Schooling in the UK and Denmark…

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This is a topic that has always fascinated me…
The UK, for all of its strict, formalised education system, isn’t doing as well as it should be. In fact, the UK’s PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results demonstrate that we have fallen behind to 26 other countries in Maths, and to 21 other countries in Reading. The UK fell out of the top 20 for Reading back in 2006.
By contrast, Scandinavian countries such as Finland, Norway and Denmark consistently achieve high results. As of 2013, Finland was the only non-Asian country among the top-5s in any of the categories!
PISA test results from 2016
So what is it that makes them so different?

“Teachers in Finland are given a great deal of responsibility and are allowed unfettered flexibility in what and how they teach. Performance isn’t observed and graded.”– The Guardian

The same can be said for the school system in Denmark, with no compulsory testing until the child reaches the age of 15.
In Denmark, children do not go to school until 6 years old, and complete their compulsory education at 15 years old. Compared to the UK, that is 5 years fewer in compulsory formal education. Children begin school aged 4, and since the recent (or now, not-so-recent) reforms to our education system, they cannot leave formal education, employment or vocational training until they reach the age of 18.
This has its own criticisms, most valid being that this practice only serves to reduce the government’s unemployment figures post-16, however, is our approach to education fundamentally wrong?
The highest achieving countries in the PISA league tables are, unsurprisingly, China, South Korea, Singapore and Japan, however, South Korea has also been found to have the unhappiest students, whereas Indonesia (though at the lower end of the table and a relative 6 years behind those at the top) boasted the happiest students in 2013.
Is the secret to a good education a happier education?
Clare’s children will be attending school in Denmark, however she and her other family members attended school in the UK. Clare knows the differences in education and the whole system first-hand, with Denmark being a far more equity-based education system than the UK and similar to Finland’s education system in many ways.
Denmark in 2016 ranked more highly than the UK at Maths, making it into the top 12 of participating countries, so perhaps the UK could learn a thing or two from the Danish education system?
Thank you Clare for sharing this informative post with us!
 
Schooling in the UK and Denmark
1.     Tell us a bit about yourself and your family
I’m 31 years old from Runcorn, England and my husband is 26. He is Danish, and we met online at the end of 2012. I am a student, doing a Bachelor of Education and he is a mechanic. We have 1 boy and 1 girl. Jakob is 4 years old and Skye is 2 years old. We live in the south of the mainland part of Denmark, close to the German border.
      2.     How did you come to live in Denmark and how old were your children when you moved there?
I moved to Denmark in August 2013 and we now have 2 children. I found out that I was pregnant while getting ready to move here. I was working my last shift at Warrington Hospital when I got the positive test. When I moved here, I was 6 weeks’ pregnant.
      3.     How different is the school system in Denmark to the UK? Have you made any school applications yet?

There are a lot of differences between the school system in the UK and Denmark…
School in Denmark starts in the August after a child turns 6 years old when they start in grade 0 (reception class) and they stay in school until 9th grade (age 15). After that they can choose to stay on for 10th grade or go to ‘gymnasium’, which is a similar idea to sixth form in the UK.School days are shorter for younger children, starting at 25 hours a week for the youngest and going up to 35 hours a week for the older students.

School is separated into subject classes from the first year at school, so each class will have a different teacher for each subject.The basic subjects in school are Danish, Maths, English (as a foreign language), Nature and Technology, Sport and Social Studies for 0 – 6th  grade. German is taught from 3rdgrade, then instead of Nature and Technology, from 7th grade, they include Science, Geography, History and some optional subjects that vary depending on the school. These are things like Art, Music, Drama, Home Economics, Woodwork, other languages etc.

