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Last updated January 2017

When the first results from the international PISA test were published in 2001, Germany awoke to a startling reality about their education system — not only were German students performing significantly below the OECD average in reading and literacy, as a whole, but the country received the unwelcome distinction of showing the most unequal education performance among the OECD nations.

Since then, Germany has adopted a sweeping series of reforms, including lengthening the school day from roughly four hours in most cases to the six and a half hours that is common in most industrialized countries; vastly expanding early childhood education, including making early education and care an entitlement for all children age 1 and older; providing more autonomy to schools; reforming tracking at the secondary level; and creating national standards for student performance—a first in a country where education was the responsibility of the states, called Länder in Germany. These reforms have resulted in the country rising through the international ranks to the top tier of performance on the 2015 round of PISA, in large part due to the improved performance of the lowest performing students.

Germany’s education system is decentralized, with the 16 German Länder primarily responsible for their education systems. While the national government has put in place national standards and assessment for the primary and secondary schools over the last decade, the Länder have been responsible for changes in the structure of the system. Traditionally, German students chose an academic or vocational pathway at about age 10. Länder delayed the choice of pathway and allowed students more flexibility in their paths. Germany also expanded kindergartens, which serve children ages 3-5, across the country, expanding most to serve these children full-day. There was also a targeted effort to expand supports for immigrant students, including more German as a second language programming and academic support. Immigrant families have also been encouraged to send their children to kindergarten to give them an early introduction to school.

While Germany’s relative performance on PISA has improved overall, including among its lowest performing students, Germany still faces challenges in ensuring an equitable education for all of its students. Variation in student performance attributed to socioeconomic status is, at 16 percent, still higher than the OECD average.

Quick Facts

Population: 80 million

Ethnic makeup: German 87.2%, Turkish 1.8%, Polish 1%, Syrian 1%, other 9%

GDP: $4.199 trillion

GDP per capita: $50,800

Unemployment rate: 3.8%

Youth unemployment rate: 6.2%

Major industries: Services: 68.6%; Industry: 30.7%; Agriculture: 0.7%

Educational attainment: Upper Secondary Graduation rate 80.7%

Career and Technical Education

Germany’s vocational system has been highly regarded for many years. Its Dual System of Vocational Training, which combines theoretical learning in a vocational school setting and practical learning in a workplace setting under the supervision of a skilled mentor, is the centerpiece of its system and is a model for many other countries. Germany has, however, struggled to modernize the system to adapt to fast changing economic needs and to provide a high-quality training route for a broad range of students.

System Structure

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research has overall responsibility for the country’s VET strategy. The Länder have responsibility for the school portion of the Dual System as well as full-time VET schools. They design the school curricula and train and pay the teachers. Industry groups of employers prepare the curriculum, supervise the workplace training, and assess student progress. Apprenticeships are centrally organized by the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB). The BIBB publishes a list of available training programs and apprenticeship salaries. Companies bear the cost of the workplace training component.

Realschule and hauptschule graduates (and a small number of gymnasium graduates) typically enroll in a vocational upper secondary program at age 15 or 16. Vocational programs are the choice for about half of all upper secondary students. There are two main options: 1) The Dual System, which is the most popular vocational option and is focused on the trades; and 2) Full-time vocational schools that last for two to three years for students interested in industries that are not craft or industrial-based. They lead to VET qualifications (and some offer the option to obtain school leaving certificates as well).

Dual apprenticeship programs are offered in more than 300 trades. Each year, there is some effort to streamline and integrate related training occupations. The classroom portion is funded by the government. A curriculum framework set by KMK organizes students’ in-school learning (with some content specifics left to Länder), while apprenticeships are structured around national training regulations agreed to by each industry.

Students are paid an “allowance” (approximately one-third of the typical starting salary) by the host company that increases over time. At the end of training (which usually lasts three years, but can extend to five), students in the Dual System take a final exam administered by industry partners such as chambers of commerce and earn level 4 qualifications on the eight-level German Qualifications Framework (GQF). While VET programs do not automatically lead to university entrance qualifications, it is usually possible to qualify for university if a student is interested in pursuing further education. About one-third of young Germans graduate from Dual VET apprenticeships.

