A last tour

Our last day of visits took us to two different places.  Our first was to Donhead Preparatory School, a Jesuit school in Wimbledon that is a stepping stone to some of the exclusive grammar schools in the area and although they focus on academic achievements the Jesuit way is more important for them.  It is not often I step into religious or independent schools but I see many similarities here to the school I taught in during my time in England.  Learning is organised by topics and although lessons are inquiry driven the assessment pieces and learning activities are similar to those I taught 5 years ago.  It is like stepping into a museum of my teaching career.  I am confused by how it makes me feel that teaching in the primary sector hasn’t changed and students are learning the same things as the children 10 years ago, in a world that has changed considerably since then.

The highlight of the visit was having Josh show us around.  He was entertaining, interesting and showed a true care to others around him.  I could see the values of the Jesuit school coming out in the way Josh interacts with us.  The school values the fact that every boy can be their best and that they are privileged so therefore must show generosity to others.  He obviously loved learning and being at school but he also understood that he was lucky to be in his position of privilege.

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It is interesting that the things we hear from this school is not about testing or scores. In fact they try and move away from that.  They don’t want students to be a label, such as other schools when they are labeled according to their academic score.  They recognise that childhood is under threat in the area they live, that test scores are strangling the innocence of kids in this area as they push to get into the best secondary schools.  I see a pattern here of the lower the socio economic area you live the more tests are the focus of your education, whereas the more privileged a student the less emphasis on tests.

Well I thought there was a pattern until I visited LeSoCo, the further education college in Lewisham. Further education colleges are a vocational alternative to 6th form colleges for students in their 12th and 13th year of schooling.   According to the LeSoCo Ofsted report, Lewisham is “ranked as the 31st most deprived of 326 local authorities in England, and is characterised by significant socio-economic and educational disadvantages.”  I was blown away by their approach to students.   Maybe it had something to do with being treated as adults, or at least young adults and this is supported by being at a different location to their lower secondary education.  It could also have to to with the ethos of the college. In all of the presentations at the college the students were referred to as learners.   A nice moment of respect was when a student stopped our guide, Mark, to ask where they needed to go to reset their internet account.  Mark, not quite sure where to send her, asked us politely if it would be OK if he showed her where to go. Even though he had visitors with him, he put the student first.

On our tour  of the drama and dance areas with Mark, I couldn’t help but be energised by his enthusiasm for the quality teachers they had at the college.  We visited a drama class with students who were in their second year of college.  I am not sure if it was the nature of a drama class but the teacher was using a dance steps to learn about Iambic Pentameter. It was very hands on.  One thing that was clear was the respect for  the students.  Mark was the quality teaching co-ordinator for the school and was very proud to have such a great teacher working at the school.  With constant feedback and experience based learning she was a teacher he was showcasing to others.

In the dance class it was interesting to see the students working together.  They had to produce  a short dance routine and were having an opportunity to practice, receiving feedback from their teacher.  Not really anything different to what we would expect in a dance class in Australia except I found the students to have a strong mutual respect for other students in the class.  As each of the pairs had their turn, the others in the class would offer their feedback and some students were asking for extra instruction from others. It was very supportive and I wonder how they have been able to create this.

PicMonkey Collage

 

Aspirations

At today’s visit is to Quintin Kynaston Academy, located just around the corner from Abbey Road Studios, it was wonderful to have students greeting and talking to us as we signed in at the school.  Students sharing their school and being proud of their learning environment is always an exciting way to see a school.  These students were very eager to talk and chat as they showed us around the school.

After the tour we had the opportunity to see some specific areas of the school such as the young carers group.  This group of KS3 & 4 students are carers of parents with mental illnesses who meet weekly to talk about strategies, share frustrations and develop awareness across the school. The self referred group has 8 students today and they are open and articulate about why they are there.  It was lovely to see students who are forgotten by a system such as this getting support not only from their school but their peers too.

