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The greener grass of Germany

Having returned from a placement in Stuttgart, I am amazed at the differences experienced by principals in Germany and headteachers in the UK. German staff are employed as civil servants, which makes a huge difference to their employment options and rights.

The notion of the "man from the ministry" working in a tiny rural primary school has a faint ring of Monty Python about it. But while the problems of finding staff are the same in Germany as in the UK, it is not the head who sits burning the midnight oil trying to think up strategies to encourage staff to join their school. Once qualified, teachers apply to the equivalent of a local education authority and then may be sent to any school within the district.

There are some attractions to this idea. How many of us have scanned the mail every day looking for applications to fill a particular post? Following subsequent adverts we are then told by the finance committee that we have overspent the advertising budget - and why do we not use the vacancies boards at the local supermarket? It would be less fraught if we were able to say: "The LEA hasn't been able to find us that teacher."

However, a head could get a teacher who does not like the area or has any one of a range of reasons that make the school unacceptable to them.

The German principals have to report to their regional education board and liaise closely with central personnel on a variety of matters. While in the UK we accept the head and governors have considerable autonomy, in Germany the regional board directs a school's cycle of repairs, decoration, capital building programme and expenditure, and even the choice of textbooks. This relieves the head of those long and usually unproductive phone calls to the LEA about the checking of the lightning conductor or the capacity of the electrical supply system. It saves the building committee difficult decisions. If the LEA says "no" to a lick of paint, then that's it.

The upper age limit for teacher retirement in Germany is currently 65 but will probably rise to 67 soon. Perhaps we are better off with our own Flying Circus!

Gill Pyatt is head of Barnwood Park school in Gloucester

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