East-west split over conduct marks;Briefing International

Yojana Sharma

Germany

The decision by the former East German state of Saxony to reintroduce conduct marks on school reports has sparked controversy across Germany.

From next year school reports in the state capital of Dresden will grade hard work, neatness, conduct and co-operation, as well as individual subjects.

Conduct marks were the norm in East Germany but disappeared after reunification. Most western states stopped during the 1970s when harsh discipline was seen as a throwback to a militaristic society. It was thought it encouraged conformist behaviour and that the family, not school, should be responsible for discipline.

To many Germans schools in Eastern Europe, Britain and France are regarded as overly strict and disciplinarian. Only religion and ethics, and in recent years civics classes, were seen as qualified to impart such values. Many schools pride themselves on not having an "ethos".

Saxony's teachers continue to comment on behaviour, but state education minister Matthias Rossler wants a more comprehensive assessment of pupil conduct, while stressing that such marks would not be used to discipline pupils. Instead they will provide "an early warning system if things go wrong with a child's development", Mr Rossler said.

Employers, particularly the traditional craftsmen's guilds which train a large number of school-leavers, lobbied for such marks to be reintroduced.

"Those who have poorer marks academically but who have excellent conduct marks will have a better chance of finding a job," said one teacher. Unemployment in Saxony is among the highest in Germany, with more than 18 per cent out of work.

The German teachers' union is the sharpest critic. Most teachers feel that they should not be asked to judge their pupils' virtues, and say that conduct grades are tainted by the country's communist past. Even so, the western states of Bavaria and Hesse are considering similar initiatives in their schools.

Mr Rossler maintains that 60 per cent of students who called his ministry hotline, specially set up to gauge reactions, were in favour of conduct marks. "I didn't expect that," he said.

The media have conducted their own polls and found 80-90 per cent of parents and teachers to be in favour. The conservative ministry maintains that those whipping up a controversy are mostly in western Germany and are "children of 1968, who themselves have problems with their children's behaviour".

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Yojana Sharma

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