Culture of bullying and violence revealed at elite Danish school

A television documentary has deeply shaken the reputation of Herlufsholm, a prestigious boarding school where the children of many of the Danish elite attend — including the heir to the throne. 

Herlufsholm School
Herlufsholm School, founded in 1565, must answer for a culture of violence among students described in a new documentary by TV2. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

The TV2 documentary, which premiered on Thursday, describes a culture of unmitigated bullying and violence, alongside allegations of sexual assault.

The principal at the school said Friday morning that “unhealthy” traditions must be changed or stopped, in comments to broadcaster DR Sjælland.

“I will start a process beginning today with the students with a view to us stopping or changing some traditions that have an element of unhealthy culture in them,” the headteacher, Mikkel Kjellberg, said.

But Kjellberg also denied the school had a “tough” culture, only remnants of customs from former times.

“Now an again a sort of isolated case pops up. These isolated cases can have reference to the tough culture of earlier times,” he said in comments reported by news wire Ritzau.

Kjellberg also said it was “not my impression” that school management had failed to protect students.

Herlufsholm management has previously denied any issues related to traditions and culture at the high-status school.

TV2’s documentary, based on interviews with as many as 50 former students at Herlufsholm, includes accounts of violence, bullying and sexual harassment.

Criticism of the school has reached the top of Danish politics, with Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen calling the revelations brought forward by the TV2 documentary “unforgivable”.

“The school must take responsibility and put a stop to the underlying culture,” Frederiksen wrote on Facebook.

Prince Christian, 16, son of the heir to the throne Crown Prince Frederik is completing his first year as a boarding student at Herlufsholm. His younger sister Princess Isabella, 15, is slated to start next term. 

Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary have released a statement decrying the conditions at Herlufsholm as “completely unacceptable.” 

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Denmark to reduce school class sizes for small children

The Danish parliament has voted in favour of reducing the maximum class size for the youngest age groups at elementary schools.

Denmark to reduce school class sizes for small children

New classes in grades “0” to 2 (aged 6-8 years) at Denmark’s elementary schools (folkeskoler) will be limited to a maximum of 26 children from next year.

The current limit is 28 students.

The lower limit has been brought in partly to help children with special needs, Minister for Children and Education Pernille Rosenkrantz-Theil told broadcaster DR.

“This will naturally help all children and it will naturally also benefit all children with special needs in particular,” Rosenkrantz-Theil said.

“Those who find it difficult to be included in large parts of elementary school” would benefit most from the change, she said.

Despite the new limit having been adopted by parliament, a maximum of 26 children in a class is not completely guaranteed.

That is because special circumstances can allow exemptions to the rule to be applied, permitting classes of up to – but no more than – 28 children.

The rule change takes effect at the beginning of the next school year.

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