Renewed discussions about the validity of Germany's three-tier school system and teachers' permanent job status have been sparked by two recent reports from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development criticising Germany's schools and teachers.
One of the reports describes the system as inflexible, with Germany lagging behind in reforms.
Children are selected for the Hauptschule (ordinary secondary leading to intermediate certificate), Realschule (intermediate secondary where able pupils can go on to grammar school) and Gymnasium (grammar school leading to the Abitur university-entrance exam). They tend to be streamed according to social background, a fact underlined by the poor performance of Germany's 15-year-olds in international literacy tests three years ago.
The report also says schools are underfinanced. Germany spends an average of 5.3 per cent of GDP on education. In addition, classrooms are overcrowded and seven to 14-year-olds get only 626 teaching hours a year compared to an OECD average of 752, according to the report.
A possible solution, favoured by the Social Democrats and the GEW, Germany's biggest teachers' union, is more all-day schools.
"Germany's three-tier school system is a thing of the past," says GEW chairwoman Eva-Maria Stange. The opposition Christian Democrats disagree.
They favour nationwide targets, better teaching methods and more classroom training for teachers.
Meanwhile, another OECD study showed that more than 45 per cent of teachers were aged over 50, compared to an OECD average of 25-29 per cent.
Although among the best-paid amongst OECD countries, many teachers, especially older ones, were reluctant to undergo much-needed further training, according to the report. It recommends replacing permanent status with merit pay.