I also had an opportunity to see the Aspire unit at the school. This unit is similar to a Pupil Referral Unit but sits within the school.  Students are referred to a PRU if they are excluded or unable to attend mainstream school where they can receive a more tailored and personalised program and some of the students here are referrals such as these from outside schools but can also come from within the school.  What makes this unique is the fact that the referral unit is attached to the school and classes are taught by mainstream teachers.  In Aspire students work in small numbers with teachers and support staff towards 5 GCSEs with two optional subject areas such as construction, hospitality or art.

I could see they were very passionate about offering opportunities for students but I find I am second guessing the school’s motives.  Is it really the students they have in mind when developing these programs or is it about the money. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to appear to be putting down schools and teachers and I don’t for a minute think that teachers are thinking money but that it the effect the policy in this country has.

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Our second visit for the day cements my thinking about the pressures on schools with the push towards marketisation of education and academy schools. At our visit to the Jack Petchey Academy they explain they were one of the original new labor academies set up in 2006 to replace the failing Kingsland School with new buildings.

The idea of closing a school and starting a new one in exactly the same location to improve education intrigues me. I wonder how many of the students who attended the school before the closure of Kingsland school are still enrolled at the school.  I know that as a Labour Academy they would be able to select 10% of the students based on the specialisation of Health, Care and Medical Science as to change the socio economic standing of the school.  It would be interesting to see how long the school was closed for, where the students went in the meantime and how many of the original students returned to the school when it reopened.

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This visit certainly got the conversation going in our group.  Many were upset with the amount of testing that was done.  And it seemed they were very proud of testing their students every three weeks and completing ‘Mocksteds’ whereas to many of us that is not what education is about.  The school seemed to be very strict and rules were enforced tightly. I have always had a belief of education being a better method than adding rule after rule. It appeared here that there were a lot of rules enforcing what they believe students needed for their work life but I would question whether they are learning or  just becoming compliant.

The fact that the sponsor could decide on some rules within the school worried me. It was mentioned that Jack Petchey is a great sponsor and although he is interested in the school he does not enforce them to do anything, except for the rule about no chewing gum.  So although in this instance Jack Petchey doesn’t make the rules the system is set up that it is possible for sponsors to decide on the values, rules and the way the school is run.

A common theme of the academies we visited was their use of language to describe functions within the school.  On speaking to the deputy at Petchey I asked about using principal instead of head teacher.  She said she felt it sounded better and more “businessy.”  It is interesting that they found it was a good thing to be using business speak in their school.  They also used words like line manager, deploy and secure, demonstrating the changing face of schools.

Once again there is no blaming the school for this but this is the repercussion of the system in place.  In listening to the school they are passionate about offering the best possible opportunities for students but they are surrounded by a system which promotes competition and testing.

Guest Learner at St Catherine’s, Cambridge

Today we headed to Cambridge for our first school visit in England.  We arrive at Parkside Academy, which is a federation academy meaning they run more than one school.  In this case there are two secondary colleges and a Sixth Form college.  They are also about to have another school join their federation.  Federations begin when a successful school takes over the running of a less successful school.  At Parkside their reason for doing this is a feeling of obligation to help out the failing school and also the economies of scale which come with having two schools. This concerns me deeply when the government are no longer responsible for a school but this obligation falls to neighbouring schools.  If governments are no longer responsible for ensuring good quality education for everyone it sends a message that they don’t believe education should be a priority. Don’t get me wrong, Parkside appear to be doing a great job, but governments shouldn’t rely on this as a means to ‘fixing’ failing schools.

A short walk from the main campus of Parkside is their 6th form college (Years 12 & 13 or similar to VCE).  It offers the International Baccalaureate, an internationally renowned programme which encourages students to ask questions, develop their own identity, respect and communicate with others and learn how to learn. I am interested in how a programme like this fits into the rigid English inspection system. Ofsted, the office which carries out regular inspections on schools in England, is often presumed  to be looking for good test results or value added education. Here the focus is on creative learners who learn more than just facts and they believe this fits with the expectation of Ofsted.  It is interesting that some schools see Ofsted in relation to test results, where others look to the more holistic elements of education.

