School Options for Families coming from abroad

There are many things to consider when choosing a school for your child – especially when moving to a new country. In this article you get an overview of the different school options for families coming from abroad. You can also read the reflections 3 parents had when they decided on a school for their child.

Children drawing Photo: Colourbox

Choosing the right school for your child is one of the most important decisions you must make as a parent. Choosing a school for your child in a new country can therefore seem quite overwhelming. You may wonder where to start finding a school in a foreign country that fits your child’s personality, as well as their social, emotional and academic needs.

Contacting the International Staff Office with your queries is always a good place to start. We receive many questions about what school options there are for families coming from abroad, and if we can recommend schools. While we cannot recommend a school, we can guide you through the different school options in the city where you live and put you in touch with the school so you can gather the information needed. Only you as the parent/guardian knows what kind of school environment will best suit your child and family.

In this article we focus on the school options for international families in Aarhus. We have spoken with AU employed parents from abroad, who share their personal experience of choosing a school for their child in Aarhus, and the thoughts about their choice of school. Many of these considerations/thoughts are relevant even if you are not located in Aarhus but are in the process of deciding if your child should attend a Danish public school or an international school.

If you work in Foulum, there is an international school in Viborg, and another international school in Ikast-Brande (near Herning Campus). If you’re located in Emdrup, there are several international schools to choose from. 

There are many factors that need to be considered when deciding between a Danish public school or an international school for your child. However, before looking at the different school options available, we recommend you acquire an understanding of how the Danish school system work, and how it is set up as it may be different from the country you’re moving from. Once you understand the school system in Denmark, it may be easier for you to navigate through the different school options. You can gain more information on schooling in Denmark on the Ministry of Children and Education’s website here.

Once you understand how the educational system works in Denmark, you can dig into the three school options for children aged 6-17 in Aarhus: Reception Classes (called modtagerklasse in Danish), Aarhus International School and Kochs International School.

Reception Classes

If you wish for your child to attend an ordinary Danish public school, but your child doesn’t speak Danish, then your child must attend a reception class first. If your child knows a bit of Danish, they might need to complete a language screening to determine whether they need to attend a reception class prior to enrolling in a public school.

Children can attend reception classes from age 6-17. The transition to a regular class depends on the child’s age and acquired Danish language skills, but the maximum time a child can spend in a reception class is two years.

While the focus is to learn Danish, children will also be taught the Danish school curriculum corresponding to the child’s grade level. There are often less than 10 students in a reception class, so the teacher has more time for each student. You can read more about reception classes and the enrollment process here.

A parent’s reflection on Reception Classes

In 2020, Maria Bokari arrived in Denmark from Greece with her husband and 2 daughters aged 9 and 12. Her husband had been hired for a permanent position at AU, so they knew that they were going to stay in Denmark for the foreseeable future.

When deciding on a school in Denmark, it was important for Maria and her husband that their daughters learned Danish and integrated into Danish society as quickly as possible. Therefore, they decided that their daughters should start in reception classes to thereafter attend a local public Danish school.

Their daughters were allocated reception classes in Lisbjerg, approx. 8 km from their residence. The municipality therefore ensured the girls could travel by taxi free of charge to and from school.

Maria praises the teachers at the reception classes for being excellent teachers and experienced at communicating with a culturally diverse group of children speaking many different languages. The children learned a lot through experiences, play and activities. When Maria’s daughters attended reception class, there were many restrictions due to Covid-19 so the students couldn’t participate in some of the usual activities for reception class students. Often students attending reception class are going on excursions, field trips and doing activities where the children learn hands-on while practising Danish.

Maria’s daughters thrived in the reception classes. Maria says she personally had some concerns in the beginning as she thought the learning was too laid back, and that their daughters´ academic level didn’t improve. But looking back, Maria says she was probably just getting used to the Danish system and the different teaching approach.

Both her daughters are now in their second year at a Danish public school, and they are happy and improving well academically. Her daughters speak fluent Danish, perhaps with minor pronunciation difficulties, but in general they are thriving and have many Danish friends. Maria and her husband are happy that they decided to enrol their daughters in reception classes, which enabled them to continue  their education in a Danish public school.

Aarhus International School

Aarhus International School (AIS) is located near the centre of Aarhus. AIS is an international school following the international IB curriculum, which is taught in over 4000 schools worldwide. This enables students to easily transfer to other schools around the world, that also teach the IB curriculum.

The main language at AIS is English. However, at AIS Danish is also taught at three different levels as part of the curriculum. There are around 4-5 hours of Danish language classes a week, and parents are encouraged to enrol children in extracurricular activities with other Danish children so they can practise Danish.

