Representing Parents in School Decision Making: Germany/Berlin

1. Introduction

This chapter will first give some global remarks about the situation in Germany and then focus on the Berlin situation. Because of the absence of a central Ministry of Education it is not possible to give a detailed description of all the 16 German Länder (provinces) each of them having a local legislation of their own. If you tried to draw a table containing only keywords of the most important questions about representing parents you would need 9 square meters of paper in 1981 (cf. Dietze, p.77). Meanwhile Germany has got five supplementary Länder as a result of the fall of the wall.

In the absence of a central ministry the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany (KMK) tries to guarantee a minimum of agreement among the different laws of the Länder. But the KMK approves explicitly the possibility of different regulations and underlines the necessity of cooperation between school and parents beyond institutionalized involvement, based on confidence (cf. KMK 1991, p. 4).

"Parents exercise their rights, on the one hand, individually and, on the other hand, collectively through parents´ groups and their representatives on other consulting and decision-making bodies at schools. The rights enjoyed by the parents of primary school pupils do not fundamentally differ from those afforded parents of secondary school pupils who have not yet reached their majority." (KMK 1994) In the sector of vocational education parents are scarcely involved in decision-making. As most of the pupils are adults normally there are no parents` committees. Nevertheless parents are often allowed to have meetings if there is a demand from at least a fifth of the parents of a class. But they can only exchange information and opinions.

As each of the Länder has developed its own approach to participation at school names of committees and councils often change from one Land to another and there are always exceptions. Generally parents are elected on four different levels. The following names in brackets are not exhaustive; for more detailed information see the laws of the German Länder.

First level: the individual class

(Klassenelternversammlung, Klassenelternschaft)

Second level: the school as a whole

(Gesamtelternvertretung, Schulelternbeirat, Elternbeirat, Elternkonferenz, Schulpflegschaft)

Third level: the municipality or the district

(Stadtelternbeirat; Kreiselternrat, Kreiselternbeirat, Bezirkselternbeirat, Bezirkselternausschuß)

Fourth level: the Land (province)

(Landeselternrat, Landeselternbeirat, Landeselternausschuß, Landeselternkammer)

To be exact there is a fifth level, the Bundeselternrat (Federal Association of Parents) which is not mentioned by legal texts. It is the free association of the parental Länder committees. The membership is optional. Most of the Länder committees, however, are members of the association. The Bundeselternrat does not have any legal rights but it is recognized as a non-profit-making institution. As the association has not got the possibility of direct decision-making it is difficult to estimate its real influence. Resolutions and press statements are widely spread (33 resolutions in 1996/97, beginning with the "reform of primary education" and ending with the "reform of orthography" (cf. Bundeselternrat 1998). But the work has to be done in a more or less political way by trying to establish contact with the teachers’ unions, the Federal Association of Pupils, the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder or the Federal Ministry of Research and Technology.

School decision-making is undertaken in other councils/advisory councils where parents have to send their delegates. These councils are mostly installed on the same levels as the parental committees, the most important being the Schulkonferenz (school council). It deals with general educational and teaching questions of the individual school. The composition varies from one Land to another. In some Länder teachers make up half the members while the other half is split evenly between parents and pupils; and in others each group accounts for one third of the total, sometimes one fourth of the total, when delegates of the non-teaching staff are members of the council, too.

Parental representatives are elected at each level by parents. There is no selection by school authorities.

2. The Berlin situation

2.1 Recent and current legislation

All provincial school laws depend on the German Constitution which declares (in article 6) that:

"The natural right and the most important duties of parents are the care and education of their children." and in article 7: "The whole school system is under supervision of the state." (cf. Grundgesetz 1949) That means that parents and school have the common task to educate which can be done only through sensible cooperation.

Rules concerning the rights of parents at school are laid down in the Schulverfassungsgesetz (law about the constitution of schools). These rights are very different depending on such matters as: the right to be informed, the right to be heard, the right to give advice and the right to decide.

