For anyone planning to relocate to Copenhagen (or with children nearing school age: primary school starts age six here) this is a brief overview of our experience with the school system here which I hope proves useful.
When Stephen accepted a job here in early September 2016, we knew that one of our main priorities would be to find a school for our son (who was about to turn six at the time). Whilst Copenhagen does offer several international schools, the fact that these were fee-paying meant they were out of our budget (albeit some are more reasonable than others). Most of them also have fairly long waiting lists.
Having researched our options, we found that there is a European School in Copenhagen. Since it is a school funded by the kommune, there are no fees, the downside of this was of course that it is very popular and there were no places available. They also do not operate a waiting list, so we were told that we could make an application (which we did) and then keep checking back to see if a place opened up.
Our only other option then it seemed was to accept a place in a local folkeskole (Danish primary school). Luckily for us, Copenhagen kommune offers children whose mother tongue is not Danish a special ‘modtagelsesklasse‘ for the first year in which there is special attention paid to their language learning with the goal of integrating them into a ‘regular’ class in their local school once their Danish is of good enough standard. Unfortunately, it is not possible to enrol in school until you actually arrive in the country (and get a precious CPR number, more on that here though apparently you can now apply for a CPR number online, saving a good deal of hassle).
Not all schools offer the class: the link above will tell you which ones do, according to the child’s age. After exchanging a few emails with the kommune before we arrived, we were told to make an appointment with our local school once we had CPR numbers, to fill out the forms and kick start the application process.
Having done that, we had to wait a week or so to be allocated a school place. The whole process from application to our son starting a class took just over three weeks.
I won’t go into our son’s experience of Danish folkeskole here in too much detail, except to say that overall it was a pretty positive experience. He was in a fairly small-sized class of around 12 pupils, all from different countries, and of course to begin with he struggled with the language (since the class is essentially taught in Danish; his teacher did speak some English, but certainly wasn’t fluent). His classmates were a mix of around half newly-arrived children from many different backgrounds, and half children who had just reached school age, but who had non-Danish parents and so their standard of Danish wasn’t quite good enough yet.
Having already had more than a year of primary school education back in the UK, he was fairly frustrated at having to repeat some fairly simple basics again in the Danish system. He went ‘backward’ from being able to read and write in English, to basics like letter recognition…and, in his own words – ‘a lot of singing and colouring in’.
That said, his four months of Danish school meant that his Danish – fairly obviously – improved a lot. He also absolutely loved the after school care, which, since it is so affordable, is a very popular option with parents, and is well-resourced and well-staffed. There were frequent trips out to local playgrounds, a huge choice of toys and craft activities, computers to play on, and even the occasional bonfire with ‘snøbrod’ – bread you cook on sticks in the fire – not exactly the kind of thing he’d have had back home!
So whilst he was busy getting to grips with Danish, we were still hoping that a place at the European School would come up, and contacted them fairly regularly to keep enquiring. Eventually we got lucky. After sitting a very low-key language screening with his teacher, he was offered a place to start after the Easter break. Six weeks in and he is really loving it there. I hope (fingers tightly crossed) that we made the right decision to move him (although the journey to school is longer and will not be too pleasant in the Winter). Certainly the switch back to being taught in English means he is much more engaged, and overall he seems happier (he certainly is most displeased to see me when I arrive to extract him from fun and games at after-school club). Another bonus of the European School is that they have a ‘Danish track’ for Danish-speaking pupils, and so (hopefully) his language skills won’t get too rusty.
Oh, and one more great thing about the Danish system is that the fee you pay each month for out of hours school care actually covers you for all the school holidays too, making it all extremely affordable for working parents.
So there you go, a short and sweet look at our experience (so far) with the Danish school system. Happy to answer questions if anyone has any!
[Update: I’m writing this in August, at the start of the new school year, and if anything his Danish has improved, and they are now getting 1.5 hours a week or formal Danish teaching, plus 3 hours a week of French. The European School is currently in temporary facilities in Valby, whilst the purpose-built new school premises is being constructed in the new Carlsberg Byen area. The new buildings should be ready in Autumn 2018.]