Right at the beginning of the article, we make a contradiction: The number of private schools in Germany is growing rapidly. Long ago they ceased to be the exclusive preserve of the middle-class elite. Despite all this, the sword of Damocles of increasing educational inequality hangs over the German school system. The goal of access to education for all is still a long way off. Why?
Private or private schools? The run on education
After the summer vacation, first-graders everywhere are rushing to a wide variety of educational institutions – with expectations, concerns and wishes in their luggage. Some parents share the concerns of their children. Bullying in schoolyards, cancelled classes and dilapidated school buildings make parents' ears prick up. Starting school ends an odyssey for many fathers and mothers. Months, even years in advance, they attended "open days" at private school institutions to explore alternatives, checked out the public elementary school in their area that was responsible for them, considered switching to other public schools in the vicinity.
If one decides to hand over the institutional responsibility for the education of one's offspring to a private school, many parents begin to worry about school admission. Because not only the parents make a choice, also the schools.
Compulsory schooling has existed in Germany since 1919, which means that the state is responsible for education. Does this live up to it? Apparently, an increasing number of parents do not see it that way.
Private schools in Germany
Private schools versus private schools in Germany: often a difficult decision for parents © onnola under cc
There are two main types of private schools in Germany. The so-called "substitute schools" are bound to the state curricula. They offer state-recognized degrees. On the other hand, there are the so-called "supplementary schools", which are not bound to state curricula and thus are not allowed to offer state-recognized school-leaving qualifications. Graduates of this type of private school have the option of taking their school-leaving exams externally.
Erosion of public schools
The desire for an alternative to public schooling is sometimes so strong that in sparsely populated areas even private schools are completely replacing public ones – especially in the eastern German states. For example, state-run elementary schools, whose existence is always tied to a certain number of children, are having to close due to the demographic decline in student numbers. Alternatively, private elementary schools will then emerge. A vicious circle, since the existence of the open private school equally drains the number of students from the public schools in the surrounding area. Excessively long school routes as well as an undermining of the public school system are the result. Rightly so?! Especially when one considers the infrastructure of public schools, which has been neglected for decades.
In densely populated areas, the situation is no different. Here, a multitude of private and public schools compete for the best of the best. The so-called "creaming effect" threatens, because parents with a strong educational background put their offspring, most of whom are socially and cognitively well-prepared, into private schools from the outset. Rightly so?! That is also the question here. After all, why should parents release the dearest thing they have into the vastness of an ailing educational landscape?
Proportion of private schools
For the 2016/2017 school year, the percentage of general education private schools was 10.8 percent. Although there was a slight year-over-year decline of 0.2 percent in private school enrollment – which can probably be attributed to the more stringent criteria for the existence of private schools – the upward trend of private schools is unstoppable: In the last twenty years, the proportion of private schools in Germany has more than doubled.
Merging all the students of the once tripartite school system is just a reaction on the part of the federal government. In many areas, the Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium are once again under one roof today. School types and school-leaving qualifications thus seem to be becoming more and more decoupled from each other again.
Another response of the federal government in relation to the increasing proportion of private schools in Germany is to increase the requirements for approving a private school. In the following article in this series, we will show that this measure cannot be the last word in wisdom.