The debate about evaluation in the education system, in other words the systematic assessment of organisational structures, teaching and learning processes and performance criteria with a view to improving quality, did not start in Germany until the end of the 1980s, later than in other European countries. Although the actual concept of evaluation may not yet have been institutionalised before, this does not mean that no control mechanisms existed. State supervisory authorities for schools and higher education, statistical surveys carried out by the Federal Statistical Office and by the Statistical Offices of the Länder as well as educational research in institutes that are subordinate to federal or Land ministries or jointly funded by the Federal Government and the Länder are used for quality assurance and evaluation purposes.
Within the school system, the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder (Kultusministerkonferenz), in the so-called Konstanzer Beschluss of October 1997, took up quality assurance processes that had already been introduced in several Länder in the school sector and declared these a central issue for its work. Since then the Länder have developed evaluation instruments in the narrower sense which may be employed depending on the objective.
In 2003 and 2004, educational standards were adopted for the primary sector, the Erster Schulabschluss (First School Leaving Certificate) and the Mittlerer Schulabschluss (Intermediate School Leaving Certificate). In October 2012 the Standing Conference has resolved educational standards for the Allgemeine Hochschulreife (general higher education entrance qualification) in German and mathematics and in follow-on courses in the foreign languages English and French. In June 2020, the Standing Conference established uniform performance requirements for the gymnasiale Oberstufe and the Abitur in the natural sciences in all 16 Länder. To this end, binding educational standards were adopted in the natural science subjects of biology, chemistry and physics. In 2022, the Standing Conference has adopted revised and further developed educational standards in the subjects German and mathematics for the primary level as well as the Erster Schulabschluss and the Mittlerer Schulabschluss.
In June 2006, the Standing Conference adopted a comprehensive strategy for educational monitoring which was revised in 2015.
The evaluation of research and teaching has been provided for in the higher education sector since the amendment to the Framework Act for Higher Education (Hochschulrahmengesetz – HRG) of 1998. The evaluation of study courses and subjects is also established in the higher education legislation of most Länder. In a resolution of March 2002, the Standing Conference laid down the future development of quality assurance for all Länder and institutions of higher education; in the long-term, this should lead to an overall concept for quality assurance, taking account of all types of higher education institution and all study courses. With the introduction of the accreditation of study courses, the setting up of the common Foundation Accreditation Council (Stiftung Akkreditierungsrat), the foundation of accreditation agencies and the adoption of joint structural requirements for all Länder for Bachelor’s and Master’s study courses, standards and procedures were established for the teaching sector. These should provide students and employers with reliable orientation and create transparency in international cooperation with regard to the study offer and study qualifications in Germany. The procedure was revised in December 2016 with the State Treaty on the Accreditation of Studies (Studienakkreditierungsstaatsvertrag, which came into force at the beginning of 2018. Accordingly, higher education institutions use one of the agencies registered with the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR) and accredited by the Foundation Accreditation Council. The decision on accreditation is taken by the Foundation Accreditation Council on the basis of the provisions of the State Treaty, the corresponding Land ordinances and the agency's expert opinion. For further information on quality assurance for all Länder and higher education institutions, see the section on quality assurance in the tertiary sector.
The “Standards for teacher training: Educational sciences” (‘Standards für die Lehrerbildung: Bildungswissenschaften’) and the “Content requirements for subject-related studies and subject-related didactics in teacher training which apply to all Länder” (‘Ländergemeinsame inhaltliche Anforderungen für die Fachwissenschaften und Fachdidaktiken in der Lehrerbildung’), as periodically amended, also serve as a basis for the accreditation and evaluation of teacher-training courses. For more information on quality assurance and quality development through ”Standards for teacher training” and the “Content requirements for subject-related studies and subject-related didactics”, see the article on initial teacher education.
Pursuant to Article 91b, paragraph 2 of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz) the Federation and the Länder may mutually agree to cooperate for the assessment of the performance of the education system in international comparison and in drafting relevant reports and recommendations. An important element of this collaboration and also of the comprehensive strategy of the Standing Conference on educational monitoring is the joint reporting of the Federation and of the Länder.
Specific legislative framework
Primary and secondary education
The authority of the Länder to carry out academic supervision is derived from the state sovereignty over schools enshrined in the Basic Law. This states that the entire school system is under the supervision of the state (Art. 7, paragraph 1). Detailed provisions are set out in the Education Acts and regulations of the Länder. The school legislation of most Länder provides for measures of external and internal evaluation beyond state supervision. The full texts of the current Education Acts are available on the website of the Standing Conference.
In-company vocational training
Quality assurance in in-company vocational training is achieved mainly through laws and regulations and through the recommendations of the board of the Vocational Training Act (Berufsbildungsgesetz) places a high value on quality assurance and quality development. Within the framework of their activities the vocational training boards of the competent authorities (Section 79, paragraph 1, sentence 2 Berufsbildungsgesetz) and of the Länder committees for vocational education and training (Section 83 paragraph 1, sentence 2 Berufsbildungsgesetz) are thus also responsible for steadily improving the quality of vocational education further.
Under Section 59 of the Framework Act for Higher Education and the higher education legislation in place in the Länder, higher education institutions are subject to state supervision which is exercised by the Länder. The full texts of the current laws for higher education institutions are also available on the website of the Standing Conference.
The evaluation of research and teaching has been provided for in the higher education sector since the amendment to the Framework Act for Higher Education of 1998. Higher education legislation of most Länder now includes regulations regarding both internal and external evaluation.
With the amendment of the Vocational Training Act in 2020, a multi-level system of nationally regulated further training qualifications was created to strengthen further vocational education and training with the titles of Geprüfter Berufsspezialist/Geprüfte Berufsspezialistin (Certified Specialist), at the second level Bachelor Professional and at the third level Master Professional.
In their laws and statutory provisions for the promotion of continuing education, Federation and Länder have formulated general minimum requirements of a structural and quantitative nature for institutions of continuing education. Furthermore, some Länder have adopted specific quality assurance standards in their statutory provisions. In the area of distance learning, the Law on the Protection of Participants in Distance Education (Fernunterrichtsschutzgesetz – FernUSG), as well as the control by the Central Office for Distance Learning of the Länder (Zentralstelle für Fernunterricht der Länder), assure the quality and further development of the offer.