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Curious? Then this FAQ is for you!

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!

FAQ

Yes - although Birralee had a majority of Norwegian children attending in the past, over the years Birralee has seen a great increase in the number of international students from around the world. There has been some behind-the-scenes bickering that the number of spots open for Norwegian children has been declining due to this shift – but these complaints are only voiced by a very small group of Norwegian parents in the official Birralee Parents' Committee. The children at Birralee are extraordinarily welcoming to students of all backgrounds, and in contrast to other schools in Norway (both international and Norwegian) there is no evidence of bullying by Norwegian children on the basis of being foreign. The children at Birralee are truly an exceptional group.
Within the regular school day, the children are absolutely free to be themselves without judgement or prejudice. Teachers seem to do an excellent job of embracing the different cultures within their classrooms, and foster an environment of acceptance towards all in the community. However, for special events at the school there is a bit of a disconnect - and problems can arise around celebrations such as Halloween and Christmas. Unfortunately there is no proactive work being done to discuss these topics in advance of school events, and the official Birralee Parents' Committee always votes against making any changes towards inclusion, if the topic even gets time during the once-monthly meetings. There is a strong sense of "Norwegian Nationalism" here in Norway, and it's no different at Birralee. Of course children can opt-out of joining Christmas celebrations, but whether that leaves them feeling excluded is unknown. .

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.
Technically yes - Birralee is described on their website as providing an "English-speaking education", and their non-profit business registration states it as such. However, this is not strictly enforced and it would be a mistake to assume that all curriculum (excluding Norwegian language lessons of course) is available in English - as this is simply not the case. Furthermore, parents of English-only-speaking children will likely not be informed when curriculum is presented only in Norwegian. Presumably, all families are to expect that some curriculum (including important topics such as anti-bullying literature, and sex education) may be provided in Norwegian. .

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. 
There are opportunities for parents to volunteer at the school - but it is generally for specific events only, such as the Christmas Fair, May 17th celebration, and after other events such as a choir recital or play. Information about these opportunities can be difficult to find. Another way parents can volunteer in the younger grades is for "reading time" - but again - there isn't information readily available about how this works, what the requirements are (do you need a background check?), nor how to sign up. .

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:

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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.

This is a common question that new parents ask, and you will receive a different answer depending on who you ask at the school. According to the senior administration, there isn't a formal way to do background checks for parent volunteers. There also aren't specifically defined scenarios that require parent volunteers to have background checks. Upon inquiring whether "volunteering to read to children at the school" requires a background check, senior administration will tell you that this does NOT require a background check, but a different staff member will tell you that it absolutely DOES require a background check. The concept of "it depends on whether you're alone with a child" might be cited - but this also does not have a proper definition - when using the "volunteering to read to children at school" example, one could argue that a volunteer is NOT alone with a child since they may be in the hallway with the child - however - if no one else is in that same hallway, would this not be considered "being alone" with that child? It's very concerning that repeated requests for the school to make a formal policy on the matter of background checks have gone completely unheeded.
According to Birralee's website, the school is "safe place for children" (as all schools should be) but international families may have different ideas as to what that really means. Safety standards are very different in Norway, and while some international schools choose a proactive approach to security (read related post here) , Birralee certainly favors a reactive approach (meaning, only making policy changes after a problem has occurred) .

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.
Birralee, like most schools, makes claims of having a "zero tolerance policy" towards bullying - from their current "School Environment Plan" "A school free from bullying (zero tolerance)." They also claim to have a "zero tolerance for disrespect, bullying, harassment, and discrimination" in their Behaviour Policy. .

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.
Yes, this can happen - for example in 2018 is there at least one known case of purposeful indecent exposure (a boy flashed his penis) that occurred in a classroom of children 9 years of age and older - see previous FAQ topic with regards to bullying at the school, as it seems sexual harassment is dealt with in the same way. In this case of indecent exposure, a staff member had attempted to "normalize" the incident to a concerned parent, by explaining that while such behaviour is wrong, that the children (at 9 years of age) are still just learning about what behavior is ok at school. Presumably this is why the offending child was not removed from the class that day - they were simply "talked to" about the incident for a few minutes.
Within the same building that the Birralee International School is located in, there is also a "Birralee International barnehage", or "kindergarten". There is one Board of Directors that runs both the International school and the kindergarten, even though each is a separate entity (as required by law). The two entities share the same school building and facilities, so while they are separate on paper, the reality is very different. .

