This chapter provides a thematic and chronological overview of national reforms and policy developments since 2020.
The introduction of the chapter describes the overall education strategy and the key objectives across the whole education system. It also looks at how the education reform process is organised and who the main actors in the decision-making process are.
The section on ongoing reforms and policy developments groups reforms in the following broad thematic areas that largely correspond to education levels:
- Early childhood education and care
- School education
- VET and adult learning
- Higher education
- Transversal skills and Employability
Inside each thematic area, reforms are organised chronologically. The most recent reforms are described first. The measures for handling the corona virus are also presented here.
Overall national education strategy and key objectives
There is a consensus that, in light of demographic changes in Germany, and with a view to the emerging need for skilled workers, but also because of the challenges posed by digitisation, great efforts must be made to develop the German education system in the years ahead.
In connection with the Agreement on the Common Basic Structure of the School System and the National Responsibility of the Länder in Central Questions of Education Policy (Ländervereinbarung über die gemeinsame Grundstruktur des Schulwesens und die gesamtstaatliche Verantwortung der Länder in zentralen bildungspolitischen Fragen) of February 2021, the Länder agreed in the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany (Kultusministerkonferenz) on a series of “political projects” which are to be implemented in the next few years. Examples of these are:
- In the area of quality assurance, the Länder undertake to use the instruments described in the overall strategy of the Standing Conference and to integrate them into coherent systems of quality assurance and development specific to the Länder.
- The Länder shall consistently pursue the goals agreed in the Strategy "Education in the Digital World" (‘Bildung in der digitalen Welt’) and the DigitalPakt Schule 2019-2024.
- The Standing Conference revises the "Recommendations for Work in Primary Schools" (‘Empfehlungen zur Arbeit in der Grundschule’) by 2022 in the light of the results of the relevant school performance comparisons.
- The Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs fundamentally revises the “Agreement on the Types of Schools and Courses of Education in the Lower Secondary Level” (‘Vereinbarung über die Schularten und Bildungsgänge im Sekundarbereich I’) by 2022 and, in particular, makes binding provisions for the clear structuring and structuring of the lower secondary level according to courses of education.
- The Länder continue to harmonise their frameworks for the design of the Gymnasiale Oberstufe.
- With regard to the Abitur task pool, the Länder agree that the pool tasks and withdrawal modalities will be designed in such a way that the usability of the tasks for each Land is ensured.
- To strengthen vocational schools in a rapidly changing economic and working world, the Länder propose a joint “Pact for Vocational Schools”.
- The Länder continue their joint measures to improve the quality of teacher training.
As a central educational and family policy project, the Federal Government has anchored a legal entitlement to all-day care for children of primary school age in Book Eight of the Social Code (Achtes Buch Sozialgesetzbuch – Kinder- und Jugendhilfe – SGB VIII – R61). This will be introduced in stages from 2026, starting with the first grade, and will be extended by one grade each year. From 2029, the legal entitlement will apply to all children in grades 1–4. In preparation for this legal entitlement, the Federal Government supports the Länder and local authorities with financial aid for the expansion of all-day education and care services. With the resolution “Fighting the consequences of Corona, securing prosperity, strengthening future viability” (‘Corona-Folgen bekämpfen, Wohlstand sichern, Zukunftsfähigkeit stärken‘) of the coalition committee of June 2020, the Federal Government confirms and accelerates its plan and provides an additional Euro 1.5 billion for the expansion of all-day education. This means that a total of Euro 3.5 billion in federal funds are now available for corresponding investments in the education infrastructure. In addition, the Federal Government also contributes to the operating costs. From 2030, a permanent federal participation in the annual operating costs of Euro 1.3 billion is planned.
An amendment to Article 104c of the Basic Law entered into force in April 2019 which enables the Federation to grant financial aid to the Länder for investments by the Länder and local authorities that are significant for the nation as a whole in order to increase the efficiency of the municipal education infrastructure without limiting aid to "financially weak" municipalities. The amendment enables the federal government, among other things, to provide targeted support for municipal investments in the renovation, conversion and expansion of school buildings. The new Article 104c is also the constitutional basis for the DigitalPact School 2019-2024 (DigitalPakt Schule 2019–2024), with which the Federation and the Länder, among other things, pursue the goal of creating digital education infrastructures suitable for the future. In the face of the Corona pandemic, the DigitalPact could be used to address the challenges that have emerged from moving to teaching and learning from home.
