Alarm signals ignored

6th November 1998 at 00:00

In part two of the analysis of why teenagers quit school early, The TES finds it is a growing international problem

GERMANY'S much-admired three-tier secondary school system has, in the past, provided a comprehensive safety net for failing children who might otherwise give up on school.

Those not coping well with the more academic grammar schools intended to prepare pupils for university entrance have the option of joining a Realschule or Hauptschule which gives a basic academic education while focusing on vocational skills to prepare pupils for vocational apprenticeships.

However, with unemployment in Germany reaching post-war highs, there are no longer enough apprenticeships to meet demand. As prospects look grimmer than ever in the past 50 years, the school drop-out has become a new phenomenon. In some parts of eastern Germany where employment prospects for young people are poorest, the rise of neo-Nazi tendencies has been ascribed to the growing number of teenagers who cruise the streets.

Few statistics are available on drop-out rates in the country since those not in school were assumed to be in apprenticeships. Teachers, doctors and social-workers meeting in Hanover recently noted that schools all too often ignored the alarm signals such as truancy. "Many schools do not react at all when children regularly skip classes. Often, teachers are even pleased because such children are often the disruptive ones," said Hanna Permien of the German Youth Institute in Munich.

Ms Permien said there was no proper monitoring programme to keep an eye on at-risk children who almost always come from the poorest families. "Once children have spent two or three years on the streets, it is very difficult for them to get any kind of school-leaving qualification," she said.

In particular, the growing number of refugees from the Balkans and Russian-Germans with a poor command of the language find the going tough at school and have contributed to a rising number of teeangers giving up on school.

In Hamburg a rising juvenile crime rate led to a "regional coalition" of social workers, teachers, police and businesses aimed at preventing truancy, drop-outs and eventually juvenile crime. The crime rate among the young has become a political issue which now commands attention.

The groups have help to find and fund traineeships, language courses, and sports halls which stay open until the early hours of the morning.

But experts say such initiatives are few and far between and that the need to prevent children leaving school is still barely recognised.

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