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 .
Birralee has a number of really incredible teachers from around the world. Without these passionate and dedicated teachers, Birralee would have absolutely nothing to offer - everything good at Birralee is a direct result of their excellent teachers. However, there have been some complaints about certain teachers - some examples that will be detailed in upcoming posts: a teacher that seemingly lacks common sense when it comes to child safety ("child sleds into a freezing river" post coming soon), a teacher that never bothered to involve the principal when there was faith-based bullying in the classroom (this teacher instructed the victim to "just don't look at him" as a possible solution to the bullying), and other teachers that don't understand the basics of responding to emailed questions (it is actually very common for Norwegians to simply ignore emails if for any reason they don't wish to respond). Of course all schools will have a few "bad apples" when it comes to staff - but a big problem at Birralee is the lack of accountability - the current principal has proven incapable of handling staff issues in an effective way.
This is a tough question to answer honestly, as there aren't a lot of positives about the senior administration. While the front office administrators are very warm and friendly and absolutely wonderful with the children, the senior administration (more specifically the Principal and Business Manager) have proven to be sorely lacking in honesty, motivation, respect, and competence. There have been an incredible amount of complaints that the Principal's only competency is in maintaining a phony smile on her face 24/7, and that she completely depends on others (such as the Vice Principal or the Parents' Committee chairperson) to speak about and deal with any problems that arise (if those problems are going to be dealt with at all). .

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.
The members of the school board are completely inaccessible to families at Birralee. Recently, after some pushing by the official Birralee PC, some very brief bios of the current members were posted on Birralee's website. However, there is no formal mechanism for parents to contact any of the board members, nor set up a meeting with them. UPDATE: There is an email address available for the current chair of the board (Merethe.Baustad.Ranum@domstol.no - from the current Parent Handbook) – however – the current Birralee Parent Handbook states: “Please be advised that, if you approach a member of the Board, he or she will redirect your concerns to the Principal” – therefore if you have a problem with the principal, your only avenue of recourse is to rely on the principal to get the matter dealt with (which of course defies all logic). .

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.
This is actually quite a mystery at Birralee, as their available organizational charts are absurdly simplified as compared to other schools' available information, such as this example from another Trondheim international school. We will be posting a comprehensive diagram of the Birralee organizational structure soon.
Birralee does have an official Parents' Committee, that is "elected" by members of the Parent's Association - which refers to ALL parents at the school. Most families at Birralee are not aware of this "Parent's Association" as it's only briefly described on the Birralee website. The official Parents' Committee is currently very disorganized, and does not have any sort of handbook or bylaws for members to follow. This seems to benefit the "ruling members" (unofficial ruling members - more like a small clique of Norwegians that share a common goal of keeping everything "as it is") as they are able to make up rules as they go along, and avoid any sort of accountability (if there's no rules, then rules can't be broken). Being disorganized also benefits the senior administration and the Board of Directors, as it ensures that families have no real power to enact positive change at the school.
An SU ("Samarbeidsutvalg" or in English - "Coordinating Committee") is a very important advisory body at a school, and is described as: .

"... 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.
Communication from the administration is extremely limited. There are no regular newsletters (it took two months for the school to get their first newsletter of 2018 out, and it seemed carelessly thrown together at the last minute), and no regular communications. Expecting email replies to questions is also a very long process (is often over a month), IF you get a reply at all. And if a parent asks "too many questions" or otherwise finds themselves "disliked" by staff and/or administration at Birralee, they may find themselves completely stonewalled. Apparently this is normal operating procedure.
(see next FAQ point: "What if I want to make a complaint to the Board of Directors?")
To make a complaint to the Board of Directors, you are supposed to go through the Principal, or the Parents' Committee Board Representative. The current Birralee Parent Handbook states: “Please be advised that, if you approach a member of the Board, he or she will redirect your concerns to the Principal” – so, to reiterate from a previous FAQ point - if you have a problem with the principal, your only avenue of recourse is to rely on the principal to get the matter dealt with. .

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.