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SCHOOLS

EXPLAINED: Why Denmark has changed rules for upper secondary school allocation

A new agreement has been reached for a model on how students applying to Danish upper secondary school (gymnasium), are allocated their place, according to the Ministry of Children and Education.

gymnasium denmark
Denmark has changed allocation rules for admission of young students to upper secondary schools or 'gynmasier' in Danish. File photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

Gymnasium is upper high school in Denmark and is similar to sixth form in the United Kingdom or senior high school in the US.

Parties behind the gymnasium agreement, which was made in June 2021, to change how students are allocated a place at upper high school, have agreed to tweak the model after criticism from the Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) party.

Students in larger cities who don’t get a place at one of their four applied upper senior schools will now be allocated an alternative place based on transport time rather than it being a lottery (lodtrækning in Danish).

As part of the agreement, the transport time has been reduced from 60 minutes to a maximum of 45 minutes. 

If there is no space for the student at a school within the prescribed 45-minute transport time, the region may increase the capacity of the school where the applicant will have the shortest transport time, the agreement states.

According to the Ministry of Children and Education, the change will give young people a greater chance of getting a place at their local high school and have a shorter distance to travel. 

The government, the Socialist People’s Party, the Social Liberals, the Red-Green Alliance, the Alternative and the Christian Democrats are in agreement over the rule change, giving it a majority in parliament.

The new model for getting a place at gymnasium

In June 2021, a new agreement was made about how students were allocated a place at upper high school. This was to ensure smaller schools could be sustained and that those schools in the cities had a mix of students from different backgrounds. Students request a choice of four schools but they are then allocated based on criteria.

According to the agreed model, there are two categories for how admission is given; one for schools in and around cities and one for schools in less populated areas.

For students living in and around large cities, the application process will involve looking at the parents’ income, so students in each school come from a range of high, middle and low-income homes.

In the initial 2021 agreement, if there were too many students in an income group, they would be allocated a school by lottery. But now, if there are too many students in an income group, they will be allocated a school based on transport time.

For those students living outside cities, the transport time to the upper high school would be the factor assessed.

In addition, the largest upper high schools will have a tighter limit on how many students they can admit, while there will be minimum threshold for the number of students in small upper high schools. This is so all upper high schools will have at least three classes per year, corresponding to 84 students. Waiting lists will also be scrapped.

The agreement has been met with a mixed response. Kirsten Skov, principal at Marselisborg Gymnasium in Aarhus, told DR News that it is not fair on the students to not be guaranteed a place at their local gymnasium and potentially have to travel.

Ole Heinager, who heads several high schools in the west of Copenhagen was also against the plans. 

“We really want a different composition of students. However, I doubt that it helps to send 30 percent of the students from [northern, affluent district, ed.] Gentofte down to us….There will be a cultural clash, because not all our students can afford to go out to lunch at a café every day. The problem here is that the algorithms do not take into account the human factor”, Heinager told TV 2 Lorry.

However the principal of Herlev Gymnasium, Jan Vistesen told DR News that the new model would ensure schools like his have a more even distribution of pupils from different backgrounds.

“We have 40 to 50 percent of students from ethnic backgrounds other than Danish, and that, we think, is too much”, he said, explaining that it was difficult to integrate the students of different backgrounds when there was such a high proportion of them in each class.

According to the ministry, 84 percent of all applicants will still get their first choice of upper high school, compared to 90 percent with the previous model.

The political agreement has become a bill, which was tabled on 31st March. It has not yet been adopted, but is scheduled to be considered in June and implemented in 2023/24.

Earlier this month, the right wing Danish People’s Party decided to leave talks over the agreement, saying it no longer supported the changes. This means that if there is a conservative majority after the next election, it is likely that the rules will be completely changed.

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EDUCATION

EXPLAINED: How does the school system work in Denmark?

Education is compulsory in Denmark for everyone between the ages of six or seven and 16. But where you are educated is the choice of the parent, with options of private, state-run or 'free' schools.

EXPLAINED: How does the school system work in Denmark?

The Danish education system is distinguished by a relaxed relationship between pupil and teacher. Teachers are called by their first names and children often work in groups and are encouraged to challenge the established way of doing things.  Exams or assessments are often oral, with some written tests.

Most children in Denmark attend state-run schools, which are free. These are called folkeskole and gymnasium. 

Folkeskole

Folkeskole consists of one year of pre-school grade or class (0. klasse), nine years of primary and lower secondary education (1.-9. klasse) and a one-year voluntary 10th grade. Exams are taken in 9. klasse and it’s then optional as to what path the teenager (usually aged aged 16) chooses. At the end of 9. klasse, students must sit exams in seven subjects. Some of these are oral exams only.

Gymnasium

Gymnasium or upper secondary school is the equivalent of the English sixth form. 

