Robert Powell

Sedbergh–based writer, web designer & photographer

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The Danish Free School Tradition
— a Lesson in Democracy

– Curlew Publications – 40 pages – Illustrated – ISBN 1 900259 98 2 –

Free Schools and their Origins

Bjerringbro Friskole –
from The Danish Free School Tradition
– a lesson in democracy

In recent years a number of so‑called "free schools" have been established in England. Their introduction, championed by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition that came to power in the UK in 2010, has been controversial.

Their supporters have often quoted the success of free schools in other countries, especially in Scandinavia. However the Danish origins of the free school movement have been misunderstood, and frequently misrepresented, in Britain, not least because they do not fit well with the current political agenda.

Local Democracy

Unlike their English counterparts, the free schools in Denmark have their roots firmly planted in a genuinely popular local democracy that is entirely different to the free market, yet strangely centralised, approach of the current British government.

Denmark and her borders

In the academic year 1989–1990 I taught English at several local authority schools in Denmark. I was also able to visit a number of free schools and folk high schools. Ten years later, at a conference on Freedom in Education held at Askov Folk High School in Jutland, I was asked to write some articles about Danish education for Human Scale Education News. Those articles eventually became this booklet.

Denmark has moved on since I worked there. Integration with the rest of Europe has brought about changes that many Danes fear have undermined the country's democratic, communitarian and liberal traditions. Nevertheless, the example of their education system still has lessons for the rest of us.

The Danish Free School Tradition – a lesson in democracy is intended as a contribution to an ongoing debate about how we might educate children for life in a genuinely democratic society.


You can order The Danish Free School Tradition
a lesson in democracy

  • Chapters include –
  • Introduction – download as pdf
  • The Folkeskole – the local authority comprehensive
  • The Friskole – the grass-roots alternative
  • The Efterskole – a year away from home
  • The Folkehøjskole – a residential community of adult learners
  • The Origins of Freedom in Education – historical and social roots
  • Grundtvig and Kold – giving voice to inspiration
  • Minority Rights in Denmark –
    and the principles of national and individual self-determination
  • Examples of the various types of school

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