal’.

The major changes were to the working hours of teachers or ‘normalisation’, beginning ‘inclusion’ (where special needs students are taught alongside students with no particular educational special needs), more focus of numeracy and literacy, longer school days, introduction of homework clubs and new ‘activity’ lessons added to the timetable.


The ‘normalisation’ 8am-4pm thing in folkeskoler has meant that teachers have not been able to do their preparation properly without doing unpaid overtime. If you only have 15 minutes on a Monday for preparation because you’re teaching or in meetings, you’re not going to get a lot of prep done for Tuesday. As much as you can prepare a week (or weeks in advance), sometimes things happen in lessons that should inform your planning for the next lesson. For example, you are teaching how to solve polynomials and realise your students don’t know how to do long division. You have no long division lesson plans ready to go because it’s usually the teachers in the grades below that cover that topic, you need to think carefully about how to teach this skill to your students. If the next lesson is the next day: too bad under this new system.

If you have a lot of long essays or tests to grade, you can either grade them all in one go and not have any time left over for lesson planning or you can do a handful at a time in short spurts. It’s a horrible choice. Option A: your under prepared lessons will be crap in weeks you have a lot of marking. Option B: your students will get inconsistent grades and get their work back long after they have forgotten all about it. Option C: work unpaid overtime and get it all done.

If you have a lot of parent-teacher conferences in one week or a lot of ad hoc meetings or you receive a large order of equipment that needs to be put into cupboards, then your planning time gets wiped out in these weeks too.

The reason that teachers worldwide typically plan at home, after school hours, is that grading and lesson planning is very taxing. It can be creative, it is usually done with respect to several inter-related factors and you often need undisturbed quiet to do it. Teaching itself is exhausting. You have to keep  your sense of humour and proportion up even in the face of extraordinary provocation. You have to make decent human connections with several young people. You have to run activities that will best help these individuals learn. You have to fine tune these activities on the fly. You have to ask and answer challenging questions. You have to be a performer, a professional and a person. If you think you can go from a high-impact lesson on radioactive half life with 9G where you kept them active and on-side for 90 minutes and then go to your desk and plan a lesson from scratch for 7B on the Haber process where you will have the same level of activity and engagement then you have a lot more juice than I do. What I typically like to do straight after teaching is have a nice cup of tea and zone out. I plan my lessons when I have recovered, usually after dinner or at the weekend. If it’s in the school day at all, it’s before any lessons have happened.

In short, this thoughtless change has been disastrous for many schools and their students. It’s all very well saying that teachers are ‘normalised’ with other state employees as compensation for the changes the lock-out brought but if they are not able to provide the usual level of service without working for free, then this is nothing like compensation. This is just a way of obscuring unpaid overtime.

Some teachers, it is worth mentioning, prefer this system. They like how they can say ‘done with school now!’ and can go relax when they finish their working hours. But I wonder how they manage to get everything done. How is it done? I don’t think I could do it. Not in weeks where I have to write reports or go on training and probably not in ‘ideal’ weeks where I don’t have much to do. How are they managing, these teachers who don’t mind this new system?

The unions can do nothing right now because their war chests are depleted. It’s not like they can threaten strike action. And so the politicians keep coming with new reforms:- inclusion for those with educational special needs, more focus on literacy and numeracy, more hours in school. Nothing particularly controversial but they have made it clear they do not want teacher input on the implementation of these changes. So, these reforms have been a load of bollocks.


Inclusion without proper resources and training is not doing anyone any favours. The special needs students either get sent out of the lesson every 20 minutes or they get a crappy make-work task to keep them busy or they have a great lesson but the other kids get short changed. Something has to give.

Special needs inclusion is something that I believe in. It is the way to go for most students, I think. But you can’t just drop kids with learning difficulties or emotional disorders into a room with 20 other children and call that ‘inclusion’. Inclusion necessarily means you are planning separate activities according to your students needs. Inclusion means you have other adults in the room to support learning. It means you have some basic understanding of the different disorders and how they make learning difficult for the student.  You know, so they are ‘included’. Otherwise, it’s ‘mainstreaming’, if you want to get technical. ‘Mainstreaming’ is when you just put all the kids together in one place:  the lack of special needs will rub off onto the kids with problems!