Representatives of private schools have only consultative functions. Parental representatives are elected and sent as delegates on four different levels (representatives of private schools have always consultative functions):

PARENTAL COMMITTEES DECISION-MAKING COUNCILS
1st LEVEL

Klassenelternversammlung §41


(Parental class committee)
1st LEVEL

Klassenkonferenz § 17


(Class council)
2nd LEVEL

Gesamtelternvertretung § 45


(Parental school committee)
2nd LEVEL

Fachkonferenz § 21


(Subject council)

Gesamtkonferenz §§ 13-14

(Teachers’ council)

Schulkonferenz §§ 50-54

(School council)

3rd LEVEL

Bezirkselternausschuß § 71
(Parental district committee)
3rd LEVEL

Bezirksschulbeirat § 72


(District school advisory council)
4th LEVEL

Landeselternausschuß §74


(Parental province commitee)
4th LEVEL

Landesschulbeirat § 75


(Provincial school advisory council)

(cf. Gesetz über die Schulverfassung 1995)

(5th LEVEL, out of law)

Bundeselternrat


(Federal Association of Parents)
 

The Berlin parental province committee is member of the Federal Association of Parents.

2.2 Membership of and powers accorded to committees and councils

2.2.1 Parental committees

Klassenelternversammlung

All parents of a class are members of the parental class committee. They elect the two parental representatives of a class (a chairperson and a deputy). In order to avoid inequality there are two votes per child. The committee has got the right to be informed and to be heard about things concerning the class and the school. There are at least three meetings per year, organized in agreement with the form teacher. Delegates of teachers and pupils are allowed to assist.

Gesamtelternvertretung
The two parental representatives of each class are automatically members of the parental school committee. They elect a chairperson, two delegates to be sent to the parental district committee and four delegates to be sent to the school council. The parental school committee has got the right to be informed and to be heard about matters concerning the school as a whole There are at least three meetings per year, organized in agreement with the head teacher. Delegates of teachers and pupils are allowed to assist.

Bezirkselternausschuß

The two delegates of each school of the district are members of the parental district committee. They elect a chairperson, two delegates to be sent to the parental province committee and twelve delegates to be sent to the district school advisory council. The parental district committee has got the right to be informed and to be heard about matters concerning the different types of schools in the district. The number of meetings is not fixed. The first meeting is organized by the Bezirksstadtrat, the political councillor of education of the district.

There are no delegates of teachers or pupils.

Landeselternausschuß
The two delegates of each district are members of the parental province committee. They elect a chairperson. The parental province committee has got the right to be informed and to be heard about things concerning the interest of parents in school. The number of meetings is not fixed. Teachers and pupils send two delegates who are members of the district school advisory council.

Bundeselternrat

The chairperson of the parental province committee and several delegates (maximum 7) represent the province within the Federal Association of Parents. The association, founded in 1952, organises two plenary sessions every year, three seminars concerning a special type of school and several seminars with general school concern. The seminars are mostly sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Research and Technology which is not responsible for schools and cultural affairs.The association has got no specific rights (see introduction).

2.2.2 Decision-making councils

Fachkonferenz

All teachers of a school teaching the same subject are members of the subject council. Two delegates of the parents and the pupils may assist in a consultative function. The council has got the right to give advice and to decide in matters of didactics, standards for the award of the different marks, choice of teaching materials, suitability of textbooks and coordination of parts of the syllabus. If a member refuses a decision it has to be consented to by the Gesamtkonferenz (teachers´ council) before being effective. The chairperson, who is not elected, is the subject head of department.

Klassenkonferenz

All teachers teaching in an individual class are members of the class council. Two delegates of the parents and the pupils may assist in a consultative function.If the council deals with things such as marks and examinations parents and pupils are not allowed to assist. The council has got the right to give advice and to decide on all questions of teaching and education concerning the individual class. The chairperson, who is not elected, is the form teacher or the head teacher.

