We’ve compiled a (hopefully) thorough list of questions and answers, to give the most accurate picture of what things are really like at the Birralee International School in Trondheim. And as always, Contact Us if you have questions, comments, or suggestions!
Unfortunately there is a known problem of racist jokes being tolerated by certain families at the school, the official Parents' Committee, and the senior administration as well. It could be that in Norway, racist jokes are NOT considered "racism" - some will instead refer to it as being "glib" or that it was a case of having "misspoken." There is at least one known incident of a "skin color joke" being told to a child by a Parents' Committee rep at an after-school event, but the administration decided that it was not a complaint they would deal with. When racist comments are made within Parents' Committee meetings at the school, the offending person will have their bigoted speech protected and kept private (well - until this website was created). When Parents' Committee reps make racist jokes in the company of new families, this is also seen as being acceptable. Quite recently, when complaints were made about a certain Parents' Committee rep making racist jokes and commentaries, the offending rep twisted the story around to make themselves a victim. The complainants were then accused of "making false accusations," and were warned that making false accusations is a crime in Norway. There will be an upcoming post detailing this particular situation - link will be included here.
Also, in contrast to other international schools in Norway that have an official policy of "English language communication within the school" - Birralee has no such policy. There will be communication in Norwegian between staff members in the school environment, and they are not concerned if this feels alienating to English-only speaking children, staff, and families. Same goes for meetings of the official Parents' Committee, where some parents will converse in Norwegian at the exclusion of non-Norwegian speaking representatives. Non-inclusion of English speakers can also be seen in the published minutes for board meetings, where a lot of important information is only shown in Norwegian. Accommodating English speakers is simply not a priority at Birralee. Attempts to request language-inclusivity have been denied repeatedly, with the explanation of "this is just how things are done here." .
In response to a complaint about the language policy, the Birralee board of directors has stated that "At Birralee, both English and Norwegian are used in communication as deemed fit. You are living in Norway where the official language is Norwegian" - see a detailed account of this complaint here.
Another volunteer opportunity that may come up, is doing a presentation about your country of origin - but this is generally "invitation only" (if your country of origin is deemed "interesting" or "different" enough presumably). Another volunteering opportunity is to make a presentation to your child's class about your field of work, in which case you would make a request to your teacher to do this. .
According to the Birralee International School website, and current Parent Handbook (page 35 of the non-numbered pdf) parents are always welcome in the school to observe and/or volunteer. However, this is not totally accurate - as parents are NOT actually welcomed to volunteer inside classrooms in way they may be accustomed to at other schools. When teachers are asked about this issue in person, they are told that volunteering in the classroom is simply not needed, and that it can be difficult for the teacher(s) to manage. This of course is understandable, however, it can create a very confusing and potentially upsetting situation for new families that are used to volunteering in their child's classroom and get misled by the way things are described by the school – see page 35 of their current Parent Handbook , which states the following:
And of course, parents may volunteer to be a class representative for the official Parents' Committee. However, you will be expected to somehow "intuitively know" what the job actually entails (there is no handbook available), and you must be careful with lodging any complaints about the school - especially the administration - as there is a small group of parents on the official Parents' Committee that seem to take great offense if the administration is criticized in any way. New ideas are also not welcomed (although they will claim otherwise) - the reasoning is always "this is just how it's done here." This is the recurring theme for everything at Birralee and Norway in general - if something seems deficient, it is not acceptable to complain about it - but instead, you should quietly accept that you're in Norway, and "this is just how things are done here." To suggest changes or improvements is to criticize Norway as a whole, and this is a terrible affront to their nationalistic pride.
At Birralee, the school is essentially only as safe as the streets of Trondheim around it. Read our New Stories section to get a sense of how safe Trondheim really is. .
The Birralee school building has an "open door" policy, meaning the main front doors are left unlocked during the school day. There are no security cameras, and the front office is tucked far away from the front doors, meaning that anyone can enter the building at any time during the day, and quite likely not be seen. Compounding the problem is that the first floor of the school is actually a half flight of stairs (approximately 6 to 8 feet up) from ground level - so anyone walking to and from the front doors can go completely unnoticed by those inside the school. .
