THE poor performance of Germany's schools will be a key concern for voters at the first big test for Chancellor Gerhard Schroder's party since September's general election.
Regional elections in the key state of Hesse will take place on February 2 and Germany's low ranking in the recent PISA international student league table will again come under scrutiny.
Under Germany's federal system, states are responsible for education.
Hesse, whose state capital Frankfurt is Germany's financial centre, is run by a Conservative-liberal coalition. Mr Schroder's Social Democratic party is in opposition and will be hoping to capitalise on worries over academic performance.
Although Hesse's people are among the richest in Germany the state ranks only 8th in a state league table for maths and science and 9th in reading.
States and the federal government are in broad agreement that a longer school day will raise academic standards In fact the federal government (TES, January 10) is promoting all-day schools nationwide with extra funding of pound;2.5 bn.
Hesse has 181 all-day schools. But Gerhard Bokel, the Social Democratic challenger for the state premiership, says he wants 500 all-day schools plus mandatory pre-school education for five-year-olds, followed by three to five years of primary schooling.
Hesse's premier, Roland Koch, is focusing on education in his re-election campaign. He will point to his record in raising standards in primaries and imposing rigorous testing for 10-year olds entering secondary education in line with federal policy .
Mr Koch has turned the Hessian education system around since coming to power in 1999. Primary schools now have uniform opening hours and a teacher recruitment drive has reduced the number of missed classes for which Hesse was notorious in the past as it had no system of supply teachers.
The other electoral force in the state is the Green party which is still undecided on its education policy.
Frankfurt's city council is run by the Greens, who have introduced some innovative schemes such as bilingual kindergartens and schools, which use English, French or Italian as well as German.