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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Teaching and learning in vocational upper secondary education


6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.8Teaching and learning in vocational upper secondary education

Last update: 27 March 2024

Curriculum, Subjects, Number of Hours

The statements made in the article on teaching and learning in primary education apply for the curricula and education plans for the vocational full-time schools. The responsibility for developing the curricula essentially lies with the Ministries of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder.

Apart from the subjects offered at a Gymnasium, Berufliche Gymnasien have career-oriented subjects like business, technology, professional computer science, biotechnology, nutrition, agronomy, as well as health and social studies, which can be chosen in addition to general subjects as the intensified course and are examined in the Abitur. In some Länder, there are a limited number of schools providing further vocational courses and specialisations. The subjects relating to such vocational courses and specialisations may also be elected as subject at an increased level of academic standards. In double qualification courses of education, additional occupation-specific subjects are taught, which as a rule are also examination subjects for the final vocational examination. The total volume of periods in these courses is at least 118 hours per week in the gymnasiale Oberstufe.

At Berufsfachschulen (full-time vocational schools) instruction is given in general/cross-occupational and subject- or occupation-specific areas. In courses providing basic vocational training, teaching in both areas of learning together shall comprise a minimum of 30 periods per week. In courses leading to a qualification in a recognised occupation, instruction shall comprise a minimum of 32 periods per week. They offer a very wide range of courses. There are Berufsfachschulen for business occupations, occupations involving foreign languages, trade and technical occupations, crafts industry occupations, home-economics-related and social-work-related occupations, artistic occupations, the health sector occupations regulated by federal law etc. The division into subjects, fields of learning and projects is regulated by the Länder.

Instruction at the FACHOBERSCHULE is given in the subjects German, foreign language, mathematics, natural sciences, economics and society, religion/ethics as well as in field-specific subjects. Practical training takes place in grade 11, i.e. in the first year of this school type, as a relevant controlled placement in companies or equivalent institutions. The language and communication area of learning accounts for at least 480 lessons (240 each for German and a foreign language), the mathematics and natural sciences area of learning at least 320 lessons (mathematics 240, natural sciences 80) and the business and society area of learning at least 120 lessons in grades 11 and 12. Subject theory accounts for at least 440 lessons and practical experience 800 lessons in the first year in the subject-related field. The differentiation field accounts for at least 320 lessons, which can be used by the Länder to increase the subjects and areas of learning shown in the number of hours and to create further subjects.

In the BERUFSOBERSCHULE that pupils attend for two years, instruction covers a total of at least 2400 periods (approx. 30 periods a week). Pupils are taught German, a compulsory foreign language, social studies (with history, politics, economics), mathematics as well as specialised subjects (Profilfächer) in accordance with the chosen specialisation, and natural sciences including information technology. The German and foreign language group of subjects accounts for at least 720 to 800 lessons, the social studies area of learning at least 160 to 320 lessons, mathematics at least 400 to 560 lessons and the advanced level courses and natural sciences including information technology at least 800 to 1,040 lessons. For the Allgemeine Hochschulreife, knowledge of a second foreign language must also be proven which accounts for at least an additional 320 lessons. The Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (Kultusministerkonferenz) passed common standards in June 1998 regarding the requirement level for instruction in German, a compulsory foreign language and mathematics.

Vocational education and training in the dual system

The curriculum at the part-time Berufsschule, like that of full-time vocational schools, breaks down into cross-occupationjal and vocational classes. Twelve periods a week are spent in class, eight of which generally cover material specific to the occupation in question.