Without this input of funds for training and extra members of staff and time for preparation, your special needs students are going to struggle. Your students with no particular educational disabilities are also going to have a crap time because so much teacher in-lesson-time is spent on preventing or dealing with problems relating to having one or more children in the room who can’t read or sit still or remember instructions or deal with strong emotions.

Numeracy and Literacy

As for increased focus on numeracy and literacy, who can argue against that? If Denmark is spending so much on education, you would hope its students would be able to demonstrate basic skills, right? But if 4 hours a week with your math or Danish teacher isn’t raising your attainment, why would 5 hours? If students in Danish schools are not doing well with basic skills it is not because they don’t get long enough in the classroom, it is their teachers are not doing the things that will help them improve.

Oh, unhelpful teacher, what will you do next?

Much research has been performed and analysed to tackle the question of what helps students learn best. All I am asking, from the bottom of my heart, is that the people implementing changes in Danish schools just read it. This is about the most frustrating thing about teaching. So much time is spent talking about stuff that makes little or no difference to students’ attainment while the things that do make a difference are completely overlooked. There are several interventions and techniques that are shown to improve how well students learn.  It’s not like the research is secret or hard to read. People just cannot be bothered. Increased contact hours is an overly simple solution to a complicated problem. Which is why it is doomed from the start.

This has led to is greater use of private schools. More and more private schools are opening up to cope with increased demand. This has some interesting knock-on effects on the private sector.

Part One: Introduction

Part Three: Private schools.

School Reform

Those familiar with recent Danish politics will know that there have been some major school reforms. But even the informed observer, for example, those who work in education might not know the breadth and extent of the changes.

In April 2013 there was a lock-out. This is when employers prevent unionised employees from working and taking a wage during a dispute in a negotiation. This is subtly different from a strike. A strike is where unionised employees withdraw their labour during a dispute in a negotiation. Funny how everyone keeps calling it a strike now it’s passed into memory. I met a man who worked for the Modernisation Ministry and had been involved in the dispute. He called it a strike. It matters. This terminology matters.


The dispute was over two relatively minor points. Point 1:- should older teachers have a reduced timetable with no reduction in pay. Point 2:- should there be a national upper limit on lessons taught per week and a set amount of lesson preparation time.

Almost immediately the negotiations broke down. They broke down so fast the unions called shenanigans on the process. Evidence came out that interested parties such as the education ministry and finance ministry were involved in preparing and briefing ‘the employers’ (a federation of borough council politicians), in such a way that the negotiations would fail. The ministries had big plans for Danish schools and they were not going to wait for union buy-in.

A lock-out was unthinkable in March 2013 but went on for nearly a month. This wiped out the unions’ strike funds. No one expected such an extreme measure, especially not one that lasted so long.

When the government stepped in to ‘break’ the deadlock, they did so in a way that would fig-leaf the things they were not supposed to do. They were not supposed to act as puppet masters to the employers, they were not supposed to have managed the negotiation process from start to finish. They were supposed to be independent interested parties. To mask their interference they needed to give something to both sides.

The employers got their demands about senior working hours and preparation time. The major concession the government made to the teachers was curious: they would no longer have to work beyond 4pm on weekdays. They would not have to work evenings or weekends any more. As if this is something that teachers would actually want(!) Where do they get their ideas from?


Teachers in Denmark have been working with this new system for five months now and some interesting knock on effects have come up. Some of these will have been planned and some of them will be pure happenstance. It is hard to know the difference sometimes.

The changes were a lot more wide ranging than many people appreciate. It did not just affect schools run by the town councils which are free of charge called folkeskoler, but also the private schools, the boarding schools and the language schools. This is such an epic blog post I’m going to have to split it into parts.

Part Two: Folkeskoler

Part Three: Private schools

News Translation: Self Defeating School Reform

I read an article about how the school reform has affected the Danish state schools which have to implement it. I thought it was too interesting not to translate.

