During my time at the Birralee International School in Trondheim, I came across many things that caused me concern as a parent. Upon inquiring about these issues and trying to remedy them, I came to realize the school is totally resistant to change; the administration is NOT open to new ideas (although they claim otherwise). The response always seemed to be, “this is just how it’s done here.”
In November 2018 I had the privilege of visiting another international school in Norway and was absolutely struck by how different it was from what I had experienced at Birralee. In the chart below I have summarized the stark differences with regards to key issues that are important to many parents at Birralee. Below the chart I will briefly describe how Birralee responded to my own inquiries about these issues.
Birralee staff information webpage (archived)
Gjøvikregionen International School staff information
Birralee PC constitution (current version, archived)
Gjøvikregionen International School PC constitution
Here is a short summary of the issues I had raised at Birralee, and the responses received:
School language policy
When I brought up the issue of Norwegian being spoken at school between staff members (in this case, between the principal and the manager of the kindergarten within the school environment – complaint detailed in this previous post) and that it could cause an uncomfortable situation for the not-fluent-in-Norwegian staff, and also the students and families there, the response from the Board of Directors was:
“At Birralee, both English and Norwegian are used in communication as deemed fit. You are living in Norway where the official language is Norwegian.”
– Birralee International School Board of Directors
Compared to the English language policy at other English language international schools in Norway, this does not foster an inclusive environment for all staff and families at the school, and was a very disappointing response from the Board.
Qualifications of staff
I had met with one of the “pastoral care givers” at the school and when I inquired as to whether she is a mental health professional with training in that field, she changed the topic and avoided answering my question.
I had recommended to the business manager that all staff have their training and qualifications featured in “bio’s” on the website, but it seems this is not a priority.
Additionally, as per § 4-2., Competence requirements for teaching staff of The Independent Schools Act, it appears that schools like Birralee may have a loophole that allows them to hire staff without the same qualification requirements that public schools must follow.
Update – Jan 4 2018 – Perhaps this is considered normal in Norway, but it seems that beyond mere teaching experience, there are no additional requirements to become a vice principal or principal of a school (which is definitely NOT the case in countries with high educational standards) – the “qualifications” for the current Principal at Birralee can be found on a seemingly abandoned blog of hers – archived version here.
Board meetings being held in Norwegian only
This is an issue that struck me as discriminatory from the moment I heard of this “unspoken rule,” and one I had brought up many times with the current PC chairperson, as I felt it should be discussed in an official capacity within the PC. My requests were denied repeatedly – it was an issue the PC chairperson would not allow to be put on the agenda.
At the most recent PC meeting I had attended (November 14, 2018), it was decided that the PC Constitution would be updated to clarify that the PC board representative MUST understand Norwegian; it was noted that the PC board rep doesn’t need to “speak Norwegian fluently” – they only need to “understand it” – which of course would leave this person at a disadvantage for presenting issues or participating in discussions at board meetings. It is unknown when this information will be updated in their Constitution, or if it will be reflected in the published meeting minutes. I feel this policy intentionally excludes many Birralee parents from the opportunity of becoming the PC board representative.
Conditions of the school building
One of the first absolutely shocking discoveries at the school was the filthy state of the student bathrooms; equally shocking was this has been a known and recurring problem at Birralee in previous school years. Upon bringing up the issue with families at the school, I was told that many children would refuse to use the bathrooms due to their dirty conditions, instead opting to hold their bladder all day until they got home. And while it seems that many parents and even staff members have previously notified the school about this student bathroom issue, the administration claims to have received only four complaints ever.
The excuse from the administration was their school cleaning contract with the Trondheim Kommune only allowed for once-daily cleanings; it was only after intense pressure that they managed to increase the cleanings to twice a day.
Another “reason” that was given by a parent representative at the school for the filthy bathroom conditions was it was a “cultural problem.” This parent representative went on to list specific geographical areas that according to them had very poorly-kept public toilets, insinuating that children from these areas did not know how to use bathroom facilities “properly.” There will be an upcoming post on this topic of ignorance, discrimination, and racism displayed by some parents at the school, and how the Birralee Parents’ Committee and administration seem to condone such attitudes.
It was trying to remedy this filthy student bathroom issue that resulted in me coming to be known as “the nuisance parent” (my own description) at Birralee. I had even volunteered to clean the bathrooms myself as an interim solution (so my Year 1 child would not have to keep wiping feces from the toilet seat) while they figured out an actual solution to the problem. The administration denied this request; I was later told by the vice principal that parents bringing up issues to the administration “distracts them” and “takes their attention away from the learning” at the school. Clearly parents pressing issues is seen as a nuisance.
My “bad reputation” at the school was compounded further when I brought up other issues: safety hazards (upcoming post, can view a pic here), morning drop-off vehicular hazards due to the construction, the leaf blower being operated right next to children as they arrive at school, the fact that some children linger behind alone on school grounds for hours until they are picked up, etc. I never even got around to suggesting they put covers over the light switches by the first set of stairs (children are always turning those lights off and in the winter those stairs are very dark at pickup time), or that they ask their Monday morning cleaners to avoid draping long vacuum cords across the main hallway and stairs during the “morning arrival rush.” In my family’s final month at Birralee I had largely given up on contacting the senior administration, due to their complete refusal to acknowledge my emails.
Security at Birralee
As a new parent at Birralee I was perplexed to find out that there are public offices for the Trondheim Kommune on the third floor inside the school. Prior to the publishing of this website (birralee-pc.com), the school did not disclose this information to new or existing parents; it was left to us to find out from other families. I was also dismayed to learn that the front doors for the school were left unlocked during the school day, even though there is no visibility to the front doors from classrooms nor the front office. When I brought this issue up in the Parents’ Committee meetings, I was told that no one thought this was a problem because Trondheim is “so safe” (not altogether true – check out our News Stories section). I actually felt shamed by some of the parents for suggesting the school improve their security, with one parent representative proclaiming, “WE DON’T LOCK OUR CHILDREN INSIDE THE SCHOOL HERE IN NORWAY!”
In contradiction to these claims of “everything is fine the way it is,” I learned that the school actually had tried to make Birralee a “closed school” (with properly locked doors) in the past, but failed. Furthermore, the school had been unsuccessful on opposing a program for refugees hosted in the Kommune offices inside the school building; further proof this “open door” policy is less than ideal, even in the eyes of the administration.
The fact remains that other schools in Norway do in fact implement security features at their school, and additionally, I am unaware of any other school in Norway that has public offices INSIDE their school building. In my opinion this is a “double whammy” in terms of the lax security that exists at Birralee.