Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Country That Found Itself without Any Schools: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Country That Found Itself without Any Schools: News

Article excerpt

The bizarre tale of Denmark's month-long teacher 'lockout'.

Since the time of the Vikings, the small Nordic nation of Denmark has kept a low profile, with a few forays into the limelight thanks to a certain gloomy television detective. However, a somewhat farcical turn of events in its previously calm education scene has flung the country into the international spotlight.

For an entire month, local government employers banned 52,000 teachers from working, after it reached a deadlock with the Danish Union of Teachers (DLF) over radical changes to the way working hours are decided.

Neither side would budge on the issue, so schools for children aged up to 16, as well as adult and vocational institutions, were closed for four consecutive weeks. But this week - after an unprecedented intervention from the Danish government - 600,000 children and 300,000 adult learners finally had their teachers back.

Whether staff will be happy is another issue: the emergency law passed on Friday will force teachers to accept fundamental changes to the way their working hours are decided. A 25-hour cap on teaching time will be lifted and decisions over hours will be placed in the hands of principals. A reduced timetable for teachers over the age of 60 will be abolished.

The body representing local teacher employers, Kommunernes Landsforening, said it had been forced to take the unusual action of "locking out" members of the DLF because the union would not agree to the changes. Currently, all working hours arrangements are negotiated between local employers and the union every four years.

Line Aarsland, a spokesperson for the employers, said teachers' special rights to negotiate their contracts had been in place since 1922, and had become a barrier to reform.

"Experts have said that if the Danes want to improve the school system, they have to change the very rigid system where the union controls everything," she said during the dispute. "You can say we don't have any school leaders in Denmark at the moment because they are just managing a contract negotiated by the union. Everyone is saying you have to make it more flexible, you have to let the leaders lead.

"This time (by imposing the lockout), we are trying to go all the way to say we need to get rid of this special right to negotiate everything."

But the DLF - led by Anders Bondo Christensen, described by one blogger as "Harry Potter with elbow patches" - refused to change its position. The union claims that the plans are a way of extending the school day while saving money.

Henrik Viftrup, a teacher of 10-year-olds at Ny Hollaenderskolen in Copenhagen, said that every teacher would have to enter into negotiations with their principals about working conditions. …

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