Overview of the education reform process and drivers
In the Federal Republic of Germany responsibility for the education system is determined by the federal structure of the state. Unless the Basic Law awards legislative powers to the Federation, the Länder have the right to legislate. Within the education system, this applies to the school sector, the higher education sector, adult education and continuing education. Administration of the education system in these areas is almost exclusively a matter for the Länder.
The Federation bears responsibility particularly for the regulations governing the following domains of education, science and research:
- Extra-curricular vocational education
- Admission to higher education institutions and higher education degrees (here the Länder may enact laws at variance with the legislation of the Federation)
- Financial assistance for pupils and students
- Promotion of scientific and academic research and technological development
- Public welfare, wich also includes child and youth welfare servieces
- Regulations on entry to the legal profession
- Regulations on entry to medical and paramedical professions
- Employment promotion measures as well as occupational and labour market research
More detailed information on the distribution of legislative competences in the education sector is available in the section on Fundamental Principles and National Policies.
In addition to the division of responsibilities described above, the Basic Law also provides for particular forms of cooperation between the Federation and the Länder within the scope of the so-called joint tasks (Gemeinschaftsaufgaben). Joint tasks in the field of science and education are regulated in Article 91b, paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Basic Law. Pursuant to Article 91b, the Federation and the Länder may mutually agree to cooperate in cases of supra-regional importance in the promotion of science, research and teaching (paragraph 1) as well as for the assessment of the performance of educational systems in international comparison and in drafting relevant reports and recommendations (paragraph 2).
Federalism has proved successful as a state structure which encourages diversity and competition. The Federal Government and the Länder will introduce the appropriate measures and initiatives within their respective areas of responsibility. At the same time, there has been an increase in the common responsibilities of the Länder and the need to agree objectives and coordinated measures on the part of the Federal Government and the Länder in fields of national relevance.
Ongoing reforms and policy developments
The following account includes measures resolved by all Länder in the Standing Conference and measures by the Federal Government. Within their own area of responsibility, the Länder take various and far-reaching measures which cannot be separately described. The reform measures of the Länder, mostly with substantial support or in cooperation with the Federation, affect the following areas in particular:
- Expansion of all-day programmes with the aim of expanding educational and support opportunities in implementation of the legal entitlement to all-day care for children of primary school age
- Measures to raise the educational and competence levels of disadvantaged groups
- Measures to secure the potential of skilled workers
- Measures to improve linguistic competence
- Measures to improve dovetailing of the early childhood sector and primary school
- Measures to improve school education, reading competence and the understanding of mathematical and scientific correlations
- Vocational orientation measures and measures to improve transition from school to work
- Measures to strengthen the link between vocational and higher education
- Laws to improve the identification and recognition of professional qualifications acquired abroad by the Federation and the Länder
- Measures to increase the higher education graduation rate and that of comparable qualifications
- Measures for digitalisation in the school and higher education sector
The basic principle of sustainability should be anchored more firmly in the German educational system in future. To this end, the National Platform on Education for Sustainable Development resolved the National Plan of Action on Education for Sustainable Development (Nationaler Aktionsplan Bildung für nachhaltige Entwicklung – BNE) in June 2017. The members of the National Platform are, on behalf of the federal government, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung – BMBF), the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend – BMFSFJ), the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz, nukleare Sicherheit und Verbraucherschutz – BMUV) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Entwicklung und Zusammenarbeit – BMZ), and on behalf of the Länder, representatives of the Standing Conference, the Conference of the Ministries of Youth and Family Affairs (Jugend- und Familienministerkonferenz – JFMK) and the Conference of the Environmental Ministers (Umweltministerkonferenz – UMK), and on behalf of the local authorities, a representative of the local authority organisations. Decision-makers from the fields of business, science and civil society are also members of the National Platform.