Armed police and emergency health care personnel responded swiftly to calls of a “threatening situation” involving a knife at a primary school in Oslo this week. Eight minutes later they had control of the suspect, a little boy who apparently was angry with his teacher.
It was just the latest example of violence at Norwegian schools, also now those with the youngest pupils. Brynseng School, one of Oslo’s newest and most modern, serves children in the first- to fourth grades. The assailant in this case was “extremely young,” police operations leader Sven Christian Lie told newspaper Aftenposten. He wouldn’t reveal the child’s age, but he was under 10.
The little boy brandished a knife taken from the school kitchen Tuesday morning. He threatened his teacher with it and three others were injured when they attempted to intervene. They were taken to the local emergency clinic for treatment.
A crisis team was sent to the school to help both staff and students, reported newspaper Dagsavisen, while the boy was turned over to his guardians. The child welfare service Barnevernet was routinely called in to assess his family situation.
A new report confirms the incident was not unusual. Norway’s workplace regulatory agency Arbeidstilsynet has just recently surveyed 93 primary and junior high schools in southeastern Norway, and state broadcaster NRK reported on Wednesday that the findings were raising alarm: fully 90 percent of the schools lack routines to prevent violence and threats. School employees don’t receive training in how threatening situations can be warded off. School leaders don’t know how to use existing regulations to help.
Another survey, conducted by the trade union federation in the education sector (Utdanningsforbund), also yielded sobering results: “The problems are the biggest in the primary schools,” federation leader Steffen Handal told NRK. “Teachers are subject to a rising degree of violence from pupils. We’ve seen incidents double from 2005 to 2018.”
Fully a third of teachers questioned said they’d been subjected to violence or threats. “The schools try to impose measure but its random and there’s no evaluations of the risk situation in the employees’ work environment,” Trude Vollheim of the labour regulatory agency told NRK.
Teachers were also found to be far more vulnerable to violence on the job, usually from either their pupils or the pupils’ parents, and Handal said some are afraid to go to work. “This simply can’t continue,” Handal said.
Lack of discipline
Local municipal authorites in charge of schools in Norway are ultimately responsible. “When so many schools don’t manage to follow up well enough, it’s very important that they in fact start doing a better job,” State Education Minister Jan Tore Sanner told NRK.
There have been reports of a lack of discipline in Norwegian schools, where it’s common for even the youngest pupils to be on a first-name basis with their teachers. Teachers simply don’t seem to command respect from their pupils, and none of the reports on national radio Wednesday about either the knife incident in Oslo or the surveys blamed on the child assailants themselves.
Instead the police were questioned by Aftenposten as to why they’d sent armed patrols to the school, and were criticized for remaining at the school to ensure order with their weapons visible.
“The call that came in to us was very dramatic,” explained Line Skott of the Oslo Police. “When we get a report that several people are injured, we have to make a decision about carrying arms.”
Inga Marte Thorkildsen of the Socialist Left party (SV), who’s politically in charge of Oslo’s schools, called on the school’s leadership to follow up the incident with everyone involved, including the little boy. “We must let the police do their job,” Thorkildsen told newspaper Dagsavisen. “It’s also important to remember that when a child does such a drastic thing, it’s often an expression that they’re insecure and have some great difficulties.”