Our afternoon visit is one I have been looking forward to.  A look inside the hallowed halls of Cambridge University.  It really is like another world, not because of the fancy paintings on the walls or the beautifully manicured lawns but because of how few people get the opportunity to be part of the inner workings of Cambridge.  With only 400 students at St Catherine’s, from approximately 9000 undergraduates at the 31 colleges, you can see to get a University of Cambridge degree is a rather privileged affair.

Some of the features of the college include shortened terms where they attend for 3 x 8 week blocks.  It is expected throughout this time to be completely dedicated to college life and schooling.  Trips home for the weekend are discouraged during term time and you are expected to take part in the healthy competition between colleges.  A feature of the Cambridge system is the 1:1 mentor [programme where students spend an hour a week with their mentor teacher receiving guidance.

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But we weren’t actually there to learn about St Catherine’s but rather to attend a seminar on career policy by St Catherine’s Professor, Tony Watts. He spoke of his study into the development of careers guidance in 14 countries and concluded that no one does it very well.  Across the world there is a lack of education based around identity formation, occupational identify, industry connections, funding and curriculum focus.  He looks to Germany as a model most with their dual system, strong career advice, relationships with unions and the respected ideal of vocational learning.

As I leave St Catherine’s, making sure not to stand on the grass (it is only allowed by fellows and frowned upon by commoners!) I realise on the inside, St Catherine’s has many similarities to any university as they look to answer questions and learn what they can.

 

Tough Training

This post is part of a series reflecting on my international study tour to Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

Today’s visit, our last in Berlin, took us to a gymnasium in Kreuzberg, Leibniz Schule.  840 students attend this all day (which includes after school extra subjects and care for those who want it) school which has a 30% intake of German as a second language.  Students at this school are tracked from year 6 as they choose the more academic stream and work towards the Arbitur giving them access to university education.

Outside the school

Leibniz School has a focus on 5 pillars of languages, maths, music and arts, method curriculum ( teaching about organisation and management of learning) and civil learning.  The students who spoke to us from year 11 were very proud of their languages program and from listening to the fluent english speaking of the students it is obviously successful.  Students have the opportunity to be taught in English or French, giving them even more fluency.

As I saw in the Copenhagen schools, student activism is strong, although it appears to be more like what I have seen in Australia with students painting murals in the school buildings to brighten the environment.  They also attend the year 7 camp, as mentors, which runs for a week at the beginning of gymnasium to get to know each other and learn skills in time management and organisation.

Recently the school had worked with an educational initiative Mehr Als Lernen, translated to ‘More than Learning.’  Throughout this process the students worked with the organisation to implement more student activism.  This included having students workshop with teachers on how they felt the classes should be taught. Martine, the teacher in the room said it was a great initiative and the teachers learnt a lot from the experience although many did not take on board what was learned.

It is evident here that students have a lot more civic learning where each year they learn political science.  As the election has just taken place in Germany many of the students I have spoken to are very aware of politics and the policies of the different parties.  In fact at this school they had organised an internal vote.  Over a few weeks students learned about the different policies each party had and then voted according to their own preference.  As youth in Germany can not vote until the age of 18 (although the Länder or State elections allow people to vote from 16 upwards) it was not counted but they were able to compare how the student population voted compared to their electorate.  Here in Kruezberg the electorate is the only elected Green seat, like the Melbourne City electorate and the school voting also reflected this. After our recent election in Australia I have been thinking about the lack of education when it comes to our political system and believe this system in Germany is something Australian schools should be thinking about more.

We also had an opportunity to talk to some trainee teachers who were in the room.  Many of these teachers were in their late 20s and had already completed their Bachelor of Arts and a 2 year Master degree to become a teacher.  They were currently completing their 2 year teacher training time in schools, which they work at 40% of the standard wage.  As part of this practice the trainee teachers attend weekly seminars with teacher trainers, focussing on their schools and developing further their theoretical understandings.  They seem well supported and create a network in other graduate teachers, with the support of their training supervisor.

Talking to trainee teachers

Graduating students are allocated a school and it is a luck of the draw which location and school type you get. Speaking to one trainee teacher she had been allocated one of the toughest schools in Berlin, which was part of the new pilot school program, Gemeinschaftsschule, where students are not tracked into an integrated school or a gymnasium but all students attend the same school from first grade to 12th grade with the option of getting A levels or taking a more vocational strand. This school was chosen as a pilot school due to its difficult past.  It is well known in Berlin after the staff walked off the job in 2006 due to terrible working conditions and fear for their safety.

