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Trivselsfremmende skoleudvikling - i lyset af skolereform, 2013

Better faglighed requires much more than more hours of teaching in the subjects (fag), and clear measurable aims. It requires a comprehensive school development, and increased focus on cross-disciplinary topics such as Health and sustainability, as these contribute to general learning outcomes and action competence of pupils.

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The general objectives for the reform are defined as follows:

1. Folkeskolen skal udfordre alle elever, så de bliver så dygtige de kan.

2. Folkeskolen skal mindske betydningen af social bagggrund i forhold til faglige resultater

3. Tilliden til og trivslen i folkeskolen skal styrkes blant andet gennem respekt for professionel viden og praksis

These are excellent aims and certainly deserve attention. However, a closer look at the strategies to achieve these aims point to one main principle: tight steering through detailed description of learning outcomes (effects) and standardized ways of their measurement (tests). The key words for the steering include: school leadership, differentiated teaching strategies, and strengthening of the “faglighed” (subject proficiency).

The question is – how much is this focus of the reform conducive to “trivsel”, trust and health understood as a positive and broad concept (rather than only sports and physical activity)?

Research shows that better learning outcomes depend NOT only from differentiated teaching and more subject focused teaching; On the contrary – the whole-school environment needs to be developed in ways which promote both wellbeing (trivsel) and learning.

This implies comprehensive school development, including the physical environment of the school, the social relations and interactions, the collaboration between school and local community. Moreover, the school “culture”, “ethics”, “way of being” is crucial, as well as the ways in which pupils are involved in making decisions in school. Although the reform documents mention pupils’ participation to be important, there are no visible supporting structures to improve it. Especialy if by participation we mean influence and not simply being present or taking part in school activities.

Further, research shows that wellbeing (trivsel) of pupils depends on the wellbeing of teachers. The teachers’ wellbeing in school depends (among other things) on the level of autonomy and control they have over their work, respect they receive from the school leadership and the surrounding society, as well as on resources they have on disposal for teaching, including collaboration with other teachers. Tight steering and accountability related to narrowly defined aims and outcomes (as emphasized in the reform documents) diminish rather than promote respect for professional knowledge and practice, and arguably, would have negative impact on teachers’ wellbeing and work engagement. This in turn, would probably have negative impact on learning outcomes.

I make these points to emphasize that there is much more to better faglighed than focus on subject teaching and clear aims. I argue that the school reform could benefit from considering the research within health-promoting schools, which provides evidence on the importance of the “whole-school” development strategies, centrality of participation, the links between health and education, the value of cross-disciplinary work (such as health education and education for sustainable development, and of using the local community as an extended classroom.

The “activity time” which was at play in some of the earlier versions of the reform seemed promising in relation to these dimensions, as it would have allowed time for the cross disciplinary teaching on the time-lose topics such as health and sustainability, but these are now replaced with “supporting time”, focusing on the same narrowly defined aims and outcomes.

To summarize, research within the health-promoting schools paradigm could be instrumental in achieving most of the main aims of the reform by broadening the focus towards a more comprehensive school development, health and wellbeing of all in the school, active participation and sustainable changes in pupils’ action competence or ability to be agents of change in a society striving towards equity social justice, sustainability and health for all.

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