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Struggling Danish schools turn down government incentives worth millions

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Struggling Danish schools turn down government incentives worth millions
Photo: Iris/Scanpix
11:57 CEST+02:00
A Danish government project to encourage students in poorer areas with financial incentives is struggling to catch on.

Even though millions of kroner have been made available to schools with students struggling in lessons, a large number of the schools have chosen not to apply for the government grant money, reports newspaper Politiken.

121 public schools (folkeskoler) across Denmark were chosen by the government for the scheme based on their lower-than-average performance in schools' final exams.

The schools are eligible to apply for 1.4 million kroner ($212,000) each year over a three-year period.

To qualify for the grant, the schools must reduce the numbers of students with low grades in Danish and mathematics by five percent per year or 15 percent over three years.

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But only 19 of the 121 eligible schools elected not to register before the deadline for application for the initiative passed on Friday.

Minister for education Merete Riisager said the lack of enthusiasm for the project was “disappointing and worrying”.

“I'm asking myself whether the head teachers have enough hairs on their chests. The initiative places responsibility on the head teachers in a way that many of them will find uncomfortable. But it's no good opting out of this project to avoid responsibility. There is still an incredible amount of responsibility for children who are faring badly,” Riisager told Politiken.

The model was a key element of the coalition agreement entered into by the Liberal (Venstre), Liberal Alliance and Conservative parties in November 2016 and is the first time the method of offering cash incentives for improving school performances has been used in Denmark.

The scheme has been criticised by a head teachers association, which says that the carrot-and-stick method is putting off potential participants.

“It is a back-to-front way of doing things. If the school's work over a year is successful, it gets the money. If not, the coffers will be empty. Participating requires a development plan, time and effort. It is a big investment to make if there is no payoff at the end,” Claus Hjortdal, chairperson with the Association of head teachers, told Politiken.

One school told the newspaper that it had opted out of joining as it saw the scheme as being too short-term.

“The long run is being aimed at rather than creating a sustainable improvement in state schools… I can't see how it will solve problems for year groups that come later,” Martin Gredal, head teacher of the Baltorpskolen school in Ballerup, said.

Lise Tingleff Nielsen, leader of the schooling department with the Danish Evaluation Institute, said that she felt the money could potentially be better used elsewhere.

“For some schools the task of improving students is very complex, and a ‘carrot' lasting more than three years is needed. There are no quick fixes,” she said.

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