Tag Archives: teacher unions

Lockout and reform: A turbulent year for schools in Denmark

Jakob Wandall

Jakob Wandall

As the school year begins again in Denmark, we asked education researcher and consultant Jakob Wandall to take a look back at the lockout that closed the schools last March, review the key disagreements that led to the standoff, and consider the implications for the upcoming school year and beyond.

In Denmark, the month of March is usually the most intense period of time in the school year as teachers and students prepare for final examinations; however, this past year was an exception as schools were closed. The Municipalities Association (KL), backed by the center-left government, closed the schools in an effort to dismantle long-standing teacher privileges that the teachers’ union refused to concede in negotiations. The 99 municipalities in Denmark are responsible for running the public schools.

In the first days of April, the four-week “lockout” of teachers came to an end, but as a result, schools are now valued even more highly by the more than 600,000 pupils and about 60,000 teachers who were affected.

The standoff between the Municipalities Association (KL) and the Danish Teachers’ Union (DLF) raised questions about the viability of the so-called “Danish model” on the public sector labor market, which is largely governed by collective agreements between employers and trade unions, relative equals in negotiations. These two parties are accustomed to reaching agreements without the need for the national government to step in through legislation.

Danish teachers protest during teacher lockout.

Danish teachers protest during teacher lockout.

This dispute arose because the main teachers’ union did not want to give up the principles upon which working hours were regulated. A full-time teacher taught approximately 25 class periods per week (45 minutes per lesson), unless it was decided that the teacher should perform other tasks (e.g. administrative work, guidance of pupils, further education). This equals approximately 19 teaching hours, and a total of 41 working hours per workweek. This pre-lockout arrangement resulted in schedules that consisted of less than 40% of working hours spent teaching, and no obligation for teachers to be present at school during the remaining working hours. Historically, this schedule represented the belief that teachers had a right to work independently on planning and organization.

According to the Danish model if the parties cannot come to an agreement and further negotiations seems useless, there are four possibilities: the prior agreement could be prolonged, the union could strike, the employers could institute a lockout, or the government/parliament could intervene through legislation as a last resort. The idea behind the strike/lockout is that this should hurt both sides: employers lose production and the workers lose wages. In the public sector, where there is loss of production, there is a greater risk for local politicians as the population could turn against them. In this case, there were several unsuccessful attempts by KL to dismantle the existing working time agreement with the teachers prior to the ultimate lockout of March of 2013.

While Danish students usually go to school from about 8 AM to 1 PM and often attend a publicly financed after-school club, the government and a large part of the opposition to the existing agreement wanted to extend the school day.  The additional time would be devoted to academic work and give less time for “free” play, which is something the Danes have always prioritized. Generally, the teachers were against this approach as well as the proposed changes to their workweek, which was viewed as a preliminary step to making the school day longer in the future. They wanted to solidify their right to a specific length of preparation time in a national agreement rather than leave it to local heads of school who may be pressured by budget considerations.

In the media, the government’s reform was presented as very popular; the general school debate over the last decade has been strongly influenced by mediocre PISA results. KL pointed to teachers’ working hours as the main cause of the PISA scores.

The teachers' union DLF, led by Anders Bondo Christensen (left), in grueling negotiations with Michael Ziegler (right) and KL (Photo: Scanpix)

The teachers’ union DLF, led by Anders Bondo Christensen (left), negotiated with Michael Ziegler (right) and KL (Photo: Scanpix)

At the start of the lockout, parents were faced with the prospect of no school and not knowing when it would start again. It was particularly awkward and difficult for the children. But the parents recruited grandparents, took vacation early or brought the kids along to their workplace as many companies established educational facilities or made space available for the kids. The vast majority in the population felt that this was a legitimate fight between municipalities and the teachers union, and that it should be fought without intervention.

On April 2nd, The Danish parliament passed a law that decided the terms and conditions of Danish teachers without consulting them. The DFL argued that the lockout was premature, heavy-handed, and unfairly one-sided in favor of the local authorities. The teachers union had lost the battle.