Students who enroll in full-time vocational schools within the upper secondary level work towards vocational qualifications for skilled work. These qualifications are at level 3 on the GQF. Teaching methods are generally task-based and practice-oriented, providing both technical vocational training and a broader general education. Students can choose to specialize in a variety of industry areas, from business occupations to trade and technical occupations.

VET graduates can then go on to higher vocational education and training and earn nationally regulated further training qualifications (usually at level 6 on the GQF). Most further training qualifications and certificates of trade and technical schools enable access to university.

German universities and universities of applied sciences offer bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. Some of these programs combine learning in the classroom and apprenticeship-style on-the-job training. The completion of higher education leads to a bachelor’s degree (GQF level 6) or master’s degree (GQF level 7).

Current Reforms

VET in Germany faces challenges in improving the transition into VET as well as the transition from VET to higher education for some students.

Since the 1990s, Germany has had transitional (usually one-year) prevocational programs for students who did not have a lower secondary degree or needed to strengthen their basic skills, often mathematics, before enrolling in a Dual System program or full-time vocational school. By 2008, over one-third of all students entering VET enrolled in this prevocational program. However, completion of this program have not always helped students secure either apprenticeships or spots in full-time vocational schools upon completion of the program. In response, educators have made efforts to reduce the number of students needing to enroll in the program and to better coordinate services so that students successfully transfer into VET programs. These efforts have been coupled with initiatives focused on reducing the dropout rate from VET programs and increasing enrollment in the system, including supports like workplace coaches and additional counseling for students in VET programs.

There has also been an effort to widen access to higher education for VET students. This has been done by allowing students with a master level qualification from the Dual System to enter higher education, as well as the creation of new bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in VET. These programs have a work-based learning component similar to the Dual System. However, despite the availability of this option, few students have taken advantage of it.

Governance and Accountability

Governance System

Germany’s governance of education is highly decentralized. The federal Ministry of Education and Research oversees vocational education, education research, and some aspects of higher education. This includes monitoring allocation of slots in the higher education programs in the professions (including teaching) based on a national analysis of supply and demand across the economy. The federal government sets regulations for the civil service workforce, which includes the majority of the teacher workforce, although salary levels are set at the state level. The 16 states (Länder) have primary responsibility for all other aspects of the early childhood, primary, secondary, and higher education systems. There are local authorities in each state, although their role is generally focused on oversight of school buildings, transportation, and other non-teaching areas of school management. Decision-making for the organization of instruction, including grouping of students, choice of textbooks, and student assessment, lies mainly with the schools.

While the federal Ministry of Education and Research has limited authority in education in the Länder, two federal institutions play a key role in education:

  • Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK): This is an organization of Länder education ministers designed to promote coordination and consistency across Länder. Ministers vote on policy changes, which become non-binding recommendations, with the understanding that ministers will help these recommendations become binding through the legislative processes in their home Länder. Agreements to coordinate and align standards and assessments for schools and standards for teachers have been agreed to across the Länder through the KMK, and the KMK has become an increasingly key player in reform over the last two decades.
  • Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BiBB): This institution is responsible for setting policy and conducting research in VET. It oversees the development of national qualifications for the VET system in partnership with unions and companies. BIBB is funded by and accountable to the federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Education Funding

Most education funding is allocated at the state level, including higher education. The federal government is not permitted, by law, to provide ongoing funding for regular schooling. Federal funding is focused on special initiatives and, more recently, addressing equity. Vocational education is the exception, with funding for the apprenticeship system coming from the private sector. State education ministries support the vocational schools. Funding formulas vary across the Länder. All but three of the Länder provide additional funding for immigrant students.

Higher education is free to all Germans and to EU citizens.

