The percentage of Danish students enrolled in the public school system fell from 82 percent in 2008 to 78 percent in the 2014-15 school year, numbers from the Ministry of Education reveal. The number of students now attending private schools, meanwhile, has reached 16 percent.
Many are seeing the decline in public school enrolment as a sign of frustration over last year's school reform, described as the most comprehensive education reform in modern Danish history. The biggest changes to the public school system included the implementation of a longer school day, more hours in Danish and maths, and an increased focus on foreign languages.
See also: Denmark's public schools enter a new era
Another element is the concept of ‘inclusion', which has seen a slight increase in the number of special-needs students who have been brought in to the public schools' normal classes. The Ministry of Education said in a press release this week that the number of students in special classes has fallen by around 6,800 since the 2010-11 school year.
For many parents, the reform has been a disappointment and still carries with it the bitter memories of a conflict over teachers' working hours that resulted in some 67,000 teachers nationwide being locked out from their jobs for three weeks in April 2013.
When classes resume on Monday, there will be 21 brand-new private schools nationwide, the largest number of new schools in several years.
The chairman of the Danish Union of Teachers (Danmarks Lærerforening) said the new private schools are a direct result of the school reform.
“These are schools that are opening in protest,” Anders Bondo Christensen told Politiken.
Kirsten Von Wildernradt is one of the parents who have opted to send their children to brand-new private schools rather than keeping them in the public system.
“The framework after the public school reform has become too rigid. It is very stiff in comparison to the opportunities one has in a private school,” she told broadcaster DR.
Von Wildernradt's daughter will attend the new Marieskolen in Tønder, where the school's associate leader said that the conflict surrounding the school reform still lingers.
“There are a lot of things that take the focus away [in public schools, ed.], including the new school reform and the lockout. It has unfortunately taken the focus away from the things that the public school system can do,” Birgitte Klippert told DR.
Christensen from the teachers' union warned that Denmark is quickly approaching the “pain threshold” when it comes to the number of students who are choosing private schools over the public system.
“If the resourceful residents turn away from the public schools, there is no one left to carry them,” he told Politiken.