A central role in decision-making

7th November 1997 at 00:00

The heart of the Danish education system is the Folkeskole - the network of comprehensive schools attended by all children, from the age of seven until 16 or 17. In most Folkeskoles, there is a close relationship between parents and teachers, who are expected to get to know their pupils and their families well.

Genuine parental involvement in education is taken for granted as a democratic right in Denmark. Class teachers hold yearly meetings to discuss the curriculum plan with parents, and sometimes meet again to consider if it has been fulfilled.

Many also produce newsletters or write to parents regularly. Danish parents have a legal right to be informed twice a year about the academic and social progress of their children.

Each class teacher stays with the same class of children throughout their school career, and each set of parents normally chooses three or four "contact parents" who act as a link between parents and teacher. Parents are normally given teachers' home telephone numbers, and home visits by teachers are common. Danish teachers' salaries include an element representing l00 paid hours per year for duties which include informal contacts with parents.

Parents are - as the Danes say - "partners in pedagogy". They are encouraged to help their children at home, and schools may offer suggestions on different methods.

Danish teachers welcome this kind of support, but - unlike in Britain - parents are rarely seen assisting in the classroom.

Parents are in a majority on school governing boards, and the chair of the board is always a parent. The headteacher is not a voting member, but attends each meeting and acts as secretary. The board's role is to establish broad aims, objectives and policy directions, but managerial and administrative issues are for the headteacher. The teachers' union is strong in Denmark, and the professionalism of teachers is much respected.

Compared with other countries, Danish parents have a great deal of say at the national level.

They have the ear of the education ministry through Skole oj Samfund (School and Society) - the national organisation of parents' associations. Skole oj Samfund coordinates parents' views, and must be consulted by the government on certain policy issues. Parents can even influence the national curriculum.

* Maffhoeusgades Skoles Kulturcenter is a small Copenhagen Folkeskole (250 pupils) situated in an ethnically-mixed and deprived area, and in l990 was earmarked for closure.

A new headteacher, however, has transformed the school into a local cultural centre, drawing imaginatively on the resources of the community. About 40 per cent of the children are from ethnic minorities, mostly Muslim.

Parents are welcomed at any time and there are many co-operative and evening activities. On Fridays, half a dozen senior citizens join forces with 10 of the younger children, and together cook lunch for all 75 children in the three youngest grades.

The group ends the week by sharing a meal (unusual in Denmark, where packed lunches are the norm). Every summer, the whole school goes for a week to the seaside along with parents and senior citizens.

The headteacher wants all parents and children to feel that they belong to the school, and that the school - which is now oversubscribed - belongs to them. However, he does not see the parents and community members as equal partners - since they are not education professionals.

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