Danish teachers go 9 to 5

Well actually I mean 7.30 to 3.30 but that doesn’t have any ring to it.

So the 4-week lockout of Danish school teachers is finally over after the government intervened with some emergency legislation. And the result is as follows:

From August 2014 Danish teachers

  • Must be on school premises from 7.30 to 3.30
  • Lose their guaranteed preparation time
  • Lose any guarantee of maximum teaching hours
  • Gain a slight salary increase
  • Gain a higher budget for professional development
  • Lose an age-related reduction in teaching hours (offered some years ago instead of a salary increase)

Essentially what the Danish government sought and got was to transform teachers into old-fashioned, time-serving civil servants, ever present during the day (and in that way following in the footsteps of Yahoo), knocking off at 3.30 pm every day, with the detail of their working conditions to be decided by each individual school leader instead of through a national agreement. And while the school leaders may initially find it easiest to adopt ‘same procedure as last year, in the not so long term they will be forced to make decisions based on the statistics by which they will be measured which are essentially all about placings in the PISA rankings.Yes, those PISA reports which so many are beginning to recognise are not the greatest guide to school performance.

In practice I’m not sure how that can work. When I was teaching fulltime both in the UK and Denmark, my workload varied enormously depending on the time of year and depending on the marking and other projects to be done. Asking me to spread that evenly over 37 hour weeks would have been almost impossible and pedagogically unsound. The importance of rapid feedback is being increasingly recognized and my daughters have already had to wait impossibly long periods to get meaningful feedback on their schoolwork so now we can look forward to the gap between handing in and receiving feedback to get even longer and even less useful. Parents are also wondering whether this means the end of parents’ evenings and other events as most of them cannot attend daytime appointments. Since the agreement gives school leaders much more responsibility for setting out teachers’ responsibilities we can expect a great deal of diversity to emerge.

The promise of additional professional development should in principle be welcome but in this new time-serving culture is likely to be measured in hours and days of same old, same old traditional courses on or off the premises rather than effectiveness. I wonder if there will be space for innovative professional development such as building your personal learning network and action research?  And surely, in the teaching profession, of all professions, professional development should reflect everyday practice so what sort of signal does this send about effective learning practices?

A critical question is about how the teachers are going to react? Will they leave the profession in droves? Will they work to rule, strictly 37 hours per week, every single week? Will they really stop taking work home? Or will there be a sudden flowering of creativity prompted by the time limit? I have already heard today, on the first day of the return to work, about one teacher who has notified her pupils that she will no longer be contactable through informal channels and outside of school hours and that about 50% of students due to complete their teacher training this summer are considering NOT applying for a teaching job.

Public reaction is very polarized between supporting the teachers and viewing the teachers as lazy and over-privileged (see for example the comments at the bottom of this Copenhagen Post article though it has to be said these are probably mostly foreigners not steeped in the Danish Grundtvig culture of education).

Bottom line though is how the school leaders are going to react because now everything is dependent on them.

On balance I think this settlement based on a regularly paced time allocation for everything is a retrograde step which is not just of local interest. The education minister in the UK now has a convenient European precedent for extending the school day. If this is to work, one of the main requirements is going to have to be to take an annual working hours perspective rather than a weekly working hours one.

Image credit: Forty Two

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