Accountability and Incentive Systems

All of the Länder have school inspectorates, which are responsible for monitoring whether schools meet requirements. Most Länder set their own “framework for school quality” that is used to guide the inspection process. Critics contend that these frameworks emphasize administrative practices rather than instruction and learning. In addition, there are “cross-Länder” criteria set at the KMK level. Most Länder inspect schools every three to six years. Inspection results of individual schools are not released publicly. Instead, these data are used to identify schools that need support, with special attention paid to disadvantaged students.

There is also monitoring of schools at the federal level. This strategy was put in place by the KMK in response to the disappointing PISA results in 2001. The KMK committed to a centralized review of achievement and individual school performance within and across Länder and to report on findings across the Länder. To do this, the KMK agreed to set common education standards across the Länder and to put in place new national assessments to be able to compare achievement across Länder and to report on national achievement. New education standards for primary and lower secondary school were developed in 2004 and new national tests to measure achievement of these standards were implemented in 2006. The Institute for Educational Progress (IQB) was established in 2004 to help Länder implement the new standards and assess achievement. New nationwide assessments include VERA tests, which are given to all German students at grades 3 and 8 in either German or mathematics, and national assessments, which are given to samples of students every three years in secondary school and every five years in primary school. A national report is issued every year based on the findings of these assessments. Scores on tests are not published by school. Teachers use the results to drive instruction.

Support for Low-Performing Schools

Schools that are identified as “struggling” by inspections are offered assistance in developing improvement plans by inspectorate staff as well as other state ministry experts. In addition to the inspection process, most of the Länder require schools to create their own school development plans aligned with state level quality frameworks, with school-developed goals and a self-evaluation process. Sanctions, such as closing schools or replacing staff, are very rare.

Learning Systems

System Structure

While optional, Germany has near universal enrollment of 3- to 5-year-olds in kindergarten which was recently expanded to full day. Compulsory school is from age 6 to age 15 or 16 (depending on the Länder) but part-time education is required until the age of 18 for those who do not attend a full-time school.

All Länder have a comprehensive primary school (grundschule) for grades 1-4, though in some primary school extends through grade 6. Students attend secondary school for five to nine years, depending on the type of secondary school and the different Länder. This means some students attend through ages 15 or 16 and some through ages 18 or 19.

The secondary school system has undergone major reforms in the last two decades.  Traditionally, there were three types of secondary schools: the gymnasium, which prepared students for university, the realschule, which offered students general academic education, and the hauptschule, which prepared students for work or further vocational education in Germany’s Dual System for vocational training. Teachers recommended which school students should enroll in at age 10, based primarily on their grades in German and mathematics. Once students enrolled in one of these schools, their options to change direction were limited.

The recent reforms have focused on delaying the differentiation of school pathways and allowing students flexibility to move among them. The motivation was the recognition that the traditional tripartite structure increasingly segregated disadvantaged students in the hauptschule. The hauptschule had once been the pathway into Germany’s world renowned Dual System of vocational training and a good job, but as more students entered the gymnasium and the realschule, these students competed with the hauptschule graduates for Dual System apprenticeships. As a result, hauptschule students were less likely to transition successfully from school to work.

The structural reforms have taken different forms in the different Länder, but include:

  • creating comprehensive secondary schools that offered differentiated programs only after three years of a core program;
  • combining the realschule and the hauptschule into one school;
  • eliminating the hauptschule altogether; and
  • allowing students to enroll in any secondary school of their choice rather than relying on teachers to assign them to these schools.

In addition to these structural reforms, many of the Länder are changing policies to allow students to move among the different secondary schools, at least in the early years; making the curriculum for the first two years of all of the secondary schools increasingly comprehensive to facilitate movement among the pathways; and opening pathways to university from all secondary school pathways, as well as from the Dual System.

While the structure is evolving, the three secondary school pathways still retain distinct features. The gymnasium program prepares students for university. It is usually eight but sometimes nine years. It leads to an abitur, which is a university entrance certification. The realschule program provides a general education, is usually six years in length, and leads to a certification that qualifies students for either a tertiary technical school (fachschole), which can lead to technical university, or a specialized gymnasium, which offers an alternative route to the abitur. Realschule students can, and do, also enter the Dual System for vocational training. Hauptschule programs also provide a general education, are generally five years in length, and lead to a vocational certification that qualifies the student to pursue vocational training in the Dual System or other types of post-secondary vocational schools.

