At a Duisburg school, classes are currently being canceled for whole days because the teachers are absent - which has now prompted parents to publicly protest. In some Gelsenkirchen schools, the afternoon lessons have been canceled for months. And at Aachen schools, teaching was temporarily switched to a four-day week. Reports like this have been piling up for weeks. In NRW as well as from other parts of Germany.
Parents' associations also warn that many parents are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the rampant absence of hours. But there is no reliable database on the collapsing teaching in NRW. School policy there is “flying blind” in this respect, as SPD school expert Jochen Ott complains. At least one thing is indisputable: since the Corona year 2021, nobody in NRW has known how many lessons are still taking place.
Why not? The state government always responds to this question, which is constantly being asked by the opposition, by stating that “a calculation of the amount of the lesson cancellation” cannot “be made seriously”. It would be easy though. After all, the state introduced software in 2018 that was used to document the number of missed hours for every school in NRW. During the Corona period, the count was temporarily suspended.
But already under the then Minister of Education Yvonne Gebauer (FDP) her restart after Corona was prepared. However, the current minister, Dorothee Feller (CDU), plans to only start counting again next school year. Only: "How should you tackle a problem whose extent you cannot name?" SPD expert Ott countered. Why, the FDP and SPD ask, hasn't the count started long ago?
The struggle for the answer has been going on for weeks. On the fringes of the school committee, the CDU and Greens justified themselves in the state parliament that after the Corona period, the additional burden on teachers should not be rushed. In fact, counting was halted by states during the pandemic because it was time-consuming for teachers but would have produced few meaningful results during the months of homeschooling. But the students have long been back to normal teaching mode, "the exceptional situation of the pandemic has not existed for a long time, so there is no reason not to record the loss of lessons," warns FDP parliamentary group leader Henning Höne.
The black-green coalition partners in North Rhine-Westphalia defended themselves by pointing out that other federal states were in no hurry to record the failure again. Now there are two countries that, in principle, do not count the hours lost nationwide (Lower Saxony and Saarland). However, a request from WELT in the 13 other federal states with failure statistics revealed: Of these, only Baden-Württemberg is still stopping the count after the Corona break. Reason: The survey method there should be "fundamentally revised". The majority of the countries were apparently in a hurry than Feller's house had suspected.
The coalition factions also justified the fact that NRW has not yet controlled the drop in classes in its schools by pointing out that the state has a particularly demanding recording system. In fact, NRW can determine school-specifically, i.e. for each individual school, how many lessons have been cancelled. And not just randomly for a few weeks a year, but consistently. This method thus requires more cooperation from teachers than the earlier sampling method.
However: Such a recording is by no means unique. Hours lost are also documented and controlled in 13 other countries, according to a survey by this newspaper. Such a system was recently introduced in Hesse. In Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony-Anhalt and Bremen, the control is also carried out on a school-by-school basis and is permanent (only the results are passed on to the state government weekly in one state, every two weeks in the next, and monthly in the next but one). The same applies to Brandenburg. There is no official obligation for schools to count lost hours. However, the data is requested from the schools. If you don't participate, you'll get noticed. And in Rhineland-Palatinate, at least in the majority of schools, the number of hours lost is recorded consistently by school.
Significant differences to NRW exist in Berlin (there, absences are not documented by school, but by type of school) as well as in Thuringia, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria. The latter three have so far relied on random samples. In other words: NRW does not expect more from its teachers than the majority of the federal states from their teaching staff. So why does Minister Feller not want to measure the loss of lessons at the moment? An assumption is circulating in the FDP and SPD that has to do with old experience: If the extent of a problem is published, the government is blamed - regardless of whether they (even partly) caused the problem.
This was impressively demonstrated by Feller's predecessor, Gebauer. As the first NRW school minister, she dared to research the drop in classes and at the same time to quantify the additional need for teachers. But she was immediately told that describing problems was not enough, she had to deliver now. Gebauer defended himself, not she, but the previous government had cut jobs and ignored the cancellation of classes - it didn't help. What she uncovered was chalked up to her by the media and opposition as "Gebauer's balance sheet". The FDP assumes that Feller would like to avoid this experience. That is why she is setting herself up in a "permanent state of systematically looking the other way", according to FDP leader Höne. SPD man Ott also speculated to this newspaper that "perhaps" Feller "does not want to look the dramatic situation in the face. Close your eyes and through” “cannot be a motto in the current educational catastrophe”.
But the ministry does not specify any motto when it comes to measuring the loss of lessons. It always responds to inquiries only briefly. And insists that there is "no new situation". The survey will “be resumed at the beginning of the 2023/24 school year.” Even in Feller’s CDU parliamentary group there are members of parliament who, in an interview with WELT, attest to their minister’s “unfortunate communication”. Because while the ministry is reluctant, experts roll over their heads with demands that school policy, if they are serious, must give up all restraint in the fight against teacher shortages and class cancellations.
This was recently shown on the occasion of the education summit, to which Federal Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP) invited to Berlin. Postulates from the Education Foundation or the Education and Training Association (VBE), among others, immediately began to pile up, saying that education politicians at federal and state level had to tackle the problems more quickly and aggressively. Above all, the NRW-FDP uses this to complain about an alleged "inactivity" on the part of the minister. Almost with relish, a parliamentary group member quoted former school minister Gebauer in the background discussion this week. When in 2018 she pushed through the school-specific recording of class failures against the teachers’ associations, she argued that “anyone who wants a better school landscape” must “first thoroughly examine the deficits of the existing school landscape.” Of course, if you lack this will, you don’t.