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More parents go to law

GERMANY

Growing numbers of parents are taking schools to court to stop their children being held back a year because of poor grades.

The Berlin administrative court says the number of cases has more than doubled in the past five years. Just under 10 were heard by the court each year before the mid-1990s. It then rose to about 20 cases a year and in 2000 the court passed judgment on almost 25 cases brought by parents against schools.

A court spokesman said about half the judgments went in favour of parents. He believed the rise was due to more families from the former east questioning education officials' authority as memories of communism fade.

Thomas John, a spokesman for education in the Berlin senate, said rising aspirations led to more disputes between parens and schools. Many middle-class families refused to accept primary teachers' recommendations as to whether children should go to gymnasium (grammar school), realschule (vocational schools) and remedial hauptschulen.

More parents apply to grammar schools - even if teachers say a realschule would be more appropriate - and "tutor" their offspring through the half-year probation period. Teachers say these children are the most likely to have to repeat a year later in their school career.

Pupils can only repeat a year once in the gymnasium before they are asked to leave and many parents hope to avoid transfer to realschule by challenging the school's decision.

The number of pupils repeating a year in Berlin has remained constant at around 5 per cent of pupils.

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