Student enrollment in the gymnasium and the realschule has been rising while enrollment in the hauptschule has declined. The percentages of students in gymnasium or realschule grew from approximately 65 percent in 1992 to about 78 percent in 2014.

Standards and Curriculum

In 2003, the Standing Conference of Ministers of Education and Culture (KMK) agreed to set common education standards for compulsory schools. KMK is the group of education ministers from all the Länder. The national standards are set for German and mathematics for primary school and for German, mathematics, foreign language, and science for secondary school. The secondary school standards differ for each of the three major pathways. In 2014, the KMK added national STEM standards for secondary schools that cut across the discipline areas. The Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs of each Länder is responsible for developing its own curriculum. In general, the Länder curricula allow teachers considerable freedom with regard to content, objectives, and teaching methods.

While there are variations across the Länder, most primary school curriculum is broad and generally covers German and mathematics based on the national standards and then general studies, a foreign language, art, handicrafts/textile design, music, sports, and religion based on the Länder’s own standards. There is a strong focus on interdisciplinary studies in the primary schools.

The KMK developed a framework for secondary curriculum that requires different core subjects, depending on the school pathway. The gymnasium curriculum is highly academic, requiring two foreign languages and offering high-level mathematics and science courses. The realschule curriculum is also academic, though less demanding than that of the gymnasium; only one foreign language (usually English or French) is required. The hauptschule curriculum includes basic general studies, including German and one foreign language (usually English). It also includes pre-vocational studies, also called Economics-Work-Technology, and in some Länder, domestic science.

Assessment and Qualifications

In 2008, following the implementation of common standards, the KMK developed national tests (VERA) to measure student performance against the standards. The assessments are administered to all students in all Länder in grades 3 and 8 every other year in either mathematics or German. Some Länder publish the results of VERA; in others, only the schools and the teachers get feedback about the results. The Institute for Quality Development in Education (IQB), a research institute at Humboldt University in Berlin, oversees the process of test development by teachers across the country, which are then reviewed by test specialists. The Länder are responsible for administering the VERA tests. In addition, most of the Länder implement their own statewide assessments. Many of these Länder-level assessments are developed by the IQB.

There is no leaving certificate at the end of primary school. Students do, however, receive a leaving certificate at the end of grade 9 or 10. Students earn those certificates by successfully completing classes with a mark of 4 or better (on a 6-point scale, with 1 being the highest). Most Länder also require students to pass a Länder-level leaving examination. Gymnasium students who complete their classes and pass examinations receive a qualification after the first three or four years that allows them to continue to the upper level program. It is at this point that high-performing students from the realschule can transfer into the gymnasium to study for the abitur, the university-entrance exam. The abitur consists of assessments in four or five subjects that must include any two of German, foreign language, or mathematics; and at least two subjects at an advanced level. The exam includes both written and oral components. In 2016, 31 percent of all students received the abitur certificate; this includes a growing percentage of immigrant students.

Supporting Equity

Supports for Pre-Primary Children and Their Families

Early childhood education is a responsibility of the Länder governments and is primarily overseen by the Ministries of Youth and Social Affairs rather than the education ministries. The system traditionally relied on private providers (primarily churches), with public providers stepping in only to fill gaps. As early childhood education expanded dramatically over the last twenty years, however, services are increasingly provided by public providers. In 1996, the federal government guaranteed a spot for children age 3 and older in early childhood education, and in 2013 this expanded to all children age 1 and older. As of 2014, 94 percent of 3-year-olds and 98 percent of 4-year-olds were enrolled in pre-primary education in Germany, compared to the OECD averages of 71 percent of 3-year-olds and 86 percent of 4-year-olds enrolled in early childhood education. Enrollment of children under age 2 has expanded the most, however, almost tripling over the past decade from about 10 percent in 2003 to 30 percent in 2013.

