20th Jan 2022

Danish children enter fourth week of no school

  • Schools in Denmark are closed for the month (Photo: Night Owl City)

Grandparents are being roped into help, companies are turning themselves into temporary creches, and employees are being forced to take leave as Denmark enters its fourth week of a teacher lock-out.

Since 1 April, around 875,000 children, aged from six to 16 years, have been unable to attend school after a breakdown in talks between the teachers' union and local government over the setting of working conditions for the coming years.

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The deadlock, affecting 69,000 teachers, has had profound effects in a society where it is normal for both parents to work.

Martin Moos, father of nine-year-old Oscar, says "it's a big hassle for everybody." His son first stayed with his grandmother and then with his grandfather. This week he is with his aunt.

"The first week was a nice vacation for them. It was fun doing something different for a while, but now the kids are really frustrated."

Employers are also affected. Moos is CEO at a digital photo company ColorClub, where people "take turns bringing their children to work, leaving early and coming in late."

Roar Rude Trangbæk, communications manager at Lego, said there were four children "running around playing with lego" in his office at the toy giant's headquarters in Copenhagen on Monday (22 April).

But his comments about the limits of company time and patience illustrate the pressure on parents to find other solutions.

"We have said that employees that are able to take their children to work and take care of them while getting their day-to-day work done are welcome to do that. But in a limited way. They have to get their work done. And take into consideration other employees."

Those working the production lines cannot bring their children to work. They instead may take vacation "at very short notice" or use up overtime.

Meanwhile, the teachers themselves are not getting any salaries during the disruption. The Danish Teachers' Union's (DLF) - involved in the negotiations - has a strike fund from which they can borrow money at a low interest rate.

"Teachers are just so sad about this. They just want to go back to work," says Birgitte Birkvad, DLF member and former teacher.

Meanwhile, older students are facing exams on 2 May having missed a month of preparation in school.

Teachers' working hours

The stand-off is over the length of time teachers should work.

Kommunernes Landsforening (KL), representing municipalities which employ the teachers, wants school principles to have the power to decide how much time a teacher spends teaching, on lesson preparation, on evaluation and other duties.

Shortly after beginning the lock-out, Michael Ziegler, chief negotiator for KL, said the "Danish model cannot only mean that employees' conditions constantly get better."

But teachers fear such flexibility will undermine the quality of their teaching. "In no other country in Europe, are there no limits on teachers' hours," says Dorte Lange, deputy head of the teachers' union (DLF).

Until now such details were covered by a collective bargain between municipality and the schools. The current deal ran out on 31 March.

Teachers are also feeling the pressure from a separate government education reform proposal to make a longer school day, funded by teachers working more but receiving no extra money.

So far, the government the government has played a low-key role, leaving it to the municipalities and the teachers to find agreement. But it is hotly defending its reform proposals.

"The government’s proposed reform of the primary education is not a question of saving money, but essentially a question of raising the quality of education," Finance minister Bjarne Corydon said in a statement to this website.

Lone Skafte Jespersen, a science teacher, says this is "rubbish."

She says many colleagues have left the profession amid low wages and increasing workloads. What she mostly feels is "sad that our profession is under appreciated."

While the stand-off continues, so does the day-to-day stress for students, teachers and parents.

"This is extremely disruptive," says Birkvad. "Well-off families can usually find a way. But a single mother, working in a factory with two or three kids, she's really badly off."

The teachers are hoping the Danish public will remain sympathetic to their cause. "The quality of our children's education is at stake. We hope the people of Denmark see this," says Lange.

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