How Denmark sent children safely back to school

  • By ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner

Danish children started going back to school more than a month ago, testing the water for other pupils and teachers in Europe.

On Wednesday, I visited a school catering for children aged between five and 16 in Copenhagen and found them ready to declare this post-Covid return to education a success.

Denmark was able to ease the lockdown earlier than most countries because they have experienced such a low number of deaths.

A total of 561 people have died of the virus and their government is certain the rate of infection has dropped so dramatically they have declared the spread “under control.”

This week secondary school children also went back to their classrooms. At Korsager school in Copenhagen, where 725 pupils are taught, I was shown how they are coping. So far only one teacher has reported symptoms of Covid-19 - and the test results came back negative.

Desks are one metre apart to ensure social distancing. Credit: ITV News

The school has strict guidelines from the government which are updated every week. They include mandatory hand washing at least five times day and instructions that desks should be two metres apart for social distancing, although this has now been reduced to one metre.

Gradually the amount of socialising between children has also been increased. When the school first opened on April 15 the youngsters were limited to groups of no more than six, now they are allowed to freely mix with anyone in their “pod” which includes the entire class of up to 28 people.

Some of the rules are set by the headmaster, who has decided that all lunches must be packed and brought from home. The kitchen in the staff canteen is closed and teachers bring their own coffee or drinks. All toilet blocks have numbers on them to prevent different classes using the same facilities.

Children are allowed to freely mix with anyone in their 'pod'. Credit: ITV News

Class sizes have been reduced to allow desks to be one metre apart and allow teachers to keep their distance. The gym, the home economics kitchens and the art rooms are all been converted into temporary classrooms.

Extra teachers have been drafted in with the usual number of 65 boosted to 90. Many of those recruited are gap year students who have been forced to abandon their travels and return to Denmark.

The emphasis is on keeping the children safe and building trust between parents and teachers - the government accepts that education and exam results are of secondary importance at this time.

The headmaster has decided that all lunches must be packed and brought from home. Credit: ITV News

This summer's equivalent of GCSEs have been cancelled and emergency education legislation has been passed. Scientists agree that the safest place to be is in the open air, so far more time is being spent outside rather than in formal indoor lessons.

Even those parents who were originally worried agree that the changes have been effective and say they are happy that their children are back at school. The teachers say that they were persuaded by the strict rules introduced by the government and enforced by the headmaster.

Trust in both the government and the school authorities appears to have made this return to school work, probably easier in a country where the lockdown came early and relatively few lives have been lost.