GERMANY. Despite the clamour of politicians and teacher unions for Germany's secondary moderns to be abolished, one of them has become the first school in Europe - and possibly the world - to be awarded a prestigious international kitemark for its quality of service to its pupil "customers".
Friesenheim secondary, near Offenburg in the south-west, is a combined Realschule (a vocationally oriented secondary modern) and Hauptschule (the lowest-grade school in Germany's three-tier selective system). Nearly one in three of its 800 pupils has a migrant background or is a child of ethnic Germans who have come from eastern Europe, mostly knowing no German.
Politicians and teachers have turned against the Hauptschulen in recent months because of their reputation for harbouring too many violent, poorly integrated pupils from migrant families who have little interest in learning.
Yet Friesenheim has achieved the globally-recognised ISO 9000 business standard for the quality of its management. The standard is awarded by the Geneva-based ISO international standards organisation, which brings together the standards institutes from 157 countries.
The German Technical Inspection Agency, which made the award, said the school had fulfilled pupils' expectations to a high degree by providing them with many extra opportunities to gain skills needed for the job market.
Guenter Behre, the headteacher, said: "Many pupils with migrant backgrounds are very gifted. Their only handicap is their lack of German."
At his school, children without German are given booster tuition in the national language from day one and are integrated gradually into normal lessons. While working confidently on text in German, Vladlen Gordiyenko, 12, whose family came from the Ukraine two years ago, said: "My German's not as good as I'd like it to be, but I'm getting better all the time."
He is also profiting from the school's specially devised "How to learn"
programme. This shows him how to cope with all aspects of school, from how to pack a satchel and keep a desk tidy to group work, designing posters, taking part in projects and working with computers.
Computers are at the heart of the school's team-teaching concept, where two teachers supervise classes, one showing pupils how to use the computer, the other training them to work with specially devised materials for core subjects.
Staff with IT expertise train fellow teachers so they are familiar with the methods and can gradually increase the use of IT in class work.
"The system really supports the teachers," said Leonie Hess, a German teacher who also gives colleagues IT training. "We pool our expertise, our experience and our materials. And we're all part of a team, so all teachers know what's going on in all the classes."
In addition to innovative learning methods, Friesenheim pupils also experience a novel approach to responsibility: for instance, older children take responsibility for younger ones, supervising homework and playing games during after-school hours.
Selina Meissner, 14, said: "You can volunteer and get special training to do this, and you get paid five euros an hour as well."
She and co-volunteer Martin Eble like the fact that they get a certificate at the end and their achievement goes into their skills and aptitude profile, so firms seeking suitable trainees get the pupils they want.
The school has always worked hard to involve local firms as sponsors in all its sports events, exhibitions, projects and competitions. Guenter Behre said: "We offer creative ideas and a share in the publicity and press coverage in exchange for traineeships and jobs."
It's a strategy that has paid off: last year's school-leavers all went into training or white-collar employment. Nationally, 40 per cent of Hauptschule pupils fail to complete their schooling.
Firms' interest in the school has increased now it has the ISO certification. "Obviously we're getting a lot more enquiries now," said Mr Behre.
Help for migrants and low-achievers
Other initiatives that offer support to German secondary moderns or basic secondary schools (Hauptschule) with a high percentage of pupils with migrant backgrounds include:
* A mandatory 10-week "orientation course" for (migrant) parents of pupils entering the Nikolas-August-Otto Hauptschule, Berlin, explaining how the school system works and how parents can help children cope with demands.
* "Parent guidance" scheme at the Hedwig-Dohm secondary modern, Berlin, initiated by the city's Association for Turkish Nationals, where pupils with migrant backgrounds encourage Turkish and Arab parents to have more contact with their children's school.
* Prize-winning "Hamburg pilot project for Hauptschule pupils": teachers, job counsellors and personnel experts from 60 Hamburg firms provide help and advice to Hauptschule school-leavers entering the job market.