Country information for Germany - Legislation and policy
Germany is a Federal Republic of 16 Länder. Development in the different Länder of Germany is diverse. Each Land has its own responsibility, including individual legislation according to the guidelines of the Basic Law system. One core element of this status is so-called cultural sovereignty (Kulturhoheit), i.e. the predominant responsibility of the Länder for education, science and culture. This means, in principle, that each Land bears responsibility for its educational and cultural policy. They should express the historical, geographical, cultural and socio-political aspects specific to their Land, and thus diversity and competition in the education system and in the field of culture. However, the Länder bear joint responsibility for the entire federal state. This overall responsibility both entitles and obliges them to co-operate with one another and to work together with the Federal Government (See: Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs, Kultusministerkonferenz, KMK).
Under the Basic Law and the constitutions of the Länder, the entire school system is under the supervision of the state. Schools are, as a rule, institutions of the local authorities and the Länder, and higher education institutions are institutions of the Länder. In addition, there are church-run or privately-run schools and higher education institutions.
There is general societal agreement that lifelong learning, including continuing education, has an increasingly key role in today’s information and knowledge society. In July 2004, the Federation and the Länder adopted a joint strategy for lifelong learning in Germany (Strategie für Lebenslanges Lernen in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland). Lifelong learning includes all formal, non-formal and informal learning. The strategy is based on the phases of a person’s life, from early childhood to old age. Key elements for lifelong learning represent main development focuses. The strategy develops realistic long-term prospects that build on existing educational structures, activities and experiences. They define a structured framework for lifelong learning that is flexible and open for continuous further development.
Development focuses of the strategy are:
- Inclusion of informal learning
- Development of competences
- Learning counselling
- New learning culture/popularisation of learning
- Equity of access.
The institutions involved agree on the necessary reforms in continuing education. The main points are:
- Measures to improve the transparency of the continuing education market by developing local and regional centres for continuing education and further development of continuing education (InfoWeb)
- Further development of quality assurance in continuing education through recognised testing agencies and suitable certification methods
- Modularising study courses and awarding credit points
- Promoting continuing education and participation in it
- Institutions that align themselves with current supply and demand
- Including lifelong learning in collectively agreed salary arrangements
- Developing scientific and academic continuing education
- New financing instruments.
The 16 Ministries of Education, Cultural Affairs and Science develop policy guidelines in the fields of education, science and the arts. They adopt legal provisions and administrative regulations and co-operate with the highest authorities at national and Land level. They also supervise the work of authorities under their responsibility and of subordinated bodies, institutions and foundations. To assist the Ministries in their work, the Länder have established their own research institutes for school, higher and lifelong education. The Ministries are headed by a Minister (a Senator in Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg) who is answerable to the parliament. The Minister is usually represented by a State Secretary (Staatssekretär/-sekretärin) or Director-General.
The KMK website contains more information about the education system in the Federal Republic of Germany.
The right of children with disabilities to education and training appropriate to their needs is stated in the Basic Law (Grundgesetz, Art. 3 – R1), Book Twelve of the Social Code (Sozialgesetzbuch XII – Sozialhilfe) and the Länder constitutions (R14-29). More detailed provisions are set out in the school legislation of the Länder(R70, R72, R74, R76, R78, R81, R83, R85, R87-88, R90, R92, R98, R100-102).
The introduction to Article 3, paragraph 3, clause 2 of the Basic Law states: ‘No-one shall be discriminated against because of their disability’. Based on this, the new Social Welfare Code IX (SGBIX) came into force in April 2001. It summarises the legal bases of medical and vocational rehabilitation. It should reflect the present change of the self-image of people with disabilities and the basis of the policy of disabilities. The main focus is not just the welfare and care of people with disabilities, but autonomous participation at the social level, the elimination of obstacles and the establishment of equal opportunities. The SGBIX law focuses on rehabilitation and access and has two parts:
- Regulations for people with disabilities and people at risk of exclusion
- Special regulations to enable the participation of people with severe disabilities.
General educational development and diverse experiences in practice with regard to inclusion or non-segregation have led to a visible change in recent years. All Länder have changed their school laws, adapting them to the KMK’s recommendations of May 1994. The KMK revised the recommendations in 2008 to take into account the intentions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. On 18 November 2010, the KMK adopted a position paper on ‘Educational and legal aspects in the implementation of the United Nations Convention of 13 December 2006 on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in school education’ (Behindertenrechtskonvention – VN-BRK in der schulischen Bildung). The KMK’s current situation on inclusive education of children and young people with disabilities in schools is documented in ‘The Education System in the Federal Republic of Germany 2014/2015 – Educational Support and Guidance’.
The KMK’s recommendations apply to pupils with special educational needs (SEN), regardless of whether support takes place in a mainstream school or a special school (Förderschule). In addition to these general recommendations, further recommendations for individual types of special education focus on:
- Emotional and social development
- Mental development
- Physical and motor development
- Instruction for ill pupils.
The ‘Special education in schools’ report (in German) outlines the statistical distribution of pupils with SEN according to the individual types of special education. More detailed information about the KMK recommendation is available in the report and from the Eduserver website.
The Ministry for Social Affairs is mainly responsibility for early years education. Under the Basic Law, it is the prerogative of the Federation to enact legislation on child and youth welfare within the framework of public welfare. This also applies to provision for children in kindergarten. The early intervention phase is not part of the public school system. Children with disabilities should, as far as possible, attend kindergarten and school together with non-disabled peers. The National Action Plan and the Einfach Teilhaben website have more information.
The Vocational Training Act (Berufsbildungsgesetz) contains legal provisions for vocational training. The Vocational Training Promotion Act (Berufsbildungsförderungsgesetz) of 1981 governs vocational training planning and statistics, as well as the terms of reference and organisation of the Federal Institute for Vocational Training (Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung). ‘The Education System in the Federal Republic of Germany 2014/2015 – Secondary education and post-secondary non-tertiary education’ contains more information.
According to the Third Volume of the German Social Welfare Code (SGB III), the Office of Employment (Arbeitsamt) is responsible for providing career orientation. Further information is available in ‘The Education System in the Federal Republic of Germany 2014/2015 – Adult Education and Training’.
On-going Reforms and Policy Developments
The following measures are resolved by all Länder in the KMK and by the Federal Government.
Within their own areas of responsibility, the Länder take various and far-reaching measures which cannot be separately described. The reform measures of the Länder particularly concern:
- Expanding full-day offers with the aim of extended educational and support options
- Raising the educational level of disadvantaged people
- Improving linguistic competence
- Improving dovetailing of the pre-school sector and primary school
- Improving school education, reading competence and the understanding of mathematical and scientific correlations
- Vocational orientation and improving the transition from school to work
- Strengthening the link between vocational and higher education
- Laws to improve the identification and recognition of professional qualifications acquired abroad by the Federation and the Länder
- Increasing the higher education graduation rate and that of comparable qualifications.
The list of reform measures since 2014 is largely based on the National Reform Programme 2015 and the 2015 report on the implementation of the Qualification Initiative for Germany: ‘Getting ahead through education’ (Aufstieg durch Bildung).
The Education System in the Federal Republic of Germany 2016/2017
Last updated 05/02/2020