AIS has an early years programme (pre-school) for children aged 3 – 6, where play-based learning, forming relationships, gaining new learning experiences and international mindedness are in focus. The location of the early years centre is currently in Højbjerg a suburb south of Aarhus. However, by August 2024 a new building at the main campus on Dalgas Ave is expected to be competed. This means that all students, including early learners will be located at the same main campus.

Through the IB Primary Years Programme and the IB Middle Year Programme, AIS teaches students up until grade 10. After students graduate, they can continue their education at one of the IB Diploma Programme gymnasiums. In Aarhus there is an IB gymnasium in Tilst. If they wish to continue their education at a local Danish gymnasium, they may need to attend an interview and a short language test.

It may be worth noting too that all AU employees get a 20% discount on student fees at AIS.

A parent’s reflections on Aarhus International School  

In early 2023, newly AU employed Niculina and Florin Musat and their two children aged 8 and 14 moved to Denmark after residing many years in Germany. The children attended an international school in Germany, so signing the children up to AIS was an obvious decision for the family. They believed this transition would be the least disruptive for their children, who could continue their learning based on a similar curriculum and with the same learning approach as they had been used to.

Prior moving to Denmark, Niculina scheduled an online meeting with the principal at AIS to have all her questions answered regarding teaching and extracurricular activities.

Niculina says her children are thriving at AIS and that the school environment is excellent for establishing friendships and parent connections. International and Danish celebrations are taking place each semester where both kids and parents are involved in the preparations. Nicula is also fond of the mother tongue club, which offers a way for students to come together to practice speaking their mother tongue languages with their peers. The family likes being part of a multicultural and international environment, where values such as responsibility, care and being respectful are taught and practised.

Niculina points out that because the Danish language is only being taught 4 times a week, it won’t be enough for her children to get to a level of proficiency that they would need for further studies in Danish. To learn Danish, it is therefore important for the children to participate in extracurricular activities.

Kochs School

Kochs School is a Danish private school, which has an international section. This means that there is a mix of Danish and international students and teachers. It also means the values, school philosophy and the school structure align with that of an ordinary Danish school.

The international department has over 100 students from many different countries. In the primary and lower secondary classes (ages 5-14), 3 subjects are taught in English: Science, Math and English, which follows the Cambridge curriculum. The upper secondary classes (ages 14-16) classes follow the Cambridge Curriculum in English, World Literature, Mathematics, Sociology, Geography, History and Science. The rest of the subjects are taught in Danish, often with Danish students in the same year level.  

When finishing grade 9, students can take both the Cambridge Final Exams in their subjects taught in English, as well as the Danish Final Exams (Folkeskolens afgangsprøve 9. klasse), which gives students many options for further education.

A parent’s reflections on Kochs International

Sarah C. Pedersen moved to in Denmark in 2021 with her 2 sons and her Danish husband, who was starting a new position at AU. Originally from the US, Sarah and her family had lived in England for many years.

When moving to Denmark it was important for Sarah and her husband to find a school that would embrace their sons mixed cultural background, maintain their English language skills while giving them the opportunity to learn the Danish language as part of their schooling. They also wanted their sons to be part of a community of both international and Danish children. Sarah says they felt the values of Kochs school (community, resourcefulness and creativity) aligned with theirs, so they decided to sign both sons up to the waitlist.

A few years in, Sarah and her husband are happy they chose Kochs for their sons. Sarah says that parents should be aware that the school structure and the student expectations in Denmark are quite different from what people may be used to coming from abroad. It takes time to adjust to a system where homework is not a big requirement during primary school, student testing is limited and teaching may seem less structured. However, at Kochs school, Sarah feels like there is a large and important focus on students’ wellbeing and on them finding their own strengths and interests. There is also a big focus on problem solving and on being part of a community. There are many theme weeks where the students get a chance to explore a specific topic and learn hands-on. It is a learning approach, which Sarah believes suits their sons well.

What are the options for special needs children?

If your child has special needs e.g., a physical handicap, autism or speech and language difficulties, or other special needs, the child can get help from Pedagogic Psychological Advice (PPR).

PPR is specialised pedagogical consultants, psychologists and experts in children with special needs, who offer help, advice and guidance to children aged 0-18 and their parents. PPR works closely with schools and daycare institutions, and it is often the teachers or pedagogues who, in consultation with the child’s parents, make the first contact with PPR. Once contact has been made, a pedagogical psychological assessment is prepared to investigate what kind of support the child needs.

If you have further questions about PPR, you can find more information as well as contact information here.

It is our hope that with this article you’ve received some insight into the school options in Aarhus for international families. We hope it is a help to you when considering which school is best suited for your child. We always recommend contacting the school directly, or the Kompetence Center for reception classes, if you have any specific questions about the curriculum, the school environment, the teaching style etc. You are also welcome to contact International Staff Office for general school related questions.

We hope to see you around.