With children back to school, parents wary of upcoming reform

Parents and children are thrilled that schools are open again, but the failed negotiations over teachers’ working hours appear to have eroded support for reform

With the government-assisted end to the month-long teacher lockout, parents were able to happily ship their children off to school again last week. But despite the lockout’s end, a battle over the government’s proposed school reform still looms.


Among the relieved parents last week was mother of three Stella Møller Larsen. Her two youngest children, aged eight and 13, were affected by the lockout.


“It was really difficult,” Larsen told The Copenhagen Post. “Two of my 13-year-old son’s teachers weren’t locked out, so he still had to go to school sometimes. But I still feel like school lost its value, as a lot of children didn’t show up.”


Larsen works early in the morning and is usually home around noon, so she did not have the trouble of finding a babysitter for a full day. But she still found the situation very stressful.


“We were specifically told that we could not bring our children to work,” Larsen explained. “So they have been home alone for part of the time, but if my son wasn’t there, I couldn’t leave my eight-year-old daughter alone, so she has been with her grandparents or friends.”


Larsen is just happy that her children do not have any exams coming up. She doesn’t feel that they have fallen too far behind – not too far to catch up eventually, anyway – but she is relieved that school is back on so her family can finally go back to their normal routine.


Stella Møller Larsen, a mother of three, says she is worried that the government’s school reform will result in poorer lessons (Private photo)Conflict eroded support for reform


But even with the end of the lockout, many parents remain apprehensive about the government’s school reform proposal, which is positioned as a way to improve public schools by demanding that teachers work more hours. This will mean longer school days and more time for the children to learn.


The government’s plan has met resistance from parents. According to a survey carried out by the pollster Epinion in February, 70 percent of parents are against the proposed reform.


Berlingske newspaper recruited market research company Gallup to carry out surveys on the reform in December 2012 and again in March. In the first poll, three out of four respondents were positive about the reform proposal but by March, that number had fallen to less than half.


The education minister, Christine Antorini (Socialdemokraterne), said that the reform has been overshadowed by the unsuccessful negotations between the teachers’ union, Danmarks Lærerforening, and the local government association, KL.


“The polls show that there are more people today that doubt the reform, and I can understand that people are confused,” Antorini told Berlingske in March. “The public debate has been very one-sided and misleading when the reform is referred to as ‘all-day school’ or ‘discount school’. The collective bargaining agreement negotiations have come to completely overshadow the reform, which will include more help with lectures and English from the first grade.”


Thomas Høi, who co-created a Facebook group against the reform, said that the proposed changes to public schools have not been sufficiently thought through.


“This is an experiment,” Høi told The Copenhagen Post. “Some full-day schools are great, but some aren’t. They have to figure out what works.”


Høi, who has three children who were locked out, believes that it is important for students to have some free time after school as well.


“Child researchers say that 75 percent of what a child learns comes from outside of school,” he said.


He added that another problem is that the government expect the schools to offer creative after-school activities. He singled out Antorini’s suggestion on the DR2 programme ‘Debatten’ that rather than learning about the anatomy of a goat via books, schools could consider dissecting an actual goat.


“Not all schools can afford to buy a goat and slaughter it,” Høi said. “So what are the children going to do in all these school hours? I certainly don’t want my children to lose their free time.”


Larsen is has apprehensive about the reform.


“It seems to me like this is just a way to save money, and that is depressing,” she said. “It doesn’t seem right to make a reform like this when the country’s economy isn’t very great.”


She is worried that the quality of the lessons will fall, as the teachers will be forced to work longer hours.


Høi shares this concern and also worries whether students can stay focused. Instead of passing the reform, he suggests looking for a different solution.


“Schools in Denmark can improve, but I don’t believe this is the correct way to do it,” Høi said. “In Finland, for instance, teachers teach fewer hours than they do in Denmark, and the children score higher marks on the PISA [Programme for International Student Assessment] tests. Why don’t we learn from them?”