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Comparing Scotland's school system whit the Danish school system

Great Britain’s educational system has often been mentioned as being very strict compared to the Danish educational system. The British school system is known for Pupils wearing school uniforms and name their teachers by their surname, having a controlling National Curriculum that the teachers must follow, not to mention the inspection.

In my investigation of the Scottish school system, I discovered that educational system of the countries’ within Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) actually have some differences in the structure of the education. Comparing England and Scotland reveals some differences in the organisation and responsibilities in the different governing bodies (confer enclosure).

The Education Department of the Scottish Office (SOED) formulate guidelines in the area of curriculum whereas the Department for Education (DFE) in England set the National Curriculum. In other words, the Scottish curriculum in not imposed by law and the schools have considerable freedom to decide what courses should be available in any individual school. The English educational system is much stricter when it comes to the curriculum, as schools must follow the National Curriculum which requires certain subjects and content to be studied.

Therefore, when you read about British/UK’s schools, it is important to keep in mind that England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland’s educational systems have independent legislation with variations with respect to organization, administration, and control of the educational systems. This means that, on a closer look, the schools and the planning of the teachers may be different from each other in certain areas. Authors and others have not taken that into account when they described British/Scottish school systems.

As the Storyline method was invented in Scotland matching the Scottish school system and curriculum, Scotland will now be compared with the Danish curriculum and school system. 

At first glance a Scottish school seems very different from a Danish school. However, comparing the Scottish education system with the Danish education system there are actually many similarities to be discovered. Confer table (Word 36.0 KB)

The SOED and the Ministry of Education in Denmark both formulate guidelines in the area of curriculum that give the schools a certain freedom in planning. School boards have a specific consultative role in both countries where teachers, pupils, and parents have some influence on the activities in the school. In Scotland, like in Denmark, teachers have freedom of methods and materials. 

The Scottish compulsory education is divided into primary (age 5-12), secondary (age 12-16), and post-compulsory secondary education (age 16-18) is optional.

The Scottish curriculum guidelines recommend that the primary education is based on five areas of broad curricular areas which are: Language (English), Mathematics, Environmental studies*, Expressive art, Religious and Moral education.

Within recent years the (SOED) have developed new curriculum guidelines in correspondence with practising teachers in a 5-14 Development Programme. The five-abovementioned areas have gone through a programme of clarification and definition and the new guidelines of “The Curriculum 5-14” were set into practice in 1999 together with assessment and reporting. Although assessments and reporting are increasing in Scotland, the new curriculum guidelines in all areas are still meant as guidelines.  

During my investigation of the Scottish Curriculum I found an article in Scottish Educational Review by Frank Adams with the title Does Scotland have a National Curriculum? My previous assumption that some authors, pedagogic/didactic teachers, etc. might have misunderstood or simply do not know very much about the Scottish curriculum was confirmed in this article: “It is argued that, outside Scotland, there is often an assumption that the “National Curriculum” of England, Wales and Northern Ireland applies with equal force in Scotland. While this is not the case…” and further into the article Frank Adams says: “Scotland’s position in not having a statutory “National Curriculum” is often referred to in envious tones, particularly as we do not have that particular National Curriculum which has generated so much heat (an so little light?) in England.”

The Danish educational system does not differentiate between primary and lower secondary education. There are nine years of compulsory education from age 7 – 16 and a supplementary optional tenth year (age 17). Pupils have a variety of subjects* during the years of the compulsory education. IT and the practical/musical approach should be integrated in these subjects. All pupils have: Language (Danish), Mathematics, Physical education and Religion throughout all nine years. The subjects can be categorized in four types of practical and theoretical subjects: Basic subjects (1/3), Area subjects (1/3), Special subjects (1/6), and Optional subjects (1/6). The Minister of Education lays down guidelines for each subject. In recent years the Act of the Folkeskole and curriculum guidelines have gone through adjustments and put more pressure to teaching cross-curricular and project orientated. (E.g. the 1993 Act on the Folkeskole, new Curriculum guidelines in 1995 and 1996/97; compulsory project assignment in the 9th and 10th class).              

With the Scottish curriculum developing more specific guidelines in each area, and the Danish Act on the Folkeskole working towards a more holistic approach, it seems that the curriculum guidelines in the two systems are becoming increasingly similar.

Looking for major differences between the two school systems, you don’t have to spend more than one day in a primary school in Scotland before realizing that a teacher is teaching all subjects in a class. A primary teacher in a class is responsible for teaching all subjects, but is often assisted by specialist teachers for specific subjects. (Depending on the size of the school). Specific subjects could be physical education (PE), and music. Normally a class gets a new teacher each year and the previous teacher often stays on the same level receiving a new class. This system gives the teacher an extra workload at the end of a school year, because the teacher is to write a 4-6 page report on each pupil about the pupil’s progress in different areas, e.g. enotional and social development, communication and language, physical development. (Maximum 33 pupils per class). The report is to be sent to the parents and to the next year’s teacher (e.g. teachers in secondary school). The advantage in primary school is that the teacher gets great opportunity to plan cross-curricular projects and the benefits of being in the same classroom all the time. In secondary school, pupils have specialist teachers for different subjects, and the pupils do not always remain together in the same class. The disadvantage in this change of school structure is that it is harder for the teachers in secondary school to keep the holistic  approach, because the teachers now have to work cross-curricular with other teachers.

At the moment Scottish pupils in the youngest classes tend to have a longer school week, which normally lasts 27.5 hours; compared to Danish pupils who vary between 15 and 22 weekly lessons (a lesson being 45 minutes).*

In Denmark pupils remain together as a class, as in the Scottish primary school, but a Danish class has different teachers in most subjects. A team of teachers may follow a class for several years. (Maximum 28 pupils per class). An advantage in having a good teamwork cross-curricular in a class is that the teachers can continue having the same class, as the structure of the Danish school system does not change halfway like the Scottish schools.

The curriculum in Denmark draws up guidelines for project work assignments and recommends cross-curricular topics throughout all levels. Today many schools often arrange subjects in weekly blocks with 2-3 lessons, and project-weeks several times a year.

Scottish teachers have great advantage and possibilities in teaching cross-curricular having a class in all subjects. However, teachers often arrange their timetable similar to Danish timetables in several blocks during the day in the categories: Language, Math, Art, Music, P.E.

* Environmental studies include: aspects of Geography, History, Science (biology, chemistry, physics), Technology,

   (Information Technology/computers), and Health education.

* Danish, Mathematics, P.E., Religion, English, German (optional), History, Biology, Geography, Sociology   

   (samfundsfag/orientering), “Nature/Technique”, Music, Art,  Home economics, Physics/Chemistry, (Woodwork 

    optional) and optional subjects depending on the school. 


* The pattern of school day and week in the youngest classes are under development. At present there is a tendency                                               

   towards longer schooldays.  (Folkeskole år 2000. Fokuspunkt 5)

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