Illustration: Kay Xander Mellish
Kay Xander Mellish is an American who has lived in Denmark for 14 years and answered many questions from new arrivals and people thinking of moving to Denmark. She is the author of the new book How To Live in Denmark, available in print from HowtoliveinDenmark.com and as an eBook on Amazon. Kay offers How To Live in Denmark events for schools, unions and corporations, as well as a free podcast.
What are the best local primary schools in Copenhagen, and as a expat, is it possible for me to get my children into them?
Denmark is an egalitarian country, in ideology if not always in reality, so talking about 'the best schools in town' isn't dinner party conversation the way it might be in London, New York, or Beijing. There are many excellent state schools (folkeskole) and some very good private schools, but not really any single school that is known as the Harvard of the primary (grundskole) set.
Most foreigners in Denmark for a short period send their children to international schools. But these can be expensive while state schools are free. Technically, parents are allowed free choice of any public schools in their municipality (kommune) if there is space in the school for their child. In practice, the schools with the nicest facilities are often oversubscribed. (One peculiarity of Danish elementary schools is that they often have a free dental clinic onsite for the children. Even if your child doesn't go to the local school, her or she may be called to the dental clinic for an annual checkup.)
About 15 percent of Danish primary-school children attend private schools, which usually have slightly smaller class sizes than public schools. Private schools in Denmark are heavily subsidized, so they're not nearly as expensive as a private school might be elsewhere, but you should still expect to pay at least 2,000 kroner ($310) a month for each child's tuition, not counting after-school programmes.
Private schools get to choose which children they accept, of course, and a few private schools are so sought-after that parents are rumoured to call from the birthing suite to get on the waiting list for the entry class. For most other private schools, parents don't usually bother to get on the waiting list until the kids are two or three years old, since the entry class begins at age six. If you have older children, there's often no waiting list at all, but the teacher will evaluate whether or not your child fits into the chemistry of the existing class.
Each private school has a unique personality: some are religious, some are very free-form, and some demand a lot of parental involvement, like cleaning the school on weekends and helping the children put on plays. Definitely read the parent materials before signing up so you don't get an unhappy surprise.
Do you have a question for Kay? Send it to her at kay (at) howtoliveindenmark.com and we might feature the answer here.