It was interesting to hear a trainee teacher talk about the positives to the tracking system as it wasn’t fair for the brighter students nor for the less academic students who didn’t get the extra help they needed.  Once again the idea of tracking students into more vocational and academic streams has positives I had neglected to see, and am not yet convinced of, the repercussions for students later in their learning career or lives. Obviously for Berlin they are making large changes to their education system and I am expecting their will be many changes to come in the next few years as they seem to be aligning more with the British/Australian system of inclusion.

 

Learning for working

This post is part of a series reflecting on my international study tour to Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

Angelika greets us this morning from the Oberstufenzentrum – Kommunikations, Informations und Medientechnik. The OSZ is a gymnasium offering more career focused education and vocational subjects. It is clear from a tour of the school that they focus on media, with more media equipment than I would expect to find in a TV studio! The school has both full vocational and dual students and offer the university exam, the Arbitur.

Media equipment

We start with Angelika introducing three students from the school aged 25, 23 and 18.  Most schools like this have a small percentage of mature age students.  The first student talks of how he didn’t identify with his first attempt at a Gymnasium and much prefers the opportunity to have lots of options.  The second student, who has returned to study after being musician (he had recently had a top ten hit in Germany).  He enjoys the project based learning which occurs.

Around the school

Angelika and the students talk a lot about behaviour and how much time is dedicated to managing it.  Sitting in the middle of a deprived district of Berlin it is known for difficult students.  They do a  lot of work on setting rules and expectations, getting to class on time and creating a working climate.  Walking around the school it certainly doesn’t feel like a place that needs working on culture and students seem engaged. When we walk into an editing class, students are working in groups on a project and are assisting each other on their work. The equipment in the room is well planned so they can work in pairs or small groups but still have access to everything they might need.

Striking Berlin

This post is part of a series reflecting on my international study tour to Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

Today we arrive at the Robert Junke Oberschule, an integrated Secondary School (ISS) named after the Austrian writer of nuclear weapons.  This school, which is an integrated version of the Hauptschule, Gesamtschule, and Realschule offers vocational classes such as woodwork, metalwork, textiles and home economics as well as basic education such as German, English and Physics.

Art seen inside Robert Junk Oberschule

The interest for us in today’s visit was not only about the school but the fact that our visit fell on a strike day.  In Berlin there are two types of teachers, the public servant teachers and the contracted teacher.  Historically there had been a deal made with teachers that they could be seen as public servants, have job security, good pensions and better pay if they agreed not to strike.  More recently teachers who have been employed do not have these luxuries or securities and were therefore striking to get more even benefits.  Interestingly those who striked were reimbursed for their day’s wages by the union which they pay €30 a month.  It was also interesting to see a strike so close to an election but as in Australian, schools are controlled by the Länder (Similar to our State Government) and this is who they were striking against.

Unfortunately, due to the strike we didn’t get to see any classrooms and work with the students, but it was interesting to hear about the work they did with bilingual learning at the school. Students have an opportunity to take all of their classes in Polish or German and can choose to take their exams in either language. The school of 950 is well known in Berlin for its Polish program with some students travelling an hour to school each day.

Images of the school

In Berlin there is free choice of schools so it is important for schools to offer something above and beyond..  For the Robert Junke Oberschule their intake each year is made up of 60% of those students with the best marks, 10% of students who have special considerations for attending a particular school (which sounds a little like vouchers but they rarely take any students in this scenario) and 20% are chosen from a hat. There are minimum grades required to come to the school with 1 being the highest score and 6 the lowest.  Robert Junke sit at 2.6 putting it in the higher range.

We heard from Thomas, the principal about class sizes. He made mention of Hattie’s research, which was not the first time it had been mentioned in Berlin or Copenhagen.  Although Thomas took a different view and was disgusted with Hattie’s research suggesting class sizes don’t matter.  He is determined to have smaller class size. For some in our group they were surprised to hear of Hattie’s popularity in Germany but Thomas explains he is so well known in Germany because everyone can take something from his data, policy writers can say the money doesn’t make a difference but teachers can use it to say they are important in education.