The Länder vary in the level of subsidies provided to low-income children. Some Länder offer free access to early childhood programs for special ages or populations and some use a sliding-scale fee structure. Germany also provides a high level of support for new parents, with one year of paid parental leave and two more years of leave without pay, but with a job guaranteed. This leave was expanded in 2006 and is a federal guarantee.

Meeting the expanding need for programs is a challenge. There is an ongoing shortage of early childhood educators, and concerns that these teachers are not well trained enough as more pre-academic skills are added to the curriculum. A credential to teach in early childhood programs requires a three-year post-secondary training program, which is less than the master’s degree required for primary teachers. There was a KMK agreement among the Länder to work to raise the skill level of early childhood teachers, which has resulted in the development of new university programs in early childhood education. In addition, the Education Through Language and Writing (BISS) initiative put in place in 2013 provides additional training for early childhood educators in literacy and language development across all Länder. Almost all Länder now assess young children’s language abilities before they begin compulsory education to provide supplementary language instruction as needed. The federal government has also invested funds in the expansion of preschool and kindergarten slots specifically for immigrant children.

Overall, Germany invests approximately the same percentage of GDP in early childhood as the OECD average (0.8 percent of GDP), but the annual expenditure per child (US$10,542) exceeds the OECD average of US$8,618.

Supports for Disadvantaged Students

The federal Ministry of Education directs funding to the Länder to support disadvantaged populations. Since 2013, the federal ministry has provided up to US$60 million annually to support special afterschool and enrichment activities for low-income students and those whose parents have low-levels of education or are unemployed. In addition, the federal ministry and Länder each provide about US$5 million annually for the Education Through Language and Writing (BISS) initiative, which promotes sharing promising practices in literacy promotion across a network of early childhood education providers, primary schools and secondary schools. A research team works in collaboration with the network to identify and scale high-quality interventions.

Individual Länder use different approaches to provide additional funds to immigrant and low-income students. For example, Berlin’s primary funding formula applies an additional weighting factor to each language learner once a school’s concentration of language learners reaches 40 percent. Additional weighting is also provided to low-income students using the same procedure. Schools that cross the 40 percent mark for both language learners and low-income students benefit from both supplementary weights.

The reforms of the secondary school system across Germany were also aimed at providing more equitable education opportunities for low-income and immigrant students. Some Länder have also made efforts to encourage the recruitment and mentoring of migrant-background teachers who can better support new arrivals and serve as intermediaries between students and other staff.

Supports for Struggling Students

A KMK agreement, reached in 2003 and revised in 2007, committed Länder to provide additional instruction during school hours or after school to students who struggle in reading, writing, or mathematics. Implementation varies across Länder, but instruction generally takes place individually or in small groups and follows support plans developed in collaboration with teachers, parents, and students.

The KMK has also adopted recommendations aimed at reducing the number of students leaving school before completing a secondary school pathway or vocational education and training. In 2007, the KMK agreed to measures such as providing secondary school students more opportunities for workplace experience; providing additional academic support for students in danger of not earning the hauptschule leaving certificate; and incorporating more learning theory and learning psychology into initial teacher education. In 2010, the KMK adopted a targeted support strategy for low-performing students, which includes individualizing instruction; longer learning periods; and in-school remediation and teaching interventions for students who are off-track. From 2008 to 2015, the number of students leaving school without a secondary school qualification decreased from 8 percent to about 6 percent.

Special Education

The Basic Law gives special education students the right to education and training appropriate to their needs, as do the Länder constitutions. The Länder are responsible for funding and providing special education services, either through inclusion in mainstream schools or at special schools. Approximately 7 percent of all students in Germany are identified as having special educational needs.

