Musketeers Oath

Denmark is proud of the work-life balance of its people. The generous parental leave, sick pay,  good pensions,  decent working hours are part of the advertising copy for Denmark. Explanations of how they get to be the “happiest” people often centre around how good they have it here.

And yet, Danes did not get all these workers’ rights and perks just because they are more compassionate or more generous. Paid leave for childcare did not fall out of the sky onto Danish heads on an Estonian battleground. Danish workers fought for these rights.

In the 1800s, there were running battles between employers and employees. There were strikes (where employees do not work) and lockouts (where employers prevent workers from working) over and over, after each other. The eventual solution to this deadlock came to be known as The Danish Model.

All the good stuff that you see in the Guardian came from regular negotiations between employee organisations (unions) and the employers. It is a source of national pride but it sort of goes on in the background. There are negotiations every few years and everyone just lets their union get on with it and then there is incremental change. Sometimes to the favour of one side or the other, but usually a bit of give and take from both. These negotiations are called “OK” and then the year they take place. They usually take place every 2-3 years. OK stands for overenskomst, a peculiarly Danish word meaning “terms and conditions”. Whatever is agreed applies to everyone, union or not, in the sector. Union members can vote on whether they agree with the new agreement, or not. If they do not agree, then it can mean strike action. Individual workplaces can agree “local” solutions with union reps if the national terms and conditions do not work in their context but employers cannot otherwise change the agreements in place. If they work outside of the “overenskomst” they can be taken to employment tribunals.

Except in OK-13, the administration did not follow this model. They wanted to press ahead with school reform in the “folkeskole” sector and could not pay for it without changing the terms and conditions of teachers. They knew teachers would not agree to the changes. Incremental change would be too slow.

The “employers” in this case are a group of “kommune” borough council representatives called KL. This is because “folkeskoler” are managed by the “kommuner”, rather than the central government. The government has nothing to do with the negotiations. Or at least, they are not supposed to. Except, in this case, they stage managed the entire thing.

(Point of order: Also involved were workers under the same heading, for example, teachers in the independent sector, teachers of adult learners and those working at language schools. Their employer is the “state” and the employers organisation is called “Centralorganisationernes Fællesudvalg”, or CFU for short. This means that workplaces in different sectors can have tailor-made terms and conditions relevant to their working conditions.)

In 2013, teacher unions met with employers and almost immediately it was called a deadlock by the employers. Teacher representatives at the negotiations reported being blindsided by how quick the employers were to call off the talks and threaten a lockout. The press went a bit overboard to appear balanced so the impression was given that there was fault on both sides.  The Finance Ministry put a lot of pressure on the media to do this. No matter how much teacher organisations tried to get the message out that the Danish Model was being ignored and that the government had prevented the employers from compromising, it was not until 2017 that it was officially confirmed that the negotiations were not performed in good faith.

If there is going to be conflict (either a strike or a lockout), the relevant side needs to give four weeks warning. The terms and conditions tend to “run out” on 1st April, so if nothing has been agreed to, that is when the conflict starts. A conflict means that union members cannot come to work and they get no pay, (even those on parental or sick leave). The unions give out “conflict support”, either as salary or as a loan. This puts unions in precarious positions because they only have access to so much cash. Non-union members can still come to work but they cannot do the work of union members.

In April 2013, the employers had a lockout. It lasted almost a month. There were three ways it could have ended: teacher organisations agreeing to everything suggested by the employers without reservation, employer organisations compromising on some aspects or the government, as an independent party, stepping in and making a new law which would be fair to both sides.

As the government was not independent of the negotiations, as they should have been, this was not fair for both sides. Law 409 is rather technical but what it meant in essence was that teachers were now expected to perform all the work in working hours, at school, and there was no limit on how many lessons they could have a week. Then the “folkeskole” reform was introduced which increased contact hours, amongst other changes. Law 409 had to apply to all teaching sectors, even independent schools who were not party to the changes from the “folkeskole” reform.

At the next OK round, (OK-15) working time was off the table, and there was no appetite for conflict, so Law 409 carried on. As in: working time for teachers is not part of a negotiated “overenskomst”, it is decided by law.

