The View From Here - Germany - Parents who refuse to take no for an answer

30th November 2012 at 00:00

The parents are German nationals of Italian origin and they have a problem: their daughter has failed her Abitur, the high-school graduation certificate and entrance ticket to university. She was on course for a scholarship, but no certificate means no place in higher education.

Now the parents are at law firm Hansen and Munch talking to Alexander Munch, a lawyer specialising in school legislation, an increasingly lucrative area of expertise. "People are willing to invest a lot in their children's education," he says.

Munch has been a specialist in education law in the city state of Hamburg since 2009 and in that short time he has registered a sharp upward trend in the number of parents seeking legal advice when the system lets them down. Now he personally deals with about 100 cases a year.

Typically, parents call in the lawyers when they don't get the school of their choice, when primary school teachers refuse to recommend their offspring for grammar school or when poor marks doom their children to repeat the school year.

In this case, the parents are protesting that conditions in their daughter's final year exams in German and English were unfair. "The other class were allowed to consult dictionaries and we weren't," the student claims. Munch feels the chances of a win are good.

In fact, he is their last hope, as their daughter has already failed her Abitur twice and cannot afford to do so again. Reversing the school decision with their lawyer's help will cost in the region of EUR1,400 (#163;1,130). But the father has made up his mind: he signs the legal contract without further discussion.

So is it mainly parents with foreign or migrant backgrounds - those who are culturally and linguistically more vulnerable than their German-speaking counterparts - who consult Munch? Not at all, he says: the current economic situation has put every pupil under pressure like never before to be admitted to university and gain qualifications.

Munch sometimes rejects clients if he feels he has no chance of winning the case. "There are some people who cannot accept that their child is not academic material and does not belong in a grammar school," he says.

But because of the huge consequences for their children's future, parents will continue to be less willing than in the past to accept what schools say. "People are prepared to take schools to court or contest official decisions," Munch says. "They consult a lawyer and find out what their rights are."

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