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Germany lurches towards private education

But is it a good thing for society?

Back in July this year Germany’s best-selling newspaper, Bild, carried an article about the last three ‘German’ children in a school in the famously multi-cultural Kreuzberg district of Berlin, where the language of the playground is either Turkish or Arabic.

At the same time, Berlin’s private schools have been reporting massive growth; up from 16,600 students in 2001, to 28,000 in 2011. It’s a growth that is being echoed right across the country, with private schools overall having increased by 42 percent to some 4,500 since 1992, meaning that effectively every 13th German child is now getting a private education. That compares to roughly every 6th child in the UK (aged over 16; Brits trust the state system for primary schooling).

And yet, unlike the very unequal system in Britain, which gives a leg up to those who can afford it, attending a private school in Germany doesn’t produce better academic results. Traditionally, such schools have been for children who were perceived as being ‘too thick’ to get into their local high-achieving Gymnasium. Parents, it seems, are spending their money to get something else.

The ‘people like us’ factor is an increasingly significant one, with only an estimated four percent of private school pupils from a ‘non German’ background, and a significant majority of private schools being religiously-orientated; mostly Catholic, but some Lutheran, too. These religiously-oriented schools are state subsidised, so the fees are not nearly as painful as in the UK.

Also a factor is a private school’s longer hours and its all-day supervision with all-inclusive curriculum (ie sports, hobbies etc) which increasingly takes the load off parents; meanwhile the state system relies on stay-at-home parenting, as in many cases children still go home for lunch. The private option is better, clearly, for working mothers.

Whatever the motivation, the trend looks likely to continue, with some 54 percent of parents saying that they would like to send their children to private schools, if they could afford it. It’s a sad indicator, because increased inequality in education will only go on to produce an increasingly divided society.

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