Once again there is very little technology seen in the schools.  The teachers do not know how to use the technology so they don’t bother with spending the money. Thomas believes in putting money into student well being instead and shows us the rooms they have created for students to rest and relax.

Student rest and relaxation room

Our afternoon visit today was to the Technology University Berlin where Dr Stefan Wolf spoke to us about the vocational stream in Germany.  The Dual system of Germany is world renowned for its comprehensive education of basic skills as well as in company training.  Students study German, English, Maths, Political Science and then subjects from their learning field.  With the very low youth unemployment rate in Germany it has been seen as a huge success although Stefan was skeptical of the system due to the difficulty in getting companies to take on apprentice students where only 20% of companies offer an apprenticeship. “It is a policy not in real practice.”

Stefan said it was not an expectation that apprentices stay on with their company when they finish their apprenticeship. It fact it is rare for this happen and most apprentices find a full time job for another company.

Welcome to Berlin

This post is part of a series reflecting on my international study tour to Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

We were welcomed to Berlin by the Peter Petersen UNESCO school.  This school had always taken the Peter Petersen name but had worked as any other school in Berlin.  It wasn’t until the centenary of the death Peter Petersen in 1984 that the school began to look into its namesake and they realised a change to the way the school ran was required.  Peter Petersen was a former educational reformist who believed in a more holistic approach to education.  He promoted the use of mixed age groups and believed education should evolve around 4 basic principles of conversation, play, celebration and work.

I think schools in Australia actually take on board much of this belief of education, especially in the area of multi age groups. One thing I noticed from this school was the way they could articulate why they choose to group students, rather than Australia where we tend to group students due to numbers in the school.  Here they chose multiage groups of Prep, 1 and 2 and 4,5 & 6 as it helps build self esteem, teaches students to accept and offer help and allows the to take responsibility for their learning and the learning of others. “It is normal to be different” is a mantra at Peter Petersen school.

PicMonkey Collage

As students enter school here it is a large celebration, not only at the school but in the homes of new school goers. On the first day of school children wake to a large bag of presents such as cute stationery.  All of the family arrive to wish the child well.  When they arrive at school they are introduced to all of the students in a special celebration.

In the visit to this UNESCO school I can see a lot of similarities to Australia, especially when compared to Copenhagen.  When we had a chance to sit in a Prep/1/2 classroom for a few minutes they were learning about fire and using toy telephones to pretend to call the emergency number.  Students were in groups, the teacher using a smartboard to record ideas.  At this particular school there are 22 different nationalities with 60% of the school’s population from immigrant backgrounds.

Students arrive at school a little earlier than us starting at 8.20am and is started with a 90 minute teaching session.  At 9.50 students have breakfast and this is followed by a 10 minute silent relaxation/reflection time. Another 90 minute block takes them into their second break before school finishes at 2pm unless you are in grade 4/5/6 who will return for an extra session. The upper primary school differs in the sense that students are a lot more independent, choosing what work they are going to do and Monday morning is spent planning when they are going to do their work.

Of course our first school visit is not representative of schools in Germany and I am looking forward to seeing more, especially after hearing more about how the education system works in Germany at the Department of Education.  Germany are very proud of their education system and the low youth unemployment level they have (around 5%).  School begins at age in first grade at 6, similar to Australia but the key difference is that by the time students get to grade 6 they choose whether they will take a vocational or academic track.  From there they head to secondary school suited to their track.  The gymnasium prepares students for university and students sit the Arbitur, a university entrance exam. The Hauptschule prepares students for a vocational future as does the Realschule but with more of an academic focus. After receiving the Realschule certificate, students have many options such as entering the dual system or vocational training.

I look forward to learning more about this system of education.  While at first I shudder at the idea of choosing a child’s future at age 11 it appears  to be working successfully for Germany.