Then the news came out that the government had not been independent of the negotiations and the whole chaotic mess had been planned to happen so that working time negotiations could be bypassed.

So, this year, the entire public sector who should be negotiating in their OK-18, (that is anyone who works for the “kommune”, the region or the state; not just teachers), have said that they will not start negotiations for their terms and conditions until the question of working time and Law 409 is addressed properly. Their demand is that teacher organisations be allowed to negotiate their working time and drop the law entirely. If these sectors do not get anything in place by 1st April 2018, then it could be, in effect, a general strike or a lockout that impacts the entire public sector.

They call this the “Musketeer Oath”, as in one-for-all-and-all-for-one.

The employers have so far refused to address teacher working time properly. Negotiations were halted for “thinking time” in mid-February as the representatives for public employees felt that the employers were not negotiating in good faith. The negotiations are due to restart today (Saturday 17th) and the deadline to agree something is the end of February.

With any luck, the employers will negotiate in good faith and they will be able to sort something out. Keep your fingers crossed.

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.

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.

Having your Danish Model and Eating It

So, what’s The Danish Model?

The Danish Model is a system of decision making which relies on discussion and consensus. If new working conditions are to be agreed with a union the Danish Model is allowing the union to enter into talks with their employer. Suggestions are made. Then compromises. Then agreements. That is the Danish Model.

In other countries, laws can be made by politicians to create new working conditions for state employees. This is not the Danish Model.

The Danish Model has secured great terms and conditions for workers. The administration cannot afford these anymore and need to scrap them. They need a do-over. The Danish Model prevents this. All that can happen under the Danish Model is compromise and incremental change.

The Danish administration seem to yearn for the more authoritarian systems of other countries but suspect that overturning the Danish Model might be unpopular with the Danish people. They might even be unable to scrap it entirely, without a democratic mandate.

In order to force through cuts to public services, they need to keep up the pretense of the Danish Model whilst bypassing it entirely.

The teacher lockout is the first example but there will be more to come.

The KL (nationwide association of municipal councils), is supposed to agree new conditions with the unions. They cannot actually negotiate, though. They have been given one term to agree to. The term the government worked out.

The unions have suggested many possible terms. Most of them worsen the working conditions for teachers and the majority (if not all), incorporate parts of the KL’s suggestion. The KL cannot agree to any of their suggested compromises.

The unions cannot agree to the suggestion made by the KL because it bollockses up years of hard work to achieve good working conditions for teachers. If they just accept it without  a fight, what on earth are we paying 500 kroner a month for?

After a short time (just over a day), of negotiation, the Finance Minister declared the talks “deadlocked”. He warned of a lock out. He enforced a lock out.

Patronisingly, the state minister has lectured “one or two Danes” who might be “confused” about the “hats” the Finance Minister has on. One hat is as the employer of all the unionised teachers. The other hat is as part of the administration, with their new plans for savings in schools. Confused? Hats?

As part of the administration under the Danish Model, he really should be staying out of it and only stepping in at the very last second as saviour of all Danish schools. He has been up to his nuts in these negotiations. He has been smearing teachers and making lots of pronouncements. The administration is so very baldly not objective. (And under any other model, that might have been acceptable. But not this one)

The plan has always been to force through these changes. If the unions do not cry “uncle” first, then the government fully intends to change the terms and conditions of teaching in Denmark by legislation.

What is tricky to balance are two factors.

Firstly: appearing to adhere to the Danish Model and only stepping in with legislation in direst necessity after a long lockout. This is so that democracy appears to be still functioning and the people do not become angry with the government.

Secondly, not letting the lockout go on so long that the people become angry with the government.

The children of Denmark are losing an uncertain number of days’ education so that the politicians of Denmark can keep up the charade of still subscribing to the Danish Model.

One suggestion that the unions made was to abandon the Danish Model of negotiations and take a look at how things are done in Canada. (Canada has had a lot of teacher disputes but seems to be coming through them now). The Finance Minister said this was disingenuous of them and a time wasting tactic.

Surely, the longer we can debate is actually time well spent, as children still get to go to school in the meantime?