Gesamtkonferenz

The members of the teachers’ council include the head teacher, the teachers and the social workers of the individual school. Teachers teaching less than six lessons per week or teaching religion and the two delegates of pupils and parents may assist in a consultative function. The council has the right to give advice and to decide on all important matters concerning teaching and education in the school, (e.g. principles concerning standards for the award of the different marks, allocation of classrooms, optional lessons, budgetary planning, cooperation with other schools etc). Normally there are six sessions per year. The chairperson, who is not elected, is the head teacher.

Schulkonferenz

The members of the school council are: the head teacher, three teachers (elected by the teachers´ council), four pupils (elected by the pupils´ school committee) and four parents (elected by the parental school committee). One delegate of the non-teaching staff may assist in a consultative function. In primary schools the pupils´ delegates (form 5 and 6) have only consultative functions. The chairperson, who is not elected, is the head teacher. The council has the right to give advice and to decide on questions of principles concerning lessons and breaks, house work, school regulations and disciplinary rules, pilot projects, road safety provisions for children on their way to and from school, allocation of classrooms, construction projects, etc. It has got the right to be heard in matters of division, relocation and closing of the school, merger with another school, important change of school organization and optional lessons.

Bezirksschulbeirat

The district school advisory council consists of 12 parents, 12 teachers and 12 pupils. The inspector and the Bezirksstadtrat ( political councillor of education) are allowed to participate without the right to vote. The chairperson, who is elected, may be a parent, a teacher or an (adult) pupil. The council has got the right to be informed and to give advice to the inspector and to the political councillor of education. It must be heard in matters of construction projects, opening and closing of schools, determination of school districts, cooperation between schools. The chairperson, traditionally a parent, the deputy teacher and the deputy pupil are elected during the first session of the year.

Landesschulbeirat

The provincial school advisory council consists of 23 parents (one per district), 23 teachers, 23 pupils, 3 representatives of the teachers’ unions, 2 representatives of industry and trade and one representative of each of the religious communities (protestant, catholic, jewish). The local Minister of Education and other members of the local government are allowed to participate without the right to vote. The council has got the right to be informed and to give advice to the local Minister of Education. It must be heard in matters of objectives of education in the syllabus, change in structure and organisation of school administration, equipping of schools, testing new ways of co-determination, pilot projects, new legislation etc. Theoretically, the chairperson, who is elected during the first session of the year, may be a parent, a teacher or a pupil. Traditionally it is always a parent, with a deputy teacher and a deputy pupil.

2.3 Relationships between the local and central government

The province of Berlin, represented by its local Minister of Education, is a member of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany. This conference passes resolutions every time the ministers think that a problem needs an answer in universally binding terms. This is normally the case when a province, because of its individual politics, runs the risk of losing the general recognition of reports and diplomas, e.g. if the number of lessons or subjects differ too much from the majority of the other provinces.But parental co-determination does not seem to be a debatable point. Resolutions in this field have been published on the following subjects: Self-management and school (1961), the transition from one type of school to another (1966), sexual education (1968), traffic education (1972), recommendations for special schools (1972),the role of pupils at school (1973), pupils with difficulties in reading and counting (1978), youth and sects (1979), AIDS (1988), prevention of drug addiction (1990).

2.4 The process of selecting/electing parental representatives

Parental representatives are elected at each level by parents. There is no selection or pre-selection by school authorities. Each body elects a chairperson and one or several deputies for one year. The delegates of the district school advisory council and the parental province committee are elected for two years. The parental committees (except the Federal Association of Parents) send delegates to all decision-making councils. Elections have to be held by secret ballot unless all persons entitled to vote decide for an open vote.

2.5 The nature and provision of training for parental representatives

Training courses for parental repesentatives are organised free of charge by the district in cooperation with an adult education centre and the Arbeitskreis Neue Erziehung (a private association for education, sponsored by the local Ministry of Education) in cooperation with the Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft (a teachers´ union) and the BIL (Berlin Institute of In-Service Teacher Training). The latter courses are not free of charge but they are rather cheap (about 5 EUROs). In 1998 there were eight courses just for the primary sector with topics such as the functions and responsibilities of parental representatives, chairing meetings and discussions, cooperation between parents and teachers, bodies and laws, school reform.