 

As the sun goes down on Copenhagen

This post is part of a series reflecting on my international study tour to Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

Today is our last day in Copenhagen and we head off to Aarhus University to hear from Frans Ørsted Andersen, Associate Professor in the Center for Educational Research who will talk to us about comparing Denmark and Finland. I must admit when I see what Frans will talk to us about I have a little chuckle.  Even this close to Finland it seems they are just as obsessed as we are and asking themselves, why does Finland stand out?

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Aarhus University, Copenhagen

Frans’ research looks into what the differences are between school life in Finland and Denmark.  He believes the broad picture in the two countries is the same so the differences lie in the finer details. The themes, which Frans identifies as the different details between Finland and Denmark are;

1. Parents are kept at a distance in Finland

  • On the first day of school parents drop students at school and keep to a distance compared to Denmark parents who continue to be present through all of their child’s schooling.

2. Discipline is more present in Finnish Schools

  • Attention and engagement is more easily obtained from Finnish teachers due to the appreciation of the teacher.

3. Danish education focuses on the individual

  • Finnish focuses on the community

4. Finnish evaluation is based on teaching

  • Denmark tends to be based more on benchmarking

5. Teachers in Finland are more ambitious

  • They don’t give up on students regardless of their background

6. Special Education is well respected

  • In Finland you require special training to teach special needs students

It was an interesting lecture, listening to someone talk about a country I have started to put on a pedestal in relation to the way they respect students and build independent learners, while they then compare themselves to Finland, just as we do in Australia.  At least for Denmark they begin with a similar homogeneous culture.

So we leave Copenhagen and head towards Berlin for the next adventure in our tour.  I take with me the beauty of a respected youth and culture who believes in education for everyone.  It seems a stark contrast to Australia and now I think about how I may take some of this back with me to Australia.  

 

 

 

When it rains in Denmark it really does rain!

This post is part of a series reflecting on my international study tour to Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

This morning we headed to Langelinieskolen, just as the skies opened up and it rained, thundered and hailed! We headed to the the old hospital which temporarily houses the year 7,8 and 9 students. Langelinieskolen has recently merged with the deaf school, which has recently seen a drop in numbers of students due to new laws on deaf students being able to integrate into all primary schools rather than attending the special schools. Students at this school remain in the same class as 6-10 year olds and then change to different rooms and teachers from age 11.

After spending some time with the students we had an opportunity to chat to Deputy Head, Hanne, about the school.  Langelinieskolen has 800 students, with 10 leaders ensuring the school continues to run well. He spoke of the fact that there is not a lot of morale with teachers and the recent reforms have made it even more difficult for teachers.  Over the last 40 years the wages for teachers has reduced, seeing many flee the profession.  Recent changes have included teachers being mandated to stay on location at school even through non contact hours.  In Denmark it was normal for teachers to go home and complete their work if they were not required to teach a class.  This is currently being changed and staff will be expected to stay at school for the hours between 8am and 4pm regardless of if they are teaching or not.  Of course this is causing problems for the admin as they now need to find places to accommodate staff with desks and computers. Interestingly where teachers have had many more freedoms than in Australia, they do not have car parks for teachers.  It is expected that you will ride or walk, or you pay for the privilege of parking!

The afternoon was spent in Christianhavns Gymnasium.  I was privileged enough to spend some time in Catherine’s class, as they presented in groups on the text they had just read about the spread of British and American English. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking to students about  life at Christianhavns Gymnasium.  These students were in their first year of the senior secondary school and once again it amazed me how independent the students were.  We compared the rules and strict way of life of Australian students to that of Danish students. Edith was confused about how students become independent in Australia if the teachers are always telling them what to do.

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Students in Denmark are in control of their own learning.  They take full responsibility for it and have to motivate themselves.  If they are absent from school, the student needs to give an acceptable reason for not being there.  Reporting occurs at the end of the year to students, but parents do not see the grades of students, unless of course they show them! I know this is post compulsory education here but as 15 year olds we would never trust our students in such a way. We moved on to discussing smoking and drinking and it is really becoming apparent that this is a large issue for students.  Talking to these 15 year olds they talked about drinking at parties but recognised it wasn’t peer pressured. “Everyone does it but if you don’t feel like it nobody cares,” said Freya.  Lisa spoke of how she took up smoking at 14 and got addicted.  But she has given up again. The maturity of these students is something I have not seen in students of the same age in Australia.

