Public schools in the Municipality of Horsens, Denmark: Changing attitudes / Training and development / Flexible working practices
In 2000, the Municipality of Horsens initiated a project aimed at encouraging older teachers to remain employed instead of taking early retirement. The Municipality of Horsens in the Jutland peninsula has 14 public primary schools with about 9,000 registered pupils. Overall, 746 teachers are employed at these schools, of whom about two thirds are women.
As in most other Danish municipalities, schools in the Municipality of Horsens have found it difficult to recruit new teachers to replace the great numbers of those retiring or leaving the job. Moreover, this labour shortage is expected to worsen as about 40% of teachers are above the age of 50 years. In addition, the municipality has a relatively high turnover rate because many teachers leave the schools where they are employed to find jobs elsewhere. Therefore, during the last six years, the municipality has worked intensively to improve the working environment for teachers.
Most teachers employed in the Horsens region are members of a trade union. Moreover, there is considerable agreement between employers and trade unions regarding work issues and policies.
In Denmark, a child must complete nine years of compulsory education beginning in August of the year of the child’s seventh birthday. Furthermore, a child can attend a free pre-school class from the year of their sixth birthday, which most children attend. A department within the Ministry of Education is responsible for the central administration of public schools. The Danish parliament takes the decisions governing the overall educational aims, while the Minister of Education sets the targets for each school subject. But the municipalities and schools decide how to reach these targets.
Good practice today
In 2000, the Municipality of Horsens initiated the project entitled ‘The good working life’ in cooperation with the National Association of Local Authorities in Denmark (Kommunernes Landsforening, KL), affiliated to the Confederation of Salaried Employees and Civil Servants in Denmark (Funktionærerne og Tjenestemændenes Fællesråd, FTF). The project aimed to motivate older teachers to remain employed instead of taking early retirement. In total, 540 teachers received a questionnaire asking about their working environment and expectations about their future retirement. Out of this group, 75% of teachers completed and returned the questionnaire. The survey showed that most of the teachers expected to leave the labour market in their early sixties and only few teachers intended to remain in employment until the age of 65 years. The study also showed that changing the work content, reducing working hours and other special initiatives for older teachers would most likely encourage more teachers to postpone their retirement.
On the basis of the study, new initiatives were introduced in schools in Horsens aimed at retaining older teachers in their jobs. For instance, many of the primary schools offer older teachers a special seven-week refresher training course. The aim of the training course is to help teachers over the age of 50 years to combine theory with their experiences and learn more about new academic trends and research in their area of work. By offering this course to older teachers, the management in schools hopes that those teachers will be more committed to their work. The training course is organised in cooperation with the Municipality of Horsens, FTF and the Danish School of Education (DPU). During the course, teachers are relieved from their normal teaching duties while receiving their usual pay during the seven weeks of training. Furthermore, the survey revealed that many teachers found it difficult to manage children with behavioural problems, which caused stress and burn-out. To improve this work-related issue, many teachers are sent on a two-week training course every year where they are educated and guided in how to handle children who have difficulties adjusting to their new environment and those with behavioural problems.
Another initiative introduced as a result of the survey is to offer older teachers special appraisal interviews with the management of their school. The purpose of the interview is not to plan a worker’s future retirement but to discuss the future career plan of the older teacher and to clarify if the teacher wants to make any changes to their work content or working hours. Through this interview process, the management hopes to clarify that it wants older employees to remain at work and not to retire just because they have reached a certain age.
In some of the schools, a special mentoring programme has been set up as a result of the ‘good working life’ project. The programme provides for the transfer of knowledge from experienced older teachers to their younger counterparts. Each new teacher in these schools is assigned a mentor who guides the young teacher towards personal and professional development. The aim of the mentoring programme is to promote a work culture characterised by greater understanding and mutual respect between younger and older workers. In addition, a greater focus has been put on establishing work teams involving both younger and older teachers in order to improve cooperation between the different age groups.
Moreover, some of the teachers who suffer from a chronic disease have been assigned light duties in a ‘flex job’ arrangement in line with the social security legislation. A flex job is based on special terms, aimed at persons with a permanently reduced work capacity. Teachers with a flex job are employed under special working conditions in order to keep them in the labour market. Moreover, teachers in flex jobs receive the same wage as they did previous to their illness, but this salary partly comprises a wage supplement from the state, which can be up to two thirds of the full amount. This arrangement means that schools can afford to retain teachers with a reduced work capacity in employment; thus, teachers with a disability are not expelled from the labour market due to poor health. Today, 11 such flex jobs have been introduced in schools the Horsens region.
As part of the collective agreement with the sectoral trade union, a special allowance is awarded to teachers aged 62 years who remain at work until the end of the school year. Furthermore, working hours are reduced by 175 hours a year among teachers above the age of 60 years. However, teachers do not receive a wage cut as a result of the reduced working hours.
The ‘good working life’ initiative has received positive reactions from both inside and outside the education departments in Denmark, as well as in the media. The initiative for older workers in the Municipality of Horsens has meant that the number of teachers above the age of 60 years has doubled in the last six years. In May 2000, 4.1% of teachers in Horsens were over the age of 60 years. However, in May 2006, this figure was 8.3%.
Contact: Kaj Kjær Nielsen, email: firstname.lastname@example.org