Worried parents warm to hotline

3rd March 1995 at 00:00
More than half the calls to a Danish parents' telephone hotline are complaints about poor teaching.

Ase Birk Mortensen, who helps run one of the telephone hotlines for pupils and their parents, said many parents would like to complain directly to the school but fear it will affect their child's welfare. Parents, he said, are often too frightened to raise their concerns with the school's governing body and instead air their views on the anonymous radio phone-ins.

Erik Hakonsen, a lecturer at the teachers' training college at Arhus and a counsellor on a phone-in, said: "Parents put their unwillingness to participate openly and directly in our radio programme down to anxiety that their children will be teased - or worse - in school if they bring a problem up. That's an unreasonable excuse."

Thomas Damkjaer Petersen, the chairman of the Copenhagen branch of the parental organisation Skole og Samfund (School and Society), says parents' hesitancy in criticising a school or teacher is understandable: "Parents are afraid that a complaint will affect their children at school. But generally that doesn't happen. Complaints are dealt with professionally."

His organisation wants to have more say in the dismissal of poor teachers. While most of the complaints that Skole og Samfund receives are about poor teachers, only 25 of the 60,000 teachers in Denmark's publicly-run schools were fired in 1994. The organisation believes that more than 850 Danish schools have teachers who cannot teach "satisfactorily".

"It's almost impossible to fire a poor teacher," says Skole og Samfund's Peter Bach. "Boards of governors who complain about poor teachers should keep a file of written complains from parents."

These could then be used to pressure principals and local education authorities into tackling the problem of poor teachers: first counselling, then training, and only when these fail should the teacher be sacked.

Teacher dismissal is not the only area where Skole og Samfund wants more influence. In a proposal to a Ministry of Education commission, due to publish its findings at the end of 1995, the parents' organisation says it wants the law about running schools changed so the local education authorities no longer appoint the principals and the teachers; the boards of governors should appoint the principals instead, and the principals should hire and fire teachers.

"Councils do not have enough knowledge of what happens at schools to appoint and fire teachers," says Birgitte Bjerregaard, national chair of Skole og Samfund.

Jorn Ostergaard, chairman of Danmarks Laererforening (the teachers' association), says: "It's a mistake to believe that a school can appoint or dismiss a teacher and then send the bill to the council - the council will no longer have a say in the matter if the Skole og Samfund proposal is adopted.

"Skole og Samfund has no basis for saying that half of Denmark's schools have incompetent teachers. It's time they stopped witch-hunting us."

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