Five-year wait for first teaching job in Germany;Briefing;Research Focus

16th April 1999 at 01:00
While teacher-training institutions in England have attracted a record low number of recruits for the third consecutive year, Germany has an unmanageable surplus of newly-qualified teachers.

In the UK the Government and Teacher Training Agency are tackling the severe shortage of secondary teachers through campaigns promoting teaching as a high-status profession. In Germany, there has been no recruitment drive and yet tens of thousands of qualified teachers are now on waiting lists having been promised a post - within the next five years.

How can the two countries' experiences be so different? Perhaps the secret lies in offering graduates the traditional incentives of job security, status and competitive remuneration. For instance, as civil servants German teachers are guaranteed lifelong employment. Their pay packages compare well with other graduate professions and include a 13th salary payment at Christmas, holiday allowance and private health insurance.

Like their English counterparts, students in Germany opt for teaching out of an intrinsic desire to work with children and to apply their subject expertise. But unlike English students on postgraduate certificate in education courses they do not have to face another year of financial hardship. They can rely on an income of approximately pound;500 per month in return for teaching a 70 per cent timetable and bearing full responsibility for their classes.

This remuneration signifies status but it is also a sign of trust and consequently promotes a sense of responsibility and accountability. It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that German graduates preparing for a teaching career resent being referred to as "trainees" as it evokes notions of industrial training.

Another factor that exacerbates England's teacher-recruitment problems is the requirement that candidates must have a strong subject knowledge. In Germany, candidates with perfectly adequate personal skills and qualities are not disqualified because of their weak subject knowledge.

German graduates are allocated one of three training pathways on the basis of the length and depth of their degree programme. They lead to jobs in Hauptschule (11-16 vocationalpractical orientation), Realschule (11-16 technical orientation) or Gymnasium (11-19 grammar school).

While training for the Hauptschule makes pedagogical knowledge and skills a priority, teaching in the Gymnasium requires excellent subject knowledge. In turn, Gymnasium teachers have the highest salaries and the best career prospects.

Obviously this is divisive, but high-quality candidates are attracted in abundance nevertheless. Even in subjects such as maths, sciences and modern languages the competition from industry does not pose a real threat.

The tripartite system also allows teachers within one school genre and within individual schools to perceive each other as equal members of a team. In England, it is debatable whether performance-related pay will have the desired effect of attracting high-calibre candidates without creating staffroom divisions.

Germany does not provide models of good practice to be copied, but its experience offers food for thought. The "high status" and "high standards" that the Government is seeking can only be achieved at a price. The question is: Who is going to pay it?

Marion Jones is a senior lecturer at Edge Hill College of Higher Education in Ormskirk, Lancashire. She has completed the first two parts of a study of school-based teacher training in England and Germany. Contact 01695 575171.

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