What confuses me is how badly the government are playing the game. Given how much time they have had to prepare, compared with the teachers, this just seems a bit poor. The main tactic appears to be turning non-teachers against teachers. This is gaining some traction, in some quarters. But mostly, I think people appreciate the work that is done in schools. Even if some think that teachers could do more, people are not happy about negative campaigning and are aligning with the underdog. It is backfiring and it’s the only weapon they seem to have.

Also, for a group of people that want to keep up the act of maintaining the sacred Danish Model, they forget themselves too easily.

“We must adhere to the Danish Model and allow the two parties to reach agreement. Also, teachers are lazy, man, and our plans will improve Danish schools that are like totally crap.”

Machiavelli would be having kittens by now. JUST KEEP OUT OF IT, POLITICIANS. If they had only let Ziegler deal with it and then swooped in at the last minute…

“Oh, we were sure you would reach an agreement. How sad. Let us fix this for you with an emergency act of parliament!”

The teachers crying out “This is a stitch up! They had this all planned from the start!” would sound paranoid and crazy. But with all the political interference, people think that is a straightforward fight between the government and the unions. (Goes to show how little people are actually invested in the Danish Model.)

Meanwhile, back in The Manipulating People For Fun and Profit Show. Why in the name of all things good and holy, didn’t the administration come up with a wildly unrealistic suggestion, corralling the unions into suggesting their minimum acceptable price during the negotiation? Surely that is how things are done? If the KL comes with a slightly modified suggestion this week, so help me, there will be trouble. Tables will be flipped.

Like this.
Like this.

That will be several days of school my students missed out on. For a game.

And do they intend to do this for all the public servants that cost too much? Just insist on terms and lock them out until it is seemly to enact new laws? Every time? It is going to get old fast.

Just abandon the Danish Model and say the government gets to dictate terms of employment from now on. Seriously. Just drop the pretense. There is to be no more negotiation. The workers are not able to debate the terms of their employment. Only the government is able to decide these. If you do not like them, then tough. If you want to live in Denmark, you have to put up with it.

Dragging this out and holding children to ransom, just to save face and appear democratic, is ridiculous and cowardly.

Lockout: It’s on.

Teacher working time agreement negotiations started 27th February.

Corydon, the finance minister, who is neither a teaching union representative or a borough council group representative, said on February 28th:-

“I am sorry to say that negotiations are at a deadlock. Therefore, I have taken the serious decision to warn of a lockout for some state-employed teachers. But my hope is that an agreement will soon be found, which I think is still possible if all parties are determined to find it.”

I am not “state employed” and yet, I am getting locked out. He is neither negotiator nor mediator and yet he calls it a deadlock. Half a day’s negotiations were all that were necessary before he threatened the ultimate sanction. What a strange country I live in.

This is what Baffled Anders Bondo had to say at the time:-

“I am completely perplexed by KL declaring a deadlock. We have offered:- to teach 25 hours a week, to discuss staying in school during office hours, to look at certain types of lessons without preparation, to have the same working conditions as special needs teachers. We have used the last debate to discuss KL’s proposal and after agreement have formulated some questions to which we would like some answers. They were a question of how we could get fairly standard provisions into KL’s initiative. Instead of getting the desired response, Michael Ziegler rang at 1am and said the negotiations had broken down. I am bewildered by this call. We have not denied any demand and we certainly haven’t even given any ultimatums. For the teaching side of negotiations, the debate has in no way broken down. We are ready if KL want to talk.

And the talks went on. The teaching unions went on to make many suggestions.

Union FB share-around

What the parties have brought to the table

The teacher’s union has offered:-

  • To teach 25 hours a week, in a continuous course, which is 25% more teaching than now
  • Increased presence in school during office hours
  • Taking charge of new “activity lessons”
  • The Finnish model
  • That working hours are negotiated after school reforms are decided (as KL has agreed with BUPL, the “pedagogue” union)
  • New working agreement with the same rules as for school “pedagogues” with BUPL (that the KL did not wish to change)
  • New working agreement with full leadership discretion, where the head is free to award preparation time according to the school’s requirements, full-time presence at school during office hours, in line with other public employment. Furthermore, freedom of choice for boroughs between this and the existing working time agreement and the possibility for regions to reach their own working time agreements.