Students can study a range of subjects in gymnasium at different levels, called a line of study (studieretning). The course contains some compulsory subjects such as Danish, English, mathematics, basic science, and history. Students can then choose a number of other subjects such as music, art, philosophy, and social studies. 

Gymnasium is for three years and results in exams called studentereksamen, which are necessary for attending university. There are however some two-year courses at gymnasium, called HF.

Vocational training (erhvervsuddannelser)

Rather than attending gymnasium after 9th grade, pupils can choose from over 100 different vocational courses that result in an apprenticeship. Some of the courses can lead to higher education, depending on the vocational training.

10th grade
 
For those pupils who are not sure whether to choose gymnasium or vocational training, there is the option to go onto 10th grade, where they can continue studying some subjects before making the decision. 10th grade or 10 klasse can be completed at folkeskole or an efterskole.
 
Ungdomsskole
 
For those children from the age of 13, who are not suited to a folkeskole setting, ungdomskole offers a more practical way of teaching. The aim is for all pupils to complete the school leaving exam after the ninth grade but it is also possible for pupils to do an internship at a company alongside teaching.

Free schools

The idea of free schools in Denmark was headed by the theologian, poet and linguist N.F.S Grundtvig (1783-1872) and teacher Christen Kold (1816-70). Grundtvig and Kold were critical of the state education system and believed learning should be something that is life-long and related to an individual’s role in the world, rather than for the purpose of exams or employment.

Today, about 13 percent of school-age children attend free schools in Denmark.

There are three types of free school: friskole, efterskole and højskole. Many of them are in rural areas, especially on Fyn, where they were first established. There are over 500 friskoler, about 250 efterskoler and 80 højskoler.  

Friskole

These self-owned independent schools offer an alternative to the state elementary schools, folkeskole. The schools operate on their own set of values and holistic teaching practices, often set between teachers and parents. The schools are subsidised by the government but parents also pay a fee, around 900 kroner a month.

Efterskole

These are independent boarding schools where teenagers (usually aged 16 after 9th grade but can be from aged 14 after 7th grade), can spend one year or more, before gong on to gymnasium, vocational training or work. The schools often specialise in a particular subject such as sport, music or language. This is where students can complete 10th grade. 

Students from abroad can also attend an efterskole for a year and Danish families living abroad often send their children here to master the language and experience Danish culture.

The price is around 3,700 kroner a month for Danish residents but can vary, depending on the school.

Højskole

The final branch of free school is called højskole and is a boarding school for young people and adults to take a specialised course, which can range from two weeks to 40 weeks. Most long-term courses run for four to five months.

The schools offer almost any subject such as history, arts, music, sports, philosophy, theatre, photography and the schools decide individually on the content of the courses. There are no tests or exams at the end of the term and you don’t need any qualifications to join a course.

Every year over 50,000 people will take a course at a højskole, many of them on one or two-week courses, which cost around 2,000 kroner. Children are allowed to join family members on some courses.

Private schools

Around 15 percent of students in Denmark attend private schools. Some parents choose private schools because they are smaller, or because they have a particular educational approach. Others choose private schools for religious reasons or because they want an international school.  

Fees are subsidised by the government are usually cost between 1,000 and 4,000 kroner per month.

When do children start school in Denmark?

Most children start school the year they turn six. In Denmark, the oldest child in the year is born in January, with the youngest in December. The transition to school begins in May, with the new academic year beginning in August. Therefore there will be some children starting school in August who are five years old but about to turn six in the coming months, just as some will be turning seven in their first year of school.

How many are in a class?

The government has recently announced that classes in grades 0 to 2 (aged 6-8 years) at Denmark’s elementary schools (folkeskole) will be limited to a maximum of 26 children from 2023. The current limit is 28 students.

Although according to the Ministry of Children and Education, the majority of all classes in the country’s folkeskoler have an average of 20 or fewer students.

How long is the school day?

The school day usually starts at 8am and finishes between 1pm and 3pm. All children must exercise an average of 45 minutes a day as part of the school day, on top of sports lessons.

After school club

Skolefritidsordning, or SFO is for children in grades 0 to 3 (six to ten year-olds) where there are staff-led activities including sport, crafts, music, computer games, board games or simply playing with friends.

It is voluntary and paid for by the parent. In Copenhagen the cost is 1,665 kroner per month.

The club usually opens at 6:30am for before-school care and closes at 5pm.

There is a leisure club called fritidsklub for the 10-11 year olds and juniorklub for 12 to 14 year olds, which costs around 448 kroner a month.

Children aged 14 to 18 can attend a youth club (ungdomsklub) which is free.

Which school do I pick?

If you do not want your child to go to the local folkeskole in your district, you are free to enrol your child in one outside your school district or in a completely different municipality, as long as there is space. You have to digitally enrol your child at your chosen folkeskole.

 

If you want to sign up to a private or free school, you should contact the school individually. 

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