Call for clampdown on high repetition rate
The union said the pound;800 million cost of class repeats could be put to better use instigating preventive measures at an early stage for children with learning difficulties, as well as allowing them access to support from social services, doctors and psychologists.
"Such children are bored and frustrated, and they feel a failure," said Marianne Demmer, the GEW spokeswoman on school policy.
Schleswig Holstein, Germany's most northerly state, is already drawing up plans to scrap repeats throughout secondary schools.
Erdsiek Rave, the state's Social Democratic education minister, said: "It's really a waste of pupils' valuable time. It simply de-motivates them."
She and her Christian Democratic colleagues in the state's recently elected coalition government plan to encourage schools to provide weaker pupils with individual tuition to complete their secondary education.
But Conservative education ministers, who are in the majority throughout Germany's 16 states, are against allowing weak pupils to continue into the next class, because they consider it detrimental to schools' overall performance.
Even academically high-flying states such as Conservative-run Bavaria - whose 15-year-olds' performance in maths in the latest Programme for International Student Assessment tests (Pisa) ranked alongside top national contenders such as Finland, Korea and Japan - had more than 56,000 pupils repeating last year. Tough academic standards put Bavarian pupils under a lot of pressure, but only around 20 per cent of pupils each year go on to sit university entrance exams, less than half the average in member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The council of education ministers believes policies introduced in the wake of the country's poor showing in Pisa 2000 are bearing fruit. These include nationwide targets, standardised higher-leaving certificates in the majority of states and improved teacher training methods with greater emphasis on practical experience.
In the Pisa 2003 results, Germany's 15-year-olds scored better than last time.
But the GEW says the same study shows reading skills, the focal point of Pisa 2000, where German pupils were weak, have still not significantly improved.
The union is calling for more pre-school fostering of children's abilities, to boost skills at an early stage, and extra tuition for children from migrant or poor social backgrounds, for example through more all-day schools. It also wants an end to early streaming at age 10-plus after only four years of primary school.