Our final part to the day, still at Christianhavn, we had a presentation from students about student democracy at the school.  The student voice was so apparent.  And not the student voice such as I see at schools in Australia.  These students were represented and had responsibility and respect.  They work in partnership with teachers and management and used the purpose of the school council to ensure they were not over ruled.  The student council works with the school to create a communication agreement, which sets out the rules for teachers and students. An example being that teachers must put homework due the following day on their LMS, Lectio by 4pm.  And teachers have the right to ask students to close their laptops if they are not required.

The school council had also negotiated with company who guards parties organised with the school because they didn’t stand for what the students believe in and another example of the student council in action was the school had wanted to make it compulsory for all students to bring a laptop to school.  The students didn’t believe it was fair and wanted all students to come to the school regardless of their economical background.  The students felt they lost this discussion as the rule did come in but an agreement was written to say that students could seek assistance from the school to buy a computer, a compromise at least.

Our final presentation was from two students who were part of Operation Day Work and organisation run by youths for youths.  Each year they raise money by working a day for 300 kroner, which goes to the project they have organised such as helping identify corrupt companies in the Sierra Leone diamond industry. Interestingly when asked how we could donate it was explained that this was not the concept.  IT was about educating both Danes and the country where the project was happening.  It was just as important to have students working for the day and educating them as it was to send the money to the project.  The school fully supported students and gave them a day to work on the project.

The school was clearly proud of the voice their students had and were wanting to showcase that to us.  The level of involvement from students was certainly high and they were clearly respected not just in the school but also the society.  It is a rather stark contrast to Australia where we hand feed our students and smother them with rules (A generalisation I know but I compared to Denmark it really is noticeable).  It makes me wonder how Denmark came to respect their youth so.  Is it the welfare state and social democratic background or could a change to the way we educate in Australia bring a respected youth culture?

 

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When the sun shines through…..

In today’s school visit I had a chance to teach 24 eleven year olds from Niels Steensens.  It was a lovely experience and I had a chance to work with the students for around 90 minutes.  After looking at some images of Australia and thinking about the different perspectives the students had an opportunity to ask questions.  Although this was quite reciprocal as the three of us in the room asked as many questions of them. It was clear fairly quickly that students in Denmark are different to those in Australia.  The respect from the teacher was one of mutuality.  Not once did she make a decision without asking the students if it was OK first.  And I felt silly when I asked her if it was OK to take the student’s photos.  She turned directly to them and and repeated my question. I felt ashamed that I hadn’t considered their voice to begin with.

2013-09-17 20.03.26

 

Our conversations turned to different rules schools have in Australia and they were shocked to hear that in schools we had to wear uniforms, could be suspended from school and each class had a set of rules, which were strictly adhered to.  It became clear that students here had a huge respect for what their teachers asked of them, which I believe comes from the teachers also having such respect for them.  It was  an expectation that they were responsible for their own learning and that all of the students felt it was important to go to school.

Our afternoon visit was to Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium where we were mesmerised by some of learning spaces. Gammel Hellerup is the former school of the famous Danish architect, Bjarke Ingels, who has recently returned to design the sports hall and field.  Ingels’ designs aim to make the best use of space and even the curved top of the sports hall is utilised as seating in the outside area.   The new football field will form part of a drama and arts centre, where the roof will become the seating for the sports field.  Take a look at the plans here.

Gammel Hellerup

During our chat with teachers from Gammel Hellerup it is clear they have had to deal with lots of changes over the last few years. The 2005 reforms which saw more autonomy for head teachers and a new financial structure has meant the leadership teams have had to deal with new and unexpected issues. I am intrigued how autonomy and choice of schools affects students in Denmark where the welfare state ensures everyone is treated equally.  In Australia I expect the push for more autonomy and school choice because of the traditionally more dog eat dog environment we have but for Denmark it seems to be more traditional for them to prioritise equality.  Maybe that’s for a later blog post!