Page: 226-237 Author: Váňová, M. Key words: lower secondary school, German comprehensive school – Gesamtschule, school policy, internal differentiation, horizontal arrangement of educational system, filter effect, social selection, equality of opportunity
This study deals with a type of school that while considered progressive from the point of view of world trends has been raising an unending series of questions and controversies in the Federal Republic of Germany, as in the Czech Republic. In the 1960s as a result of discussion about the poor standard of the German school and influence by models of school reforms abroad, there was a massive wave of criticism of the vertical hierarchical arrangement of the German school system, its antiquated and socially selective character. The demand was for modernisation and greater social justice. One consequence of the subsequent reforms was introduction of the comprehensive school – Gesamtschule. This school, like a gymnasium, could include the higher degree of secondary school. It could thus lead right up to “maturita” (high-school completion examinations) − what is known as the general high-school maturity that is the condition for entry to university. The goal of the comprehensive school is on the one hand socio-political (to counteract the mutual alienation of children from different social groups and classes that is encouraged by the allocation of pupils to different types of school), and on the other educational-political (to give all children the same chance of education, and to do so by internal differentiation of teaching and an individual approach to pupils). The comprehensive school also as far as possible keeps pupils’ options open with regard to their long-term decision-making on type of educational path. Comprehensive schools were initially experimental schools. In this experimental phase experiences were gathered and research surveys conducted. The idea was that if the results were positive, the comprehensive school should be introduced as the only type of lower secondary school in the whole of Germany. These research studies showed, however, like later TIMSS and PISA international studies and the BIJU (Bildungsprozesse und psychosociale Entwicklung im Jugend- und jungen Erwachsenenalter) longitudinal study, that the results of pupils in the comprehensive schools were overall worse than in the established three-element system. Political parties, but also the unions, academics and teachers, various organisations, the church and parents all joined in the discussion on the form of lower secondary schools. They had widely divergent views on the comprehensive schools, however, and the situation has remained one of stalemate. In the individual federal lands the approach to the question is often more political than expert educational, but empirical justification for the blanket introduction of comprehensive schools in Germany is a thorny and difficult matter. Particularly in large cities, the comprehensive school has found itself in fierce competition with the other types of school. Nonetheless, it is finding its place in the German school system. In view of the overall decline in numbers of children, in many places comprehensive schools represent a solution to the problem of how to provide pupils with all types of conclusion of compulsory school education at the lowest cost. In some regions these schools are adding to the range of education on offer by creating educational programmes based on a certain educational philosophy. They thus present a certain alternative to the ordinary school. Thus the comprehensive school is becoming an effective enrichment of the school system. More or less because of the need to fight for its existence, it is a source of constant educational and didactic innovation, providing inspiration to the three-element school system as well as enriching it.