What the KL has offered:-

  • A working time agreement similar to teachers at high schools, without the right to know when you have to be at work or are free, without fixed limits on teaching hours, without rules on length of notice periods or maximum numbers of working hours. No possibility of making regional/local working time agreements.

And yet, since the government/KL were prepared for these talks, all the propaganda about lazy Danish teachers, Danish teachers with tiny contact hours, Danish students doing poorly because of lazy teachers has been doing the rounds.

You can rely on the fact that only VERY interested parties have been looking into the detail of the negotiations. Everyone else is relying on spin. The union’s “forced whole day school” schtick. The administration/KL’s “not working MORE, working DIFFERENTLY” patter.

Looking into the detail, it’s clear to see that the administration had no intention of negotiating at all. They are relying on dirty tricks to win this one. Spin, negative stories, mud slinging and the lockout as a coup de main.

The parents are not going to see that the teachers have offered to worsen their working time agreements, have put benefits on the line, have offered to work more for the same money, have offered to be in the classroom more, have offered to stay in school from 8am to 4pm, have offered to change working patterns according to the new school reforms yet to be decided.

All the parents are going to see is what is being presented to them by the state and the media: The teachers are refusing to *negotiate*, the teachers are refusing to teach more lessons, the teachers are refusing to stay on the school premises during the school day.

As the lockout drags on and on, patience will wear thin and the stance will become unpopular. But I think pressure on the union to cave will come from the teachers themselves.

I do not want to be locked out. I do not want to be unable to set cover work. The guilt is going to build, the longer I am away. If I am anything like other teachers, it is likely we will cry uncle way before the parents do.

This is a new chapter for schools in Denmark. The suggestion is awful. Working conditions for teachers are going to seriously suck from now on. The Danish populace have been set against the teachers. We are going to find that working in Danish schools is exhausting and overly difficult. We are going to find that respect for teachers and the work we do is eroded. A lot of teachers will leave. Many teachers will be demoralised.

I cannot imagine this will make Denmark’s education system world class.

What the shit is going on with the lockout?

This is more for me to get my head straight over the ins and outs of the teachers’ working time dispute.

Main Characters:-

  • Antorini (Christine Antorini) Curly haired extra from Borgen. Antorini is the Education Minister of Denmark, also in the Social Democratic party. Teaching experience: none.
  • Bondo (Anders Bondo Christensen): Harry Potter: the elbow patch years. Bondo represents the Danish Teacher’s Union. Teaching experience: lots.
  • Corydon (Bjarne Corydon): A shaven headed extra from Breaking Bad. Corydon is the Finance Minister of Denmark. He is from the Social Democratic party (‘Moderaterne’ on Borgen, ‘Labour’ in the UK). He has a tumblr dedicated to him looking sceptical. Teaching experience: none.
  • Ziegler (Michael Ziegler) Leader of the “Borough Council Union”, a nationwide group representing the interests of the borough councils in Denmark. Teaching experience: none.

Minor Characters

  • Jelved (Marianne Jelved): Member of the Radikale Venstre party. Used to be a teacher. Is married to a teacher. Looks a bit like Sandi Toksvig’s aunt. I have met her. She has observed two of my lessons. She is okay by me. And for a politician she does not say a lot. Teaching experience: lots.
  • Vestager (Margrethe Vestager): Leader of the Radikale Venstre party (think Old Labour/Liberal mashup) and Minister for Economics. Teaching experience: none.


  • The children: Attend schools in Denmark
  • The parents: Send their children to schools in Denmark
  • The teachers: Work at schools in Denmark
  • The taxpayers: Live in Denmark and pay for this show


In 2008, the world experienced a financial crisis. By 2013, the left-wing/centrist government of Denmark has woken up to the realisation that not enough tax is coming in to afford the outgoings of the nation.

Denmark has a lot of outgoings due to its large nationalised services. The government got together to devise a way of saving money on education. This deal involves longer school days and asking teachers to work more hours for the same pay.

