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Parents scramble for private schools

GERMANY

Parents in Germany are pursuing private education with a vengeance as they seek alternatives to state schools, which have been dogged by bureaucracy and mediocre performances in recent international maths and literacy tests.

Around 600,000 pupils, or 6 per cent of German schoolchildren, now attend private schools, a third more than 12 years ago. And demand far exceeds supply.

"Surveys show around 20 per cent of parents would go private if places were available," said Bernhard Marohn, a spokesman for Germany's Association of Private Schools.

Money is no problem since private schools are inexpensive by international standards, costing as little as pound;80 a month for schools ending at 1pm, going up to pound;180 in all-day schools (4.30-5pm) or roughly pound;800 in boarding schools.

"All schools, even private ones, receive state subsidies," says Mr Marohn, adding that many private schools are church-run and financed through the diocese as well as receiving funds from foundations and private donors. The advantage, says Mr Marohn, is that they can allocate their funds as they see fit.

However, Marianne Demmer, a spokeswoman on school policy for the GEW, Germany's main teachers' union, is sceptical.

"Private schools are 80 per cent financed by the state," she said, "and subject to financial pressure." Church-run schools have problems as well, she says, as many churches are in trouble because people are leaving congregations to avoid paying mandatory church taxes.

Nonetheless, many parents prefer private to state schools, which are linked to widely varying regional education policies and subject to restrictions and cutbacks imposed by local authorities.

"Parents like the individual attention given to children at private schools," said Wilfried Steinert, chairman of the Federal Parents Council which speaks on behalf of parents on education issues.

But Ms Demmer said many state schools with a high percentage of migrant pupils are successful, too. "The secret is teachers working together and involving parents."

But more parents are prepared to undergo rigorous selection procedures at private schools, including scrutiny of their personal lives.

State governments are starting to react. "They're cutting subsidies for private schools," says Mr Steinert. "They fear the competition."

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