Denmark’s diverse free schools
TEXT: JOSEFINE OLDER STEFFENSEN | PHOTO © CHARLOTTE DAHL
Since the middle of the 19th century, Denmark has been home to free schools. Today, there are more than 550 free schools all over Denmark, whose foundations are based on various pedogeological, religious or ideological values. Most importantly, the schools all have community and freedom at the heart of what they do.
In Denmark, there is no compulsory schooling, but instead compulsory education. Therefore, Danish parents are free to choose whether they send their child to a state school or to one of the various types of free schools. There are guidelines to follow, to ensure that all students reach the same level at the end of their primary and secondary education, but how they get to that end point is essentially up to their parents and the school.
“The free schools see the parents as a resource. In contrast to state schools, the free schools are often set up by parents who want their children to grow up with particular values, and parents are often actively involved in the school. In general, staff, parents and school administration work closely together for the common good and to ensure the best possible development for each individual child as well as the school as a whole,” explains Maren Skotte, head of communication at Friskolernes Hus.
All-encompassing learning environments
The focus and foundations of the schools span widely. There are some that are rooted in the democratic principles founded by N. F. S. Grundtvig and Christen Kold. Others have a special focus on creativity, while some are based on the Sustainable Development Goals as their foundation, to give just a few examples.
“Today, 18 per cent of all children at primary school level from pre-school to tenth grade attend free schools. All free schools are subsidised by the state, they are non-profit institutions and run by a board of parents and other governors,” says Skotte.
FRISKOLERNE is an organisation that represents 330 of the free schools, and the secretariat Friskolernes Hus provides them with guidance. It is also the go-to point for school administrators, parents or people who simply want to find out more about the Danish free schools.
“We’ve seen an increase in the number of free schools. This is both due to the fact that smaller, local state schools have been closed or merged over recent decades, but also the fact that parents tend to value the strong relationship between school and home. All in all, the Danish school system provides parents with really good opportunities to find a school – state or free – that fits their values,” concludes Skotte.