Applying to school is very different, the child is registered with a social security number as soon as they are born, instead of waiting until they are 16 to receive their National Insurance number in the UK. They are automatically given a place at the closest school to their address and there is no need to apply. You can get this changed to a different school, all you have to do is speak to them at the education department in the local council building.
4.     Are your children aware of when they are starting school?
My son knows that he will start school after he turns 6 and knows which school he will be going to. My daughter doesn’t understand yet, but she will be told about it when she is older.
5.     What has your experience of the school system in the UK been like compared to the system your children will experience in Denmark?
I prefer the schooling system in Denmark. There is a lot less stress on the children. The motto of the Danish school system is “learn through play” and they do not have any important tests or exams to worry about until their final year at school when they are 15 years old.
The Danish schools have a lot of focus on group work and team building and I have seen how well classes can work together on anything from presentations to experiments to workbooks. Also, it is illegal to separate children based on their abilities, so there are no classes full of only the smartest students. Instead, teachers are trained to incorporate mixed learning levels into the work and classes are quite varied in skill levels.
Photo by Ian on Unsplash
Children call their teachers by their first names which helps them to feel more secure and comfortable when talking to them. There are no school uniforms here but the “bullying culture” isn’t really present here so, no, children don’t get bullied for what clothes they are wearing.All added together, it makes a school, a more relaxing and comforting place to be and children learn better because of this. This leads to a very high level of children going on to higher education and there is a very low percentage of people that don’t go onto the next level after they leave school.

6.     Do you think you will keep your children in Denmark until secondary school age (11+)?
We have no plan to leave Denmark. I am hoping to get dual nationality soon and we would like the children to complete school in Denmark.

Schools here do not have the secondary school age, they simply have “folkeskole” which goes right through from grades 0-9.
7.     What kind of school/pre-school provision is there for under-6s in Denmark? Is it normal to have children at a nursery-like setting for childcare?
Children can attend a nursery setting from 6 months old. They are separated into two parts, 0-3 years (nursery) and 3-6 years (kindergarten). Smaller daycare settings are also very popular here, where someone is licenced and paid by the council to run a small daycare with 3-4 children in their own home. This is usually only 0-3 years old though. These small daycares also have the option to take children before 6 months old if needed, but it is unusual for children to start before they are about 9-10 months old anyway.
All childcare is subsidised by the council and the price you pay is based on how much you earn. The maximum amount you would pay, if you earned over the highest wage, is 2700 Danish krowns, or about £315 per month. This would give access to childcare up to 48 hours per week.
8.     Do you find that parents’ attitudes are different in Denmark from those in the UK?
I think it varies depending on the parent. But in general, I think that the school system allows for a difference in attitude.
In Denmark, homework is unusual, so parents feel less stressed and less strict when it comes to school work.
It is difficult to judge parents’ attitudes when the system is so different. I think for a parent from the UK or America, the Danish school system would require quite a big adjustment in attitude, a few examples being:

  • Young children sleeping outside at naptime. They each have a large pram with a duvet and rain cover and children sleep a lot better outside. Weather doesn’t change anything, and children sleep outside in snow and ice. Only being brought inside during extreme weather, thunderstorms etc.
  • Campfires. It is quite normal for a kindergarten to have a firepit where they will (with adult supervision) make a campfire and sit around and sing or cook.
  • Day trips. They regularly take trips out to the lake, the forest, the playground etc. These are normal trips that don’t require signed consent from the parents for each trip. Consent is given for trips when they start at a nursery, but it is only needed once.
9.     What are you most looking forward to with your children’s schooling in Denmark?
I am looking forward to seeing them start their language classes most. They are both already fluent in both English and Danish so they will not have any problems with their English lessons, but they will start to learn German as well and it is so good to see how important language learning is.
From my own experience, learning French in school in the UK, there is no real importance to the learning, the main goal of language learning (and most other school subjects as well) is to learn what is needed to pass an exam. However, here in Denmark, there is a large focus on learning and connecting the learning to real life.Thank you so much for sharing this with us, Clare! This is so interesting. Good luck to you and your family in Denmark over the years to come!Have you ever been educated abroad? What was your experience like?

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Sarah Barber

I am well on my way to becoming a barrister, and hope that one day my little munchkin will follow in my footsteps! I'm also a wife to a Grenadier Guard dealing with army life, and I write letters to Olivia as well as writing for the amazing blog we run over at www.mummykind.com

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