But what about the teachers? Many of them spent a month trying to mobilize support led by their trade union and used Facebook and email to show the Danes that they were against the action taken by KL. Most appeared to be delighted to get back to work, despite the general opposition to the agreement forced through by the government. After the conflict everyone worked together and the majority felt that there were no negative effects on cooperation inside the school. Many local governments and school leaders silently disapproved of the lockout. Despite the loss of one month, the mandatory tests and examinations were carried out according to plan. Whether the students have learned less will probably never be explored.

On June 8th 2013, the government and a majority of the opposition in the parliament agreed upon the details for a new plan for school reform. Beginning in August of 2014, the students in Denmark will be spending more time in school. At the same time the applications to teacher training colleges in Denmark has dropped dramatically and 1 out of 2 teachers in Denmark is considering leaving the profession.

The debate over whether this additional teaching time will lead to a better school and more proficient students is ongoing. Meanwhile, at this year’s annual Soroe Meeting (a traditional meeting that brings together those most familiar with pressing educational concerns, including members of parliament, educational journalists, civil servants, researchers, and others) invitees met to discuss leadership and preparation for change. This annual meeting has a strong impact on Danish educational policy, which makes this year’s theme (“Klar til fremtidens skole,” meaning  “Ready for the School of the Future”) of great interest to those concerned about what will happen with Denmark’s schools in the near future. While reporters in attendance do not write about what is discussed at this informal meeting, many attendees shared their experiences on Twitter.

For more information:

Scan of Ed News: Protests, Unions, and Educational Funding

(links to articles are embedded as hyperlinks)International-Travel-Agency-262545-262545-1so

This month’s scan of recent educational research and news reveals a number of inter-connected issues that are arising in different places around the world.  In part one of this month’s scan, we highlight teacher and student protests, the role of teacher unions, and the uses of educational funding. Part II, which will appear later this week, will share reporting on issues of curriculum, testing, teacher and school evaluations, and higher education.

Teacher and Student Protests:

Ongoing protests highlight a globalized concern surrounding the issue of access to high quality education. Student protests in countries such as Portugal, Chile, Bulgaria, and Spain, focus on changing the system in ways that allow greater opportunity for access, while teacher protests Spain, Greece, and France, aim to preserve an established system now threatened by austerity measures. These protests highlight issues dominant in global news reports in recent weeks, such as the role of teacher unions and educational funding.

The Role of Teacher Unions in Ed Reform: Mexico and South Korea

The Hankyoreh

Korea Teachers and Education Workers’ Union (KTU), The Hankyoreh

Mexico recently witnessed the arrest of Elba Esther Gordillo, long-time president of Mexico’s teachers’ union. Charged with organized crime, Ms. Gordillo’s arrest was widely seen as a boon to education reformists and government officials because it called into question the integrity of unions and provided an example of the disruption of “business-as-usual,” at a time when the government is imposing drastic new reformsUnion leaders say these reforms will lead to students having no guarantee of free public schooling; however, the arrest of Gordillo highlights Mexico’s struggle with corruption, seen by many to be the main prohibitor of change. Two recent studies published by the Asia Pacific Journal of Education, found that school reformers should be “advised to rethink the school change model design in a way of fully capturing human aspects in the reform process.” Nevertheless, we can see direct examples of government threats against unions in South Korea, where teachers are now fighting against government efforts to withdraw recognition of the teachers’ union, and in South Africa, where politicians and lawyers are fighting to have education declared an “essential service,” a move that would make it illegal for teachers to go on strike.