But! In Denmark! The politicians do not negotiate with the unions. The “employers” negotiate. And the “employers” are the Kommunenenenens Landsforening, a crack team of mayors.


Odd little news articles appear in the media about how teachers do not “teach” for very many hours a week. No attempt to disambiguate “teach” from “work”. Talk of “normalising” teachers’ hours pops up as if teachers do not work the normal amount of hours. Comparisons with other countries are made in the press, the number of hours of lessons, PISA results. Though, interestingly, only separately.  A politician misinterprets results from a study that showed that teacher preparation/quality raises achievement and says that it shows greater contact hours raise achievement. China, South Korea and Finland have pretty good results and pretty low contact hours (around 16 hours teaching).

A news story emerges that children in Denmark are getting better at reading. And pop goes the “Children in DK cannot read good” narrative.

A report into how the 2008 working time agreement has improved Danish schools is suppressed by KL.

Because the “negotiations” (and I use the term loosely), have not taken place yet, politicians get stuck in. Antorini says that teachers are only going to be teaching a little bit more and besides they are just going to re-prioritise their tasks a bit, not work any more than before, just differently. Corydon, though, Corydon is like a whirlwind going on about stuff. His department puts it about that teachers are totally lazy. The teachers really do not like him.


KL and the teaching unions meet. The KL suggest some things that they would like to change about the working time agreements for teachers. The teachers’ unions have some questions about the new plans.

KL flip over all the tables and say “WELL THEN YOU DICKS, if you don’t agree right now, we’re going to lock you out of your schools and not pay you. See how you like that, you twats.”


Politicians who are NOT SUPPOSED TO get involved, get right the fuck involved. Vestager says that teachers are making up stuff about how the new plans will affect children/teachers. Jelved says “I hope Bondo wins, everyone’s against him” and then later “IT WAS JUST A JOKE!”

When interested parties point out that politicians should stay out of it, they all slap their foreheads and go “oh yeah, I forgot. It’s the ‘negotiation’ phase, right? Thought it was the propaganda phase still.”



The KL and some politicians met in secret (which is totally not cool), and work out the new teacher workload agreements. From which they must not budge when it is time to “negotiate” with the teaching unions.

The Unions beg to be allowed to attend and then beg to be allowed to know what happened. The process of being ignored is described as “kafkaesque”.

The politicians work out that once the “negotiations” are finished, the projected savings through increasing working hours will pay for a bunch of improvements. They write up these plans as if the working time agreements have already been rubber stamped.


The negotiations continue and more and more threats about lockouts are made by the KL. Parents, teachers and children get more and more anxious. The KL say that the current agreements are like something out of the last century. To which the teachers reply “You green-lighted them THREE YEARS ago! And besides what’s more last century than clocking in at 8 and clocking out at 4?”

Who knows what will happen in the next act!

What pisses me off is not so much that my working time agreements might fundamentally change next year. I am used to that. What pisses me off is how much strong arming has gone on.

The teaching unions have suggested running studies, suspending the current arrangements and trialling the new suggestions. You know, to see if teaching and learning improves. This has been dismissed out of hand.

There are studies of other successful countries. Their successes could be replicated and start-up issues avoided. No one is even bothering to find out about them.

The KL had no intention of working with the teaching unions, the strategy has been to turn the public against teachers for being lazy and then making demands and a threat to withdraw the opportunity to work.

The teaching unions have been caught on the hop, I do not think they expected so much foul play would be going on. So many dirty tricks.

This was an opportunity. There are so many ways that Danish schools can improve. I could probably write a book about what works and what could be better and everything. This is not about improvements. This is not about changing Danish schools for the new challenges ahead or increasing quality or anything like that. It is about saving money on wages.

And the unions will fail. The lock-outs will “work”, taking away education from children for weeks at a time is THE WORST THING YOU CAN DO, and the mood will turn against the teachers.

Teachers will have to accept these proposals, even though they do not take into account how teachers actually work and certainly have no link to best practice studies from abroad. This will lead to a massive deterioration of quality. Add to that the vote of no confidence the politicians are cooking up, I do not see how Danish schools are going anywhere other than the toilet from here on out. And all for a bit of money.