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.