Additionally, there are public offices for the Trondheim Kommune on the third floor of the building (ironically - the Kommune's own office doors are locked at all times and a key card is required to get inside). Families are not properly informed of this rather odd situation, nor are they provided with any information as to who works in those public offices. There are times when Trondheim Kommune events are held inside these offices, so foot traffic into and out of the school increases accordingly. Families are never notified about any of these events. The school building is considered a "public building" and therefore is open and available to anyone. .
There are also no identification requirements at Birralee, for staff nor for visitors. So it can be nearly impossible to determine who is walking around the building at any given time. Compounding this issue is the lack of a comprehensive staff listing with clear photographs (click here for archived version of their staff listing page) - there are even staff members that are not listed on the school website, and whose identities are kept a secret if you happen to ask more about them (click here for related post about this issue) .
These issues have been brought up to the official PC and to the administration, but excuses are made for these issues, the most common being that "this is just the way things are here." Additionally, it is common to be "made to feel ashamed" for voicing such concerns openly. .
There are also problems with overall safety in and around the school. Fire hazards, fall hazards, and toxic chemical hazards have been noticed by parents, and are only addressed after complaints. Sidewalk and vehicle safety is another major issue around the school - especially when there is construction on the school grounds. There will be more information on this topic, including photographic evidence, posted here on this website soon.
Of course, the meaning of the term "zero tolerance" is very open to interpretation. At Birralee, students are often reminded that "in Norway, every child has the right to an education amongst their peers" when the question of consequences for bad behaviour is brought up. After events such as verbal harassment, physical assault, and even sexual harassment, the offending children are only removed from class for a very short time for "talking to" - perhaps 20 minutes - and then are returned to the same classroom as their victim(s). Although by law the school is allowed to "expel" a child for an afternoon or even longer - this tool seems to be either unknown to the school, or simply not utilized. .
For students coming from a place where "zero tolerance" policies are properly enforced, it can be very shocking and upsetting to experience or witness bad behavior such as verbal harassment and physical assault - especially as it continues over time without consequence. And for parents trying to request more information about specific incidents, they will receive the stock reply of "it's being handled" - and no additional information will be given. Also - families will never be notified of bad behavior events at the school - it's only if children happen to talk about incidents after school that parents may find out.
Where this can become problematic, is accountability. The kindergarten staff works within the same school building, however, the Birralee school is not responsible for any of the kindergarten staff - and the inverse applies as well. So in essence, neither entity is responsible for the other, and one entity can refuse to deal with problems from the other entity, and therefore responsibility is completely shirked by both sides. It's a very confusing and frustrating situation for families that may have concerns about what they witness in and around the school. Read a related post here .
An important thing to know, is that in Norway it is very common to simply NOT give out information - almost as if one wants to guard information closely and keep it only to themselves. So if you're used to schools that readily share information and answer questions properly, it will take some real adjustment to get used to the way things are done at Birralee. Another approach that seems common, is to avoid answering a question by claiming "I don't know" - so if you're the question-asking type, you will certainly encounter this obnoxious answer time and time again at Birralee. .
One last important thing to realize, is that in Norway, it seems that a fair amount of people do not necessarily operate from a place of honesty. Apparently it's just not culturally expected - so refusing to answer questions, or claiming "not to know" the answer, or stating that an issue "just isn't in our hands," isn't seen as problematic. It's just the way things are dealt with in Norway.
If by chance a parent manages to get a complaint taken to the Board of Directors, it will be responded to via a mailed letter a few weeks later, with no option for actual discussions nor follow-up. .
Also - it seems that historically the board only consists of Norwegians, and that there is no consideration for finding members that have experience with international schooling. Board meetings are held only in Norwegian, with no consideration for accommodating the English-speaking families at the school - inclusion of international families is simply not a priority for the Birralee Board of Directors.
"... the school’s highest advisory body, on which all the parties in the school are represented: pupils, parents, teaching staff, other employees and two representatives from the local authority, one of which must be the head teacher. SUs have the right to issue statements with regard to all matters that concern the school." .
Having an SU is required by law in all Norwegian public schools. However, it is NOT required for "Free Schools" such as Birralee, and the school takes advantage of this loophole. Read this post for more information about what an SU is, and also how there is a dearth of information about the fabled "School Environment Group" at Birralee.
Many families have experienced that the Birralee Board of Directors will defend the administration regardless of any wrongdoing. Click here to read one family's story.