Some background: The government wants to overhaul the state school sector. They want a lot of changes, a lot of improvement. They want inclusion of special needs. They want to save money. They want teachers to do more things. They want students to learn more and do better in international comparisons.

Fair enough, sounds like standard government fare.

What they did was introduce all the changes at once. Longer school days, more time in the classroom for teachers, inclusion, new subjects, new emphasis. In Denmark, employers also need to run structural changes by the unions and come to an agreement together. The government/employers bypassed all this when the unions raised concerns about the potential loss of preparation time if there was no upper limit on time in the classroom by forcing a month long lock out.

When the government ‘stepped in’ to break the deadlock between the employers and the unions, they knew they had to appear impartial and not as if they had orchestrated the whole thing from the beginning, so they gave some concessions.

One concession was that teachers would have longer working days, sure, but they would not have to work outside those hours AT ALL, not without overtime payments.

In other words, teachers come in at 8am, leave at 4pm and THAT IS IT. No writing reports at home, no marking essays at the weekend, no lesson planning while watching Borgen. Everything done at work. Everything.

The following article is about the mess this has made in one school.

Before I let you read it, I want to say that this has not just affected state schools. The working conditions of the state school teacher are the same as the private school teacher and even the teachers of adults, like in language school.

I have met a few people working at other private schools, and many of them are in permanent crisis. Some schools have worked out a system that bypasses the madness, others have entered into an understanding that teachers have a list of things to do and they just do them, no matter how long it takes which can result in no upper limit on workload, which means that some people are working 50-80 hour weeks just to get it all done. In DENMARK, where work-life balance is king. If they complain, they are told it is their time management at fault.

(For reference, if they work in weeks where students are not there, they should be working around 37.5 hours a week. If they don’t work in those weeks, it is more like 42 hours. And some periods in teaching life are busier than others, so it can be more like 45 in certain terms and less in others)

Still others have the 8am-4pm system like the state schools. I read about one school in the union magazine and they seemed the happiest of all. Busiest maybe but much more secure in what they were doing.

This is what you get, by the way, when non-experts get to decide stuff like this without consultation. I’m not saying teachers are the best placed to make all the decisions, we are probably too close to the problem, but they are at least able to say things like “Hey, that’s not going to work, for the following reasons:-” if they are consulted first.

Here is the article:-

KARSTEN BRÄUNER, state school teacher

The introduction of the state school reform on 1st August 2014 created the most comprehensive and abrupt changes of the role of the teacher in the 200 year history of the Danish state school, first and foremost as a consequence of the ‘normalisation’ of teachers’ working time which the administration together with the association of borough councils (KL) implemented by law.

The changes raise the question about whether schools after the reform have the resources and are furnished with a structure which ensures consistently high quality teaching in day to day lessons. If the day to day doesn’t work, the school doesn’t work.

How has everyday school life been in the reform’s first two months? So much as has been said in such divergent terms that it is impossible for outsiders to get a clear answer. Nothing less than concrete examples from the reality in schools can serve as an answer to the question.

The examples shouldn’t be a scattergun, unsystematic reduction of the reality they should describe. Only comprehensive, coherent examples have the gravity to show themselves trustworthy and of documentary quality.

With the following day to day account of my preparation time in the period 1st September to 10th October, I hope to make such an example.

I argue that the example not only exposes one individual teacher’s situation but in its basic substance paints a picture of the situation for all state school teachers, as they have all been affected by the same reform – some harder than others.

Preparation time is the day’s non-teaching time minus the time that goes on ‘other activities’, mainly parent evenings, curriculum plans, school reports, planning of overnight trips to Brussels,along with team, teacher and ad hoc meetings. And also the specific time that is for preparing tomorrow’s lessons.

On paper, my maximum prep time for 26 lessons: Monday 70 minutes, Tuesday 90 minutes, Wednesday 55-100 minutes, Thursday 0 minutes, Friday 0 minutes – 215-260 minutes in all. From that, you need to take 45 minutes per cover lesson, which I have about 1.5 of.

Preparation time is absorbed in periods of administrative tasks. Parents’ evenings take up all the preparation time on the days they are scheduled and writing 253 school reports in two weeks leaves little time to prepare in the same period.

