The acute shortage of staff is currently far and away the greatest hurdle facing German school principals. In addition, around half of schools are no longer able to accept new immigrant students. These are the latest findings to emerge from the Robert Bosch Stiftung’s German School Barometer.
What currently poses the greatest challenges for schools in Germany? In November 2022, the German School Barometer conducted a representative survey of school principals to find the answers. The results revealed that the shortage of teaching staff is the greatest challenge facing two-thirds of school principals. In underprivileged areas, this number rose to as high as 80 percent. Far behind were issues including the sluggish progress of digitalization (22 percent), too much bureaucracy (21 percent), and their own high workload (20 percent). Conversely, the Covid-19 pandemic and its associated measures were only of concern for one in ten schools.
“There is no quick and certainly no easy fix for the shortage of teachers,” says Dr. Dagmar Wolf, Senior Vice President Education at the Robert Bosch Stiftung. “That being said, lower levels of bureaucracy could at least alleviate existing staff shortages at schools, for instance by making it easier to hire administrative support staff, teaching assistants, or teachers from abroad. But long-term planning is also a must. Increasing capacity on teacher training programs alone will not be enough to solve the issue. The teaching profession must be made more attractive.”
Echoing the results of previous German School Barometer surveys, schools continue to see a marked gap in student learning for more than one-third of students (according to school principals in November 2022: 35 percent; according to teachers in April 2022: 41 percent). This number even rises to two-thirds of children in schools in underprivileged areas. Nearly 80 percent of school principals also reported being unable to provide all children and adolescents with the necessary learning support. As such, only one-third believe Covid catch-up programs have been effective. Programs were most effective at academic Gymnasium schools (42 percent), while schools in socially deprived areas saw the least improvement (23 percent). Despite the two billion euros made available as support funding, the vast majority of school principals (70 percent) are in urgent need of additional funding.
Three-quarters of schools in underprivileged areas record student academic progress as a matter of course. “We need to make better use of this data and analyze past programs for the German government’s planned Startchancen [starting chances] program. The importance of long-term support that guarantees planning security for those involved in schools and educational administration has long been clear,” explains Dagmar Wolf. This is why the Robert Bosch Stiftung has joined forces with the Berlin Social Science Center to launch the Expert Panel on “Startchancenprogramm”.
“We fell short of supporting socially disadvantaged children and adolescents in particular – and by a wide margin. This was down to the somewhat ‘scattergun’ approach taken, whereby all schools received funding over a set period of time. Against this backdrop, there is a clear argument for needs-based distribution.”
As of March 2022, the German school system has seen a notable influx of refugee children and adolescents from Ukraine. School principals estimate this figure stands at 2.7 percent of the total number of students (median: seven students per school). In the same period, however, almost exactly the same number of students from other countries also joined German schools (total share: 2.7 percent; median: five students per school). Unlike for refugee children and adolescents from Ukraine, the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany (KMK) is yet to publish any figures on these students.
Around half of the schools surveyed have reached capacity when it comes to accepting new students. Schools in socially deprived areas in particular are already operating above capacity (45 percent), with an above-average number of newly arrived students (Ukraine 3.7 percent; other countries: 5.3 percent of the total number of students).
School principals were additionally asked whether they believe that the traditional culture of assessment and grading – whereby all students are set exams and tests at specific times in class – weighs heavily on students. Nearly half of the principals agreed with the statement.
The high values testify that many school principals across all types of general educational schools are well aware that the traditional culture of assessment and grading practices places a serious psychological burden on students. However, the findings reveal that only 7 percent of schools are currently employing school development processes to create more up-to-date means of assessment
The German School Barometer is a survey of teachers at general educational and vocational schools across Germany which has been led by the Robert Bosch Stiftung since 2019. For the first time, the latest survey included exclusively school principals. The representative sample comprised a total of 1,055 school principals and was carried out between October 31 and November 16, 2022 as an online survey by forsa.
A summary of the results of the current survey is available for download (German).