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Pupil complaints can cost jobs

Denmark's 10,000 upper-secondary teachers have been warned that details of their private lives may be published by pupils who blame them for their failure to get a university place.

GL, the upper-secondary school teachers' union, says that five teachers were dismissed last year as a direct result of pupil complaints about their teaching - and many who left because of illness became ill in the aftermath of a pupil complaint. "We've seen an increase in the number of cases where teachers have been under personal attack," said GL chair Kama Kolding.

She said this was putting teachers under stress and undermining their confidence. According to the union, files containing an evaluation of a teacher's work and character, carried out by a ministry of education assessor, also include personal details such as health, marital problems or drinking habits, although disclosure of this information is illegal. But Ms Kolding said this sensitive information, which parents pursuing a complaint may have access to under freedom of information laws, may end up in local newspapers if used by unscrupulous pupils.

Rikke Hamilton, vice-chair of DGS, the association of upper-secondary school pupils, believes that all information about the cause of poor teaching is relevant.

"In most cases the teacher's educational background is at fault. Their professional training simply isn't good enough. That is our conclusion based on the complaints lodged by pupils recorded by our office. Since the new school year started in August, we've received a dozen complaints about teachers' methods. That's a large number when you consider that the majority of pupils' complaints get no further than the principal's office."

A 1993 German research project, published in preliminary form in Denmark last year, underlines pupils' attitudes. Pupils at four Danish gymnasier characterised their teachers as professionally competent, flexible, friendly and somewhat impersonal educators who teach in a way that 50 per cent of the pupils find detached and teacher-controlled. But half the pupils found that teachers took their subject far too seriously or taught using monologues, and about 60 per cent of the pupils felt that few teachers were able to make lessons interesting or exciting.

The teachers' and pupils' associations are trying to alleviate matters by preparing guidelines for an anonymous bi-annual pupil evaluation of each teacher. The associations also agree that better professional postgraduate teacher training and improved participation in in-service training are necessary.

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