There has been a push for inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools in Germany during the past decade, but progress has varied across Länder. Some Länder have struggled to make necessary changes, such as adapting initial teacher education and coordinating services for students with special needs across the social and education sectors. As of 2014, the percentages of students with disabilities attending mainstream schools ranged from 14 to 64 percent across Länder. Nationwide, about one-third of students with disabilities attended a mainstream school, compared to about 20 percent in 2007. In a 2014 report, the KMK and Federal Ministry of Education and Research identified creating a more inclusive education system as one of five “fields of action” for collaboration across Länder. Recommendations included ensuring that teachers are qualified to work with special needs students and developing strategies to address discrepancies in inclusion across regions and levels of school. The focus on promoting inclusion was reiterated in a second report in 2016.

There are special schools in Germany for those with more severe learning difficulties and those with special emotional needs. These schools are funded by the Länder and staffed with specially trained teachers and generally have a smaller student to teacher ratio than regular schools. There are more than 3,000 special schools nationwide, and they enroll about 4 percent of all students.

Teacher and Principal Quality

Teacher Recruitment and Compensation

The Länder collect data on teacher supply and demand and allot seats in teacher education to balance the workforce needs. There are currently teacher shortages in certain subjects and regions, such as in vocational subjects and in eastern Länder. The KMK also develops a long-term forecast for predicting future teacher workforce needs. The current forecast is for 2014-2025.

German teachers are among the highest paid in the OECD. The starting salary for a primary teacher in Germany is US$47,488, compared with the OECD average of US$28,854. The top salary for a primary teacher is US$61,209, compared with the OECD average of US$45,100.

The retention rate in teaching is high as well. Fewer than 5 percent of teachers leave the profession in the first five years, compared with more than 30 percent in the United States. However, perhaps because of the high retention rate, Germany’s teaching force is the second-oldest in the OECD; approximately 40 percent to 50 percent of teachers were 50 or older in 2014, which will necessitate training an influx of new teachers as the current teaching force retires.

Teacher Initial Education and Training

Oversight of teacher preparation is the responsibility of the Länder. Before 2004, there was no set of common standards for teacher preparation. In 2004, the KMK set national Standards for Teacher Training in the Educational Sciences, as part of its set of post-PISA 2000 reforms.  Setting common standards was thought to be a mechanism for modernizing instruction across Germany and focusing instruction more on concepts and problem-solving. Along with the new standards, the Common Content Requirements for Subject-Related Studies and Subject-Related Didactics were introduced in 2008 and updated in 2017. These standards/requirements provide guidelines for the accreditation and ongoing monitoring of teacher training programs.

Teacher education in Germany is rigorous, compared to many other OECD nations. Candidates must have earned an abitur for entry into teacher training. Initial teacher education typically takes approximately 5.5 to 6.5 years. It is offered in universities or colleges of education.  Preparation for teachers in Germany has two stages:

  • Undergraduate coursework lasts three to five years, depending on the teaching area, with one year of “practical activity related to the vocational subject area” for aspiring vocational education teachers and some weeks of school placements for other types of teachers. Students take the First State Teaching Examination (described below) after this phase of training and must be successful to continue.
  • Preparatory Service includes a practicum and graduate-level studies in a teacher training institute leading to a master’s degree. This stage lasts one to two years. Students take the Second State Teaching Examination after this phase.

Alternative routes into teaching exist to fill high-need teaching positions when not possible through traditional routes. These routes require candidates to have a master’s degree, which must include “at least two teaching-related subjects,” and to complete the preparatory service and Second State Examination or a state-approved equivalent. In 2013, only 2.4 percent of new public school teachers lacked traditional teacher training.

In general, during the first stage of teacher preparation, coursework includes “educational studies” and study of a minimum of two subjects, as well as placements in schools for several weeks. At the end of this stage is the First State Examination, which involves a thesis as well as written and oral assessment of coursework; it may also include an assessment of practical skills. Education-specific studies and school placements are estimated to take a maximum of 30 percent of the first stage, leaving considerable time for content mastery. Candidates are also required to write a paper “demonstrating the ability for independent scientific work.”