The day’s preparation time status refers to the contribution from the previous day’s preparation and d!oes not include any contribution of planning during lessons.

Monday 1.9.: Unprepared. Preparation time for Tuesday: 0 minutes.
Tuesday 2.9.: Unprepared. Preparation time for Wednesday: 45 minutes.
Wednesday 3.9.: Improperly prepared. Preparation time for Thursday: 15 minutes.
Thursday 4.9.: Improperly prepared. Preparation time for Friday: 30 minutes.
Friday 5.9.: Improperly prepared. Preparation time for Monday: 0 minutes.
Monday 8.9.: Preparation free day (national reading day). Preparation time for Tuesday: 60 minutes.
Tuesday 9.9.: Well prepared. Preparation time for Wednesday: 30 minutes.
Wednesday 10.9.: Improperly prepared. Preparation time for Thursday: 15 minutes.
Thursday 11.9.: Poorly prepared. Preparation time for Friday: 0 minutes.
Friday 12.9.: Unprepared. Preparation time for Monday: 0 minutes.
Monday 15.9.: Unprepared. Preparation time for Tuesday: 15 minutes.
Tuesday 16.9.: Improperly prepared. Preparation time for Wednesday: 15 minutes.
Wednesday 17.9.: Improperly prepared. Preparation time for Thursday: 10 minutes.
Thursday 18.9.: Poorly prepared. Preparation time for Friday: 15 minutes.
Friday 19.9.: Improperly prepared. Preparation time for Monday: 0 minutes.
Monday 22.9.: Unprepared. Preparation time for Tuesday: 0 minutes.
Tuesday 23.9.: Unprepared. Preparation time for Wednesday: 30 minutes.
Wednesday 24.9.: Improperly prepared. Preparation time for Thursday: 1 hour and 30 minutes (unexpectedly no meetings).
Thursday 25.9.: Well prepared. Preparation time for Friday: 10 minutes.
Friday 26.9.: Improperly prepared. Preparation time for Monday: 0 minutes.
Monday 29.9.: Unprepared. Preparation time for Tuesday: 10 minutes.
Tuesday 30.9.: Poorly prepared. Preparation time for Wednesday: 0 minutes.
Wednesday 1.10.: Unprepared. Preparation time for Thursday: 2 hours 30 minutes (meeting free as usual).
Thursday 2.10.: Well prepared. Preparation time for Friday: 0 minutes.
Friday 3.10.: Well prepared. Preparation time for Monday: 0 minutes.
Monday 6.10.: Unprepared. Preparation time for Tuesday: 60 minutes.
Tuesday: 7.10.: Improperly prepared. Preparation time for Wednesday: 30 minutes.
Wednesday 8.10.: Improperly prepared. Preparation time for Thursday: 60 minutes.
Thursday 9.10.: Preparation free day (guest teacher). Preparation time for after the holiday: 0 minutes.
F!riday 10.10.: Preparation free day (motions day). Preparation time for after the holiday: 0 minutes.

The goal of the reform was to make schools better through more exciting and varied teaching. Teachers’ reduced preparation time makes it impossible for the school to meet up to this aim.

The teacher is required in a high degree to follow the textbook slavishly, and avoid piecing their teaching together from different materials, organising activities, including movies and making their own resources etc as there was time for before.

Because of the reduced preparation time, the work of the teacher consists greatly of starting the students off at the start of the lesson and afterwards sitting at their desk behind their books and computer, to be able to prepare for the next lesson as well as possible. The teacher is still available for the students when they have questions but in a much lesser degree than the previous proactive initiator and supervisor. You can hardly call this teaching.

This is especially hard on weaker students. The reform inhibits the inclusion attempts by worsening the teacher’s opportunities to plan and implement differentiated instruction.

As well as this the reform doesn’t give the teacher more time with students outside of lessons. When the lesson is over, the teacher rushes back to his work room to get as much out of the insufficient preparation time as possible.

For the same reasons, the reform does not improve the extent of collaboration between teachers either. Teachers have always learned from and inspired each other. But with the reform, there is less time for cooperation. The time can only be taken from preparation time but the teacher has nothing left to give away when there is already not enough time to prepare adequately for the ongoing lessons.

