TEACHERS in Berlin are in uproar over a plan to transfer hundreds of staff from the east to the west of the city, with heads predicting "utter chaos" when schools re-open this Monday.
The resulting ill-will is reminiscent of the east-west tensions that arose following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 when eastern teachers' qualifications were judged inferior.
In the summer some 500 teachers were transferred by the city council to schools in the west. The reasons for the move are a dramatic drop in the birth rate in the east of the city and a high early retirement rate in the west.
At least half the teachers oppose the decision, according to GEW, the teachers' union. "It took me completely by surprise," says Doris Stanicki who was told to leave her school in the eastern district of Pankow where she has taught for 30 years.
She claims she met with a "cool reception" at her designated school in west Berlin where teachers were being "shunted around to make room" for her.
In the former eastern Germany trainee primary teachers qualified in only one subject and are deemed not suitable to work beyond grade four (those aged nine to 10) when subject teaching begins. Dozens of western-trained teachers must "ratchet u" to make room for eastern colleagues to teach the younger children.
"We expect such moves to be voluntary," said Thomas John, education spokesman for the city council. However, if there are not enough volunteers a committee will mediate on who goes where.
The logistical nightmare of placing hundreds of teachers and hearing the many appeals against the transfers could not be achieved by the start of term, according to district councillors.
Heads predicted "utter chaos". "We cannot draw up our timetable for the new year because we do not know how many teachers we will get," said one head of a Charlottenburg primary, earlier this summer.
Parents in inner-city areas such as Kreuzberg, where up to 80 per cent of children are immigrants were particularly worried. "Teachers need experience to deal with these children's problems," said Rolf Haenisch of the Kreuzberg district parents' committee. He said such schools could absorb "a teacher or two" from the east, but not five or six as proposed.
The GEW said the problems the move has caused could have been avoided. "The birth-rate figures have been known for years. Many teachers from the east could have been retrained to upgrade their qualifications," a spokesperson said.