The second stage of teacher training, the Preparatory Service, is a “dual model” that can be compared to an apprenticeship. Teacher candidates participate in on-the-job training in schools, including mentorship by a more experienced teacher, while also receiving additional instruction in institutions called Seminars, which are specifically for teachers. During this second stage, they also earn a reduced salary. At the conclusion of the Preparatory Service, students must pass the Second State Examination, which generally includes a written thesis, an oral assessment, and a demonstration/evaluation of teaching skills. Nearly all teachers pass this examination. About half of the Länder offer induction programs for newly hired teachers. The program structures and supports vary across Länder, and participation is only mandatory in Brandenburg.

The federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has invested in further improving the quality of training. The Quality Offensive for Teacher Training is a national initiative designed to increase the quality and attractiveness of teacher training. The BMBF provided €500 million (US$596 million) in funding from 2014 to 2024 so that higher education institutions could “develop innovative concepts in teacher training courses and improve their quality.” Additional objectives of this Quality Offensive include increasing the clinical component of teacher training and better preparing teachers to serve diverse learners.

Teacher Career Ladders

There is no formal career ladder for teachers in Germany, other than the path from teacher to school leader. The one place there is an opportunity for advancement is in many of the gymnasium, where there is typically a “study advisor” and “study director” position. The study advisor position is commonly given to teachers after several years of teaching. The study director position is competitive and generally involves new responsibilities in the school, such as leading a department. These promotions result in an increase in salary and status. Study advisors and study directors, respectively, earn salaries of about 15 percent and 20 percent more than teachers. For promotion, teachers need a positive evaluation, which is typically more comprehensive than a regular performance evaluation and may consider factors like participation in professional development.

Teacher Professional Development

Participation in professional development by teachers is required across Germany although requirements vary by Länder. Most Länder offer professional development at state-run training institutes or at institutes run by local school authorities. Professional development is also offered in individual schools, sometimes with support or oversight from the school supervisory authority or the ministry. Recently, there has been a shift toward delegating responsibility for professional development to school leaders, with the aim of developing more tailored opportunities at the school level. In general, however, teachers have a lot of authority to decide what professional development to participate in.

At the Länder level, the ministries of education (sometimes with input from teachers’ unions) specify guidelines for teacher evaluation in public schools. These guidelines vary across Länder in terms of who should conduct evaluations (e.g., head teachers, external school inspectors), and when and why evaluations should take place. In general, teachers are more likely to be appraised in the early stages of their careers. In most Länder, appraisal results inform professional development activities, although in some Länder this is only for teachers found to be underperforming.

While evaluations identify low-performing teachers, evaluation results typically do not affect teacher pay or lead civil servant teachers to lose their jobs, as tenured civil servants’ jobs are protected except in extreme situations. Instead, low-performing civil servants may receive training or be transferred to different schools. In Hamburg’s system for teacher evaluation, for example, evaluators are encouraged to use the evaluation process to identify teachers who would be capable of taking on greater responsibility in schools.

School Leader Development

School leaders in Germany are typically head teachers who take on leadership roles while still teaching a reduced course load. In all Länder, head teacher candidates must hold the qualifications necessary to teach at that school level or school type and have “several years” of teaching and management experience. Commitment to in-service teacher training is identified as one factor that might help a teacher’s application to become a head teacher. Head teacher responsibilities and duties are set out in the Länder Education Acts and in specific regulations for such posts. They include managing staff and the school budget; evaluating teachers; planning school-level professional development; and creating a school development plan with goals aligned to state-level quality frameworks. The Länder ministries of education are typically responsible for hiring school leaders, although in some cases it is done by the local school authority.

There is no federally required training for school leaders nor are there national leadership standards. Most of the Länder do, however, provide additional qualification/training for school leaders after they have been hired, although this is often voluntary. In addition to training for new school leaders, some Länder have developed preparatory training for aspiring leaders. For example, since 2009, teachers in Bavaria are required to complete a two-year preparatory course before submitting an application for a school head position. This training is organized and paid for by the Länder. Some Länder, but not all, also offer continuing professional development, such as coaching or advice on implementing quality improvement processes.