Movement class and lesson support, the reform’s two wildcards, are squeezed as a result of the inadequate preparation time out into a position of a marginalised activity. No teacher with respect for herself and her students regards these activities as important as the core teaching in the subjects.

When teachers already have not got enough time to prepare for core teaching, then there’s definitely not enough time in the bank for movement and lesson support, so they fizzle out both professionally and educationally.

Even assuming that movement and support lessons could be a success, the two activities do little to deliver the aims of the school, compared to the loss of preparation time for core teaching.

In summary, it could be could be said that the reform establishes a teacher role which makes it impossible for the teacher to deliver the reform and the reform undermines itself at key points.

The problem with preparation isn’t only that the resources are reduced but also that the structure is atomised which results in wasted time from incessant stopping and starting, coming and going and endless unexpected interruptions. This can be quantified.

Previously, teachers had effectively 10-12 hours preparation a week, but could prepare more in some periods and less in others, depending on need. Today, the teacher has in reality 2-4 hours to prepare for up to a quarter more lessons than before the reform and with monstrously poor flexibility. This makes the teacher’s opportunities to prepare, reflect on and assess work competently virtually non-existent.

Before, teachers could collect in a class set of essays on Friday, grade them on Sunday and give them back on Monday. Now, teachers have to do the task – that takes about all of 1-2 weeks’ preparation time – over the course of three to four or more weeks, when it is possible. Fifteen minutes here, half an hour there, so the students can hardly even remember what they wrote when they get the essay back.

Preparation isn’t just getting ready for a specific upcoming lesson. Preparation also includes participation in courses and independent professional development to establish and expand your academic foundation, keep abreast of new materials for the subjects they teach and much more.

This ‘back catalogue’ of knowledge, insight and competences, that teachers previously accumulated year after year – and as such is the 90% of the professional iceberg hidden under water – will not be given priority in the newly reformed teacher role. This will create a significant professional downturn over time.

Education Minister Bertel Haarde wanted to define the nature and extent of the teacher’s work at the end of the 80s. A teacher said at the time to me “If my employer doesn’t trust that I’m doing what I should, he’ll get only what he’s paying for.”

That development has reached its inevitable nadir with the new law. But the government and KL have chiselled their definition of working time as ‘8-16’ in the teachers’ consciousness. Teachers are only at work when they are at school.

So, the employers have introduced the role of the teacher, which defines as a starting point for the operation of the school, that teachers are free after school ends. Even if it means the teacher comes entirely or partially unprepared the next day. A massive political own goal, where the negative consequences for development of state schools cannot be overestimated.

I teach history, but thought a couple of years ago that I didn’t know enough about the second Slesvig War. So, I bought and read – as is obviously a part of my job – Tom Buk-Swientys book “Butcher’s Block Dybbøl” and went to an evening event with him.

Today, I would have to ask my leader about using my working time to read a book and pay me a supplement for working after 17.00. It would take about 10-15 hours to read it, which corresponds to two to three weeks full preparation time. Would my leader assign me that time? And would he pay me the supplement. Hardly.

With the reform, the government and KL have shut down the completely crucial source of professionalism in Danish state schools: teachers’ commitment and self improvement.

The reform has redefined the teacher from a knowledgeable person with an open, ‘hungry’ and pro-active approach to reality, always on the way with new insights and competences, to a feeder that should stuff the national curriculum down the throats of students like corn into a foie gras- goose.

None of above statements come as a surprise to people with insight into Danish state schools. They warned but no one wanted to listen. From the ministry and government, over the association of borough councils to the school leader’s union, have all persistently persistently swept criticism aside with cheers of congratulation.

Even today, denouncing their reform’s standard bearing critics and keep blindly hold of their fantasy project, which they think can be driven to success with smart campaigns, slogans and starry eyed optimism.

But you need more than that. You can’t just solve structural and material problems with propaganda or turning a blind eye.

With their rhetoric, they are helping to raise parents’ expectations for a reform that is itself s!mashing the conditions needed for teachers to deliver.

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.

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.