Parents would pay for small classes

13th April 2001 at 01:00
DENMARK. While Danish education authorities are trying to squeeze more pupils into each classroom, seven out of 10 parents say they are willing to pay higher local taxes for better schools, according to a Gallup survey carried out for the teachers' union and the parents' association.

The parents would prefer only 20 pupils in a class, and want national standards set governing how many hours a week children spend on Danish and maths. They also want all pupils to have access to computers as well as standards set for textbooks and even for school cleaning.

"Local authority autonomy and tight finances have led to unacceptably large differences between schools in one authority and another," says Anni Herfort Andersen, who chairs the teachers' union.

She says that local authorities which set low taxes can't create the right school framework even if they want to.

The union would like to see weaker councils receiving aid through subsidies earmarked for education.

Thomas DamkjAr Petersen of the parental association said he feared a two-tier education system if politicians did not introduce national minimum stndards.

It is good news for councils that parents are willing to pay higher taxes to support their demands. They have been trying to bring the number of pupils per class up to 28, the maximum provided by law, to reduce their costs per pupil.

However, municipal or state schools have also been fighting a losing battle with the independent sector. Private schools follow the same curriculum as municipal schools and receive the same funding as them. Parents pay about a third of the total costs.

Since 1990, private schools have attracted 12.6 per cent more pupils while the equivalent figure for state schools was 0.4 per cent. While 49 new independent schools were established during the decade, 159 municipal schools closed.

The proportion of pupils attending private schools has risen from 7 to 14 per cent since 1986, when parents began to be attracted by smaller private schools with fewer pupils in each class.

But Niels Egelund, of the Danish University of Education, says those factors have probably been replaced by greater subject-related demands, clear educational policies and more discipline.

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