Recently I asked some UK based mums about aspects of their primary age children’s schools. I had noticed what I saw as some fundamental differences between the two countries’ approach to schooling and my research backed up my thoughts. I have only been a parent in Denmark and Germany and my experience of UK schools is from my own childhood.
The overriding theme in Danish schools is giving freedom and choice to the children even from a young age. For many parents coming from countries such as the UK and the US this can be alien and a bit of a struggle to come to terms with. Although we all remember the freedoms we had as children growing up in 70s and 80s Britain, there is a fear of this for children now. High profile child abductions have bred a culture of fear, however it can be argued that these cases are the exception rather than the rule.
So here are my observations. I would love to hear your thoughts and observations as well. Have it got it right or not? What are your experiences?
Open school buildings – I have not seen many school buildings here with key pad entrances (daycare places do have them). My son’ school has been housed in a couple of state school buildings here in Copenhagen and none of them had secure keypad entrances. I know the private International schools do have higher security but it is rare in state schools. When I asked about UK schools 76% of those who responded said their schools had secured key pad entrances.
Open Playgrounds – a lot of schools here have completely open playgrounds, that is without fences and gates. Some are even have public footpaths or cycle ways running through them. After hours facilities in schools such as playgrounds and sports halls are often open for the local community to use them. When we lived in Østerbro we regularly spent the evenings in our local school playground on their play equipment and we would often see other local families doing the same. In my survey 100% of the school playgrounds were fenced in and only 11% were available after hours for the local community.
Mobile Phones – in most schools here children as young as seven will arrive at school with their own mobile phone (usually to do with personal safety, more later) but will hand it in to the school office for the school day. 88% of my survey said that mobile phones were not allowed in primary school in the UK at all.
Travelling to school alone – following on from the point above, it is not uncommon to see children from the age of nine travelling to and from school alone on foot, by bike or on public transport, for this reason mobile phone are essential if parents and children to be able to keep in contact. This level of freedom is unusual in the UK with 70% of my survey saying this would not happen in their area.
School Uniform – I didn’t have to survey this one as it is rare for state school in the UK to not have a school uniform. in Denmark the reverse is true. There are no rules about clothing, hair styles or make up but generally children are appropriately attired. I have written about this before here.
School start age – like many Northern European countries the legal school start age in Denmark is 6 and it is compulsory from the age of 7. Before that there is no formal education and the first year in a Danish school (0 klasse) is still very play based. Danes believe that it is important for children to be children and by the age of 11 they have caught up educationally with their peers in the UK.
School hours – the time primary age children spent in the classroom is around the same as in the UK but school days start at 8am in Denmark in many schools and finish a little earlier. This is for practical reasons – parents need to get to work, the daylight hours are short in the winter so children have some hope of seeing daylight after school finishes. Likewise the summer holidays are timed for the months when there should, in theory, be longer sunnier days in July.
School trips – school day trips in Danish schools usually involve long walks to the destination or a trip on public transport. 70% of my survey said trips would never be on public transport in the UK (the other 30% living in metropolitan areas). School trips in Danish schools tend to be funded by the school and parents are not asked for financial contributions as opposed to 80% of my UK survey members having to pay something towards the trips.
There are flaws in the Danish school system, of course nowhere is perfect, but the freedoms given to children to make their own decisions and exercise their freedom within a trusting society is an important element of making children ready to take on life as teenagers and adults.