Educational Funding:

While most student protests demand affordable higher education, many governments are focused on providing free education to children of all ages. One example is India, where the Karnataka High Court has declared that all private school students between six and 14 years of age are eligible for free education, not just those from poor families gaining admission under a 25% quota fixed by the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act. However, it is also interesting to note that India’s private schools are expanding and raising their tuition rates. According to L.R. Shivarame Gowda, chairperson of the Joint Action Committee of Private Schools, tuition hikes are necessary for providing quality education: “The numbers of private schools in the city are multiplying, so schools need to provide better facilities to keep in pace with the development and retain students.”  In Japan, the issue of educational funding has become more political, as the government has decided to deny North Korean schools access to their tuition-free program. Education Minister Shimomura presented his view that schools under the influence of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan conflict with the Fundamental Law of Education which calls for education free from any undue political influence. As reported in the International Review of Education, China’s private universities offer an example of institutions that struggle financially, yet provide the people with alternatives that might ultimately allow more students to benefit from the advantages of higher education; however, China also provides an example of how funding alone might not provide children with the education they deserve. The country’s system of residential registers favors those who live in big cities – a holdover from the era of a planned economy, originally used as the basis for rationing of food and other necessities – is fast developing into a serious social issue.

The Hindu

The Hindu


Denmark: School Reform

Photo: Klaus Holsting

Anders Bondo Christensen
Photo: Klaus Holsting

The latest school reform proposal in Denmark calls for a 25-hour workweek for teachers, inclusion education, measurable goals, and a collaborative discussion about teacher training. Despite the fact that the reform has controversial implications for wages, work hours, and professional development, Anders Bondo Christensen (chairman of the Danish Union of Teachers) has garnered the support of the majority of teachers. Christensen is now hoping that Education Minister Christine Antorini will see that the plan is close to the government’s objectives.

Education Minister Christine Antorini

Education Minister Christine Antorini

However, in a controversial move, Minister Antorini has just  introduced a large-scale study in which more than 3,500 students in a total of 200 schools will be taught in their native languages, including Arabic and Turkish. In a press release, Antorini said, “We want to know more about what helps develop the language skills and knowledge of bilingual students. The trials will use and strengthen the tools that some schools and councils already have available today.”

Danish People's Party Education Spokesperson, Alex Ahrendsten

Danish People’s Party Education Spokesperson, Alex Ahrendsten

Alex Ahrendtsen, Danish People’s Party education spokesman, expressed the his disapproval.  “I’m shocked,” he said. “In the midst of school talks, she allows such a bomb blast.It destroys a really suitable climate for negotiations.” Instead, Ahrendtsen would prefer to see greater efforts to include bilingual students in Danish culture.

Other Nordic countries are debating similar issues and are watching closely.

For more information:

Please consult links embedded in the scan above, as well as those listed below.

Primary School Gets Back Hours in Mother Tongue (link in Danish)

Broad Support for Bondo’s Teacher Initiative (link in Danish)

Liberal Alliance: High school test should not determine access to secondary education (in Danish)

Germany

German state of Baden-Württemberg axes 11,600 teacher jobs in the next few years (in German)
Spiegel Online (10 July 2012)

The minister of Baden-Württemberg announced an “awakening of education” when he was elected in 2011.  Now, the “awakening” has come:  11,600 teacher jobs will be cut in the next couple years. Although many in the state have doubts about these teacher cuts, the minister and others believe that they’re needed due to budget shortfalls.  Furthermore, the number of pupils in schools has dropped by 15,000 over the last five years in Baden-Württemberg.  Proponents of the teacher firings thus believe that less teachers are needed in general.  Opposing the measure are the teacher unions, who are shocked by the minister’s measure to fire so many teachers.

New Zealand

Parata keen to avoid another fight with teachers
Young, A.  New Zealand Herald (20 June 2012)

While Minister of Education Hekia Parata is keen to avoid another fight with teachers, her Ministry will be compiling and releasing some “useful” information based on the National Standards that is meaningful for learners, schools, and parents.  Earlier, Prime Minister John Key opened debate about league tables when he expressed support for them.  (League tables compare data from different academic institutions.)  The teacher union believes league tables “would have a severely damaging effect on children’s education and would unfairly label schools and students as failing.”  Professor Martin Thrupp, an expert on school league tables says, “introducing the system here would lead to schools narrowing their teaching focus, competing for the ‘best’ students and rejecting those who fall behind in order to reach national targets.”