The Rahmenlehrpläne (framework curricula) for vocational instruction at Berufsschulen, on the other hand, unlike the curricula for the vocational full-time schools, are worked out by the Länder in the Standing Conference and resolved in a coordinated procedure with the agreement of the Federation on the basis of the Ausbildungsordnungen (training regulations) for on-the-job training. They are structured in accordance with areas of instruction so as to support the acquisition of vocational knowledge, skills and competences. Areas of instruction contain a complex statement of objectives oriented around typical vocational acts, as well as references and time guidelines as regards content, i.e. references to the time of communication in the course of education as well as to the number of lessons. The knowledge, skills and competences to be attained in on-the-job training for professional qualification is set out in the training regulations. These regulations are issued for all anerkannte Ausbildungsberufe (recognised occupations requiring formal training) by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Klimaschutz – BMWK) competent federal ministry with the assistance of the social partners and in agreement with the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung – BMBF). The coordination procedure ensures that the training regulations take account of what has been learnt from experiences in the working world and in the vocational schools, as well as the results of employment and occupational research and the results of pilot schemes of the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung – BIBB).

Vocational education and training is particularly affected by digitisation and its repercussions for working, production and business processes. The teaching objective is increasingly the acquisition of competence in the use of digital tools and techniques. Apart from an understanding of digital processes, this also calls for an investigation of the direct effects of ever increasing digitisation, e.g. with respect to work organisation and communicative aspects in, in some cases, globally networked production, supply and service chains.

In September 2021, the Standing Conference adopted a "Recommendation on the use of digitised teaching and learning formats to maintain the principle of specialised classes at vocational schools" (‘Empfehlung zum Einsatz digitalisierter Lehr- und Lernformate zur Beibehaltung des Fachklassenprinzips in der Berufsschule‘). The requirements for vocational education and training formulated in the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs' strategy "Education in the Digital World" (‘Bildung in der digitalen Welt’) are taken into account in this recommendation (application and use of digital devices and working techniques, personal vocational skills, self-management and self-organisation, data protection and data security, critical handling of digitally networked media and the consequences of digitisation for the world of life and work). In detail, the Standing Conference makes recommendations on didactic-curricular, organisational-administrative and legal criteria that should be taken into account when using digitalised teaching and learning formats.

Foreign language teaching in vocational schools

Foreign language teaching in the vocational sector builds on the competences attained in the lower secondary level. It makes a fundamental contribution to vocational education and training or the vocational orientation of pupils by equipping them to deal with foreign language professionally in relevant work situations. Given ongoing globalisation in the economic sector and on the labour market, in language activities specific to a profession and to a professional field, foreign language competence forms an important part of the professional ability to act. In the specialised subject classes (Fachklassen) of the dual system especially, the development of language competence relevant to the professional field is of great importance.

Teaching in the Berufsschule extends and deepens the foreign language competence according to its significance in the relevant Ausbildungsberuf (recognised occupation requiring formal training). In addition, the Standing Conference's foreign language certificate is an opportunity to demonstrate the acquisition of foreign language competences on the basis of the "Common European Framework of Reference for Languages" (CEFR) of the Council of Europe.

Language-sensitive subject teaching

Corresponding to the recommendation of the Standing Conference "Strengthening educational language competencies in German" (‚Bildungssprachliche Kompetenzen in der deutschen Sprache stärken‘) (cf. chapter 6.7.), the Standing Conference adopted the recommendation "Language-sensitive subject teaching at vocational schools" (‘Sprachsensibler Fachunterricht an beruflichen Schulen‘) in December 2019, which addresses the particular challenges of promoting vocational language competencies at vocational schools. With their offerings for career entry, initial vocational training, and higher and continuing education, vocational schools provide a coordinated and interlocked system of diverse educational options designed to integrate broad-based target groups into the workplace and society. Adolescents and young adults with varying degrees of linguistic and communicative competence enter the educational programmes of vocational schools. It is the task of the vocational schools to link up with the competence profiles of the learners within the framework of continuous language education, taking into account the specific circumstances of the individual courses of education. The present recommendation shows fields of action and recommendations for this.

Teaching Methods and Materials

The Berufsschule bases its teaching on action-oriented didactic methods that are reflected in the curricula by the concept of learning areas. The use of new information and communication technologies opens up a further scope of conveying up-to-date vocational knowledge. The basic didactic methods to be used in on-the-job training are outlined in the Ausbildungsordnungen (training regulations).