Thursday, 25 March 2021

An anecdote about Danish schools versus Scottish ones

Funnily enough, I expect the Danes who read this to be as appalled about Scotland as the Scots who read it are about Denmark, so here goes:

Back in Scotland my kids went to Kirkhill primary. Kirkhill is (funnily enough) on a hill! Two thirds of the plot of land the school was on was taken up with concrete playgrounds, and the school itself, but one third was known as 'the banking', a grassy area on an incline, hence banking. Here are a couple of photos and a satellite picture:




How nice, you might think... but no, the banking was out of bounds! No child was allowed to set foot on the banking unless it was school sports day and they were out with a teacher, or if they were taking part in an outdoor activity under the supervision of a teacher, or afterschool care worker. Children got in big trouble if they attempted to play on the grass, because it was deemed way too risky as there was no fence at the playground end. Children who dared to walk along the wall Thomas and the kids are sitting on in the photo above were also chastised for taking part in way too dangerous an activity! At several parent council meetings, using the banking was mooted but dropped as they could afford neither to have it flattened or fenced off, nor to insure kids to play on it in its current state, so year after year the more than 600 pupils played on the concrete playgrounds you can see on the satellite image, while the banking went unused. 

This is definitely a 21st century phenomenon. My own primary school had a similar grassy incline and we lived on it in the 70s, so this paranoia is new. Whether they are most worried about the kids hurting themselves, or whether they are scared of being sued by parents is not a question I can answer, though the suing culture that has crept in from the US over the past generation is very tangible. I didn't grow up with kettles being labelled 'Warning: hot water', but that is sadly the norm now.

So let's move on to the kids' Danish schools now. Amaia's is equivalent in age covering nursery up to year 6 (who are aged 12). They don't have any banking, but firstly they have a playground without a fence around it which is next to a road and secondly they have a forest to the back of the school with homemade treehouses and ropes and ladders for any kid who wants to climb the trees! And I don't mean expensive climbing frames, I mean a literal forest with homemade platforms up trees. Funnily enough you can't see the platforms on the satellite for the actual trees.


No one bats an eyelid when kids as young as six disappear off into the forest.

But the anecdote I started out on was this...

Léon and Anna go to a Danish Folkeskole - it's neither a primary, nor a high school in the Scottish sense. It has one wing that contains a nursery and kids up to year 6 like Amaia's and over and above that, it has a wing at the back that contains years 7, 8, & 9 - a sort of middle school or junior high if you like, before they go off to gymnasium at 16. So the front part of the building is the younger kids' wing. One day before we moved here to our house, when I was still driving the kids every day from our rented summer house up at the coast, a boy of maybe nine kicked his football up onto the flat roof at the front of the school. I watched from the carpark with interest... The boy climbed the nearby drainpipe, retrieved his ball and threw it down. At that point I saw a teacher had clocked him and started to walk over. My still-Scottish mind thought 'you're in trouble mate!' ... I knew for sure that if this had been Scotland, the child would have been made to sit down and wait while the fire brigade or a rescue helicopter or similar had been called - although it would never have happened back at our Scottish school because not only were all flat roofs surrounded by spikes and barbed wire, the kids would have been told that climbing up would have led to death or at the very least paralysis, so they would never have dared!! I watched with interest, car windows open so I could hear the exchange. It went something like 'Hey you!' The boy turned to the teacher. 'Are you up there getting a ball?' 'Yes' he replied though I could detect no fear or sheepishness... 'See while you are up there, gonna throw down any other balls, shuttlecocks and anything else you see, save the janitor going up later, thanks son!' He then turned to his two mates and said 'Why don't you two shove that picnic bench over to the wall so it is easier for your mate to jump back down!' which they hurriedly did while the boy slowly climbed back down. 

There was no drama, no hysteria, no fear, no one died, no one got sued. I sat in my car and thought to myself - I think my parenting style is going to fit in better here than it did at home...

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