In addition to these courses there is written information edited by the local ministry and by the private association for education as well. The ministerial booklet contains the most important laws for parents and pupils (cf. Senatsverwaltung für Schule, Jugend und Sport 1997); the private booklet gives practical help in answering questions such as : What are the parental rights at school?, How to choose a representative?, How to organise a meeting?, How to help foreign parents?, How to help new parents?, etc.

2.6 Parental partnership with the teaching profession

Parental partnership with the teaching profession is not well developed. Parents often think that they are not welcome at school and teachers often fear to be "inspected" by the so-called "professional parents". Parental partnership means mostly parental assistance during school outings because of the lack of teachers. Apart from this and the possibility to assist with a lesson (with the consent of the teacher) parental cooperation is mentioned only in legal texts for primary education. Here, three forms of cooperation are possible:

2.7 Perspectives on the future role and extension of powers

Berlin will have a new school law which will bring a general school reform leading to self-managing schools similar to those in several Anglo-Saxon countries (e.g. England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand). The first steps have been taken since 1995 in the form of pilot projects called "School with enlarged responsibilities" and the results have been published recently (cf. Avenarius & Döbert 1998). The draft of the new law appears to strengthen the role of the parents. The draft says that parents’ proposals concerning content and didactics of lessons should be realized if possible and that parents are allowed to organize, with the agreement of the school council, extra-curricular lessons intending to support children pedagogically. The school council will be enabled to decide on matters concerning the collaboration of parents and other persons during a lesson and the appointment of a new head teacher. Members of the school council (parents, teachers, pupils) will be allowed, with the agreement of the teacher, to assist in a lesson and if it is necessary for their work within the council (cf. Neues Berliner Schulgesetz 1998, pp. 66/76).

3. Comment

When looking at the different ways of participation it is evident that the term "decision-making" doesn’t fit for most of the ways if you want to use it literally. The parental rights to be informed, to be heard, to give advice may, from time to time, lead to decisions which were intended by the parents. But if the decision makers do not want to receive advice the profit is meagre. Seen this way, one must say that the parental committees are not really decision-making. The councils have, to a certain extent, the right to decide, but the parents are a minority and sometimes their roles are only consultative ( cf. class council, subject council, teachers’council). So the school council remains the only body where parents are really involved in decision-making, even though the parents’ group accounts only for one third of the total. The roles of the district and the provincial school advisory councils are special. Being only advisory it is difficult for a politician to neglect constantly the advice of these councils because of political reasons. So, during the last years, these councils have lobbied for a variety of issues e.g. introduction of financial minimum standards for schools, keeping of free textbooks for all pupils, provision of funds for renovation of schools and transformation of school yards (project "green school yards"). There have also been failures e.g. refusal to employ more young teachers (the average age of Berlin teachers being about 50 years), refusal to reduce the number of pupils per class, refusal to introduce computers in all schools, lack of consequences for teachers for being negligent of their duties etc. According to the Provincial school advisory council (cf. Landesschulbeirat 1998) the most important success during the last ten years was the integration of the schools of the eastern part of Berlin into the new school system with a minimal number of frictions. The biggest deception was (and still is) the fact that they do not succeed in stopping the constant shortage of financial resources for schools.

Decision-making is more complicated in Berlin than in other provinces of Germany because of the division of powers between the local government and the district. The districts, responsible of the non-teaching staff and the school buildings, are rather independent and even if the local government is willing to follow the advice of parents the district authorities will not follow automatically, especially if they must provide money.

When talking with parental representatives about the future of parental decision-making they are somewhat pessimistic. On the one hand lack of money will not facilitate the realization of parental demands, on the other hand not all parents are happy when other parents will have the opportunity to "control" classes and pupils. They fear that their privacy will be invaded.

Klaus-J Heinermann


NOTES

¹In the following text the term "province" is used as a synonym for "Land".

