Holiday chaos has been averted despite a threat from several of the larger Federal states to set their own summer vacation dates and pull out of a system that has been in place for decades.
Previously, in a system which staggered the dates schools broke up and started the new term, German schools' summer vacation and half-term dates were agreed 10 years in advance. The states alternated between early and late break-up times.This year, for example, schools in the states of Hessen, Rheinland-Palatinate and the Saarland broke up on July 1 and will return in mid-August; the southern states of Bavaria and Baden Wuerttemberg start their summer holiday four weeks later, with the new term beginning mid September.
The main purpose of this negotiated system is to avoid "panic on the streets and in airports" as families head for resorts on the same days. It has boosted tourism and kept road accident rates down.
Parents supported it because, apart from early August, when all schools are on vacation, it meant cheaper hotel rooms, less crowded beaches and greater likelihood of obtaining airline seats.
But the system threatened to unravel as education authorities met in Leipzig last month to negotiate dates for the next five years, because several larger states wanted definitive holiday dates which did not change from year to year.
The Northern states in particular had little interest in an earlier summer vacation, wanting to catch the best of the sunshine. The Southern states of Bavaria and Baden Wuerttemberg have always held to their late summer holiday dates, Bavaria since 1971 and Baden Wuerttemberg since 1995, when it pulled out of the negotiated system. Now the most populous state, North Rhein-Westfalia, wants to pull out.
In a compromise worked out by the Coordinating Conference of Education Ministers -normally renowned for not making decisions - all summer vacations from 2003 will start a week later. Individual states will be allowed to keep to vacation dates for more than a year, and North Rhein-Westfalia will alternate with the Southern states to keep to the later holiday dates, so that the three most populous states do not break up at the same time.