Normally children go through only 4 years of elementary school together and than they can visit gymnasium, “Realschule” or “Hauptschule” – depending on their grades. There exist no really adequate English translations for the last two types of secondary schools: They last from the 5th to the 9th (Hauptschule) or the 10th year (Realschule) of secondary school, but unlike the enrolment in a gymnasium, these two school types give no university-entrance diploma. Gymnasium, Realschule and Hauptschule give a threefold differentiation of best, middle and weakest pupils, where the Hauptschule – unintentionally, yet actually – mainly gathers pupils with social weak backgrounds. This three tier school system in Bavaria is often criticised to be to selective and giving less chances to immigrated and socially weak pupils, and that the selection takes place in a far too early age (at the age of ten years). “The PISA studies show that. Yes, the problem lies elsewhere. The problem is, that the children live in a social setting as well, PISA has shown this. Children, who live in a different social framing, have more chances to go to gymnasium as other children” (I 12: 110-113).
Selection has to be preceded by targeting: the targeted population of the particular school-form has to be defined and socially constructed. While gymnasium has the image of being the education-site for upper- and middle-class children, the “Hauptschule”, on the opposite site of the quality continuum, gathers socially problematic children of poorer families, often from a background of migration. Beside these three tiers, there exists a fourth tier in the Bavarian school hierarchy: the special schools. Our case study showed how the special schools change their targeted population and how the changes in definition of “handicapped” to “special need children” takes place.
A slightly new argument in the discussion about special schools is the social perspective. Mostly dividing children into “normal” and “handicapped” pupils has the pretence to depend on objective criteria, depending on objective, thus medical aspects. In recent argumentation, but only slightly, the possibility of the influence of social factors on the selection of the school-type has emerged. “What PISA showed again and again, that can be shown in these schools as well, that Education is tightly interlinked with social provenance and family background. I always say that our special schools are special schools for the poor, for the poorest and the most disadvantaged” (I3: 123-127). But this insight is quite rare and is often denied in the interviews – possibly it really can be said openly only since the discussions about PISA. The possibility of discerning social disadvantages and “medical” handicaps is a quite new and not everywhere accepted idea, but it is spreading in the public debate. “It is surely so, that when you think of the structure of the parents in the `Hauptschule´, then you will see, and this is often being criticised as well, that in the Bavarian Education system many at the Hauptschule are from the illiterate and underprivileged social classes, and this is the same in many special schools as well. Of course it depends on the kind of the needed support; if the child is deaf, this can happen in each family, but for example in the case of the special need section `learning disorders´, the family background plays an outstanding role” (I7: 57-64).
The discussion shows following aspects and foci of selection and targeting: Normal vs. handicapped or special need children: The elementary schools select during the school registration, if the child is developed “normally” or if it needs further testing to visit a special school in case. The reform of the Education Law in 2003 eliminated the notion of “handicaps” in the school context and wants to emphasise not the handicaps, but the need for support, which is common for each child: “At that time Bavaria was the first federal state which abstained from using the term `handicap´ in the Education Law, with a clear perception of the mission of the school lying in development. Schools should not assert handicaps and work deficit-oriented, but should focus more than ever on development and improvement, and this could be reached in the amendment of the Education Law without doubt” (I2: 135-13).
Defining “special need” children: In Bavaria there exist special schools for “learning”, “seeing”, “language”, “emotional and social development”, “mental development” and for “physically disabled”. So called special need centres were developed in the reform combining the foci “learning”, “language” and “emotional and social development”. The multitude of the special need schools attracts the necessity of defining (and permanently re-defining) the targeted population through testing methods. Boarders between the particular school foci are narrow in many cases, the discussion about selection and targeting is therefore permanent.
“Integrable” vs. “Non-Integrable” children: The analysed reform of the Education Law was forced by parents who wanted to achieve integration of their children in normal elementary and secondary schools and to avoid selection and specification processes (normal vs. handicapped children). Parents wanted to eliminate selection processes and wanted no more testing for their children: “Nobody will ever test my daughter again!” (I6: 54) – this was one of their aims. Unfortunately the parents could not reach this goal. Their attempts to avoid categories lead to – partly – the opposite, though the Bavarian Government created a new category: Children capable for integration in normal schools (“integrable” children), depending on their capability of “active participation” in the lesson and the capability of the school to integrate them, and children who have to visit special schools (“non-integrable” children).
NASSEHI A., VON DER HAGEN-DEMSZKY A. & MAYR K. (2009), The Amendment of the Bavarian Education Law in 2003: A Long Way towards Inclusion, Report, 37.