APPENDIX

Laws of the German Länder concerning parental co-determination

Baden-Württemberg:

Schulgesetz in der Fassung vom 1.8.1983, zuletzt geändert am 15.12.1997

Elternbeiratsverordnung vom 16.7.1985, zuletzt geändert am 17.6.1998

Bayern:

Bayerisches Gesetz über das Erziehungs- und Unterrichtswesen in der Fasssung vom 7.7.1994, geändert am 24.7.1998

Berlin:

Schulverfassungsgesetz vom 11.7.1974, geändert am 26.1.1995

Brandenburg:

Brandenburgisches Schulgesetz vom 12. April 1996

Bremen:

Gesetz zur Novellierung des Bremischen Schulgesetzes und des Bremischen Schulverwaltungsgesetzes vom 20. Dezember 1994

Hamburg:

Hamburgisches Schulgesetz vom 16. April 1997

Hessen:

Hessisches Schulgesetz und Wahlordnung für die Wahl zu den Elternvertretungen vom 14. Juli 1994

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern:

Schulgesetz für das Land Mecklenburg-Vorpommern vom 15. Mai 1996, in der Fassung

vom 25. September 1997

Niedersachsen:

Niedersächsisches Schulgesetz in der Fassung vom 3. März 1998

Nordrhein-Westfalen:

Gesetz über die Mitwirkung im Schulwesen vom 13.12.1977, zuletzt geändert am 19.6.1994

Rheinland-Pfalz:

Landesgesetz über die Schulen in Rheinland-Pfalz vom 6.11.1974 in der Fassung vom 12.2.1997

Saarland:

Schulordnungsgesetz und Schulmitbestimmungsgesetz vom 21. August 1996, geändert am 27. November 1996

Sachsen:

Schulgesetz für den Freistaat Sachsen vom 3. Juli 1991 in der Fassung vom 29.9.1998

Sachsen-Anhalt:

Schulgesetz des Landes Sachsen-Anhalt in der Fassung vom 27. August 1996

Schleswig-Holstein:

Schleswig-Holsteinisches Schulgesetz in der Fassung vom 2.8.1990, geändert am 8.9.1998

Thüringen:

Thüringer Schulgesetz vom 6. 8. 1993 in der Fassung vom 16.12.1996 Thüringer Schulordnung vom 20.1.1994 in der Fassung vom 22.1.1996

References

Arbeitskreis Neue Erziehung für Familie, Schule und Gesellschaft e.V. (Ed)(1998)

Leitfaden für neue Elternvertreter (Berlin, GEW)

Avenarius,H. & Döbert,H.(Eds)(1998) Schule in erweiterter Verantwortung. Ein Berliner Modellversuch. Abschlußbericht der wissenschaftlichen Begleitung (Frankfurt/M., DIPF)

Bundeselternrat (Ed)(1998) Bundeselternrat im Dienste der Eltern, Heft 16 (Mainz)

Dietze,L.(1981) Elternrecht macht Schule (Düsseldorf/Wien, Econ/Schroedel)

Gesetz über die Schulverfassung des Landes Berlin vom 11.Juli 1974,

geändert durch Gesetz vom 26. Januar 1995

Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland vom 23.5.1949, geändert am 20.10.1997

Grundschulordnung (Berlin) vom 7. Juli 1980 in der Fassung vom 5.Februar 1986

KMK see: Sekretariat....

Landesschulbeirat Berlin, Brief vom 4.12.1998

Neues Berliner Schulgesetz, 1. Diskussionsentwurf, Stand: 29. Oktober 1998

Sekretariat der Ständigen Konferenz der Kultusminister der Länder in der Bundesrepublik

Deutschland (KMK)(1991) Zusammenarbeit von Eltern und Schule, Beschluß der Kultusministerkonferenz vom 19.9.1980 in der Fassung vom 29.7.1991

Sekretariat der Ständigen Konferenz der Kultusminister der Länder der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (KMK)(1994) The Education System in the Federal Republic of Germany (Bonn)

Senatsverwaltung für Schule, Jugend und Sport (Ed)(1997) Alles was Recht ist. Ratgeber für Eltern- und Schülervertreter (Berlin, Verwaltungsdruckerei)