The number of private schools is increasing nationwide. According to the Federal Statistical Office, there were 5,855 privately funded general education and vocational schools in the last school year – almost 80 percent more than in the early 1990s. More than a million children and young people attend private schools in Germany today, which is about 10 percent of all students.
The debates about free schools could hardly be more controversial. Where many criticize the elitist character of purchasable educational privileges, others see an enrichment for the state school system. Michael Buechler, head of the Baden-Baden school foundation Pedagogium, thinks that private schools have a role model function. “They are much more flexible and always show themselves to be enriching and as a driving force,” says the 64-year-old, who is also honorary president of the Association of German Private Schools (VDP).
He is not surprised that the number of registrations has risen again in the course of the corona pandemic. “Of course we noticed that,” says Buechler. When the pandemic broke out, private schools had more opportunities to integrate new concepts. “The online lessons were set up much faster, in some cases everyone was equipped with devices after just a week – while at state schools parents sometimes had to drive to the teachers and pick up copies,” he says.
The VDP represents over 2,500 private educational institutions, including general schools, language and health schools. Overall, the private school system in this country has developed well, according to Buechler. Many schools have been set up in the past 30 years, particularly in the new federal states. “Parents look for places for their children according to their needs,” says Buechler – this could be a specific value orientation or a sporting focus. He sees the main advantage of private schools in the fact that you can make different offers to the students and react more quickly to current requirements, for example in the form of working groups, IT courses or political discussions.
Since the 2020/2021 school year, more and more parents have been enrolling their children in boarding schools. “We have a strong demand,” confirms Brigitte Mergenthaler-Walter, headmistress and director of studies at Schule Schloss Salem. The trend started in autumn 2020. She sees the reasons for the growing interest in the boarding school on Lake Constance in the attractiveness of the campus – in 2019 the school invested 21 million euros to build new event and residential buildings there. On the other hand in the concept of holistic education that the school represents. “Social interaction has been neglected in the lockdown. Many young people flee into the digital world – the parents want their children to have a ‘real life’ again,” observes Mergenthaler-Walter.
The Schule Schloss Salem is one of the best-known boarding schools in Germany. Founded in 1920 by Prince Max von Baden and the adventure educator Kurt Hahn, the boarding school still attaches great importance to its reform pedagogical approach. With 600 students from 45 nations, the school promotes the diverse environment in which “children and young people are strengthened through shared experiences” and “spaces for individual development” are opened to them. In addition to sports, education for democracy and responsibility through compulsory social commitment are on the pedagogical agenda.
Free schools are regarded as substitute schools and, like public schools, are under state supervision. With the so-called “separation ban”, the Basic Law requires free schools that “separation of the pupils according to the property situation of the parents is not encouraged”. A 2016 study by the Social Science Research Center Berlin revealed that the intended social mix in private schools is not taking place. One reason is the “legal non-regulation” on a maximum for school fees.
Michael Buechler sees a system error in the fact that parents should pay for their children’s education. “The state only pays a share for the students, so the parents have to pay. Instead, the state could take care of the free schools a little more,” he says. So that there is a social mix and that education does not only depend on the income of the parents, the free schools offer partial and full scholarships. “I haven’t seen a single institution that hasn’t accepted students for financial reasons,” he says.
According to their own information, around 20 percent of the students at Salem Castle receive a partial scholarship every year. Brigitte Mergenthaler-Walter supports this: “We not only want exclusivity for those who can afford it, we also want to be a reflection of society.” be taken over.
However, these do not cover all costs. The school and boarding school fees are up to 4150 euros per month. Not everyone can register at the renowned institution. On the website, the goal is 30 percent of sponsored students.
According to Mergenthaler-Walter, inquiries for estates are currently on the rise, also as a result of the war in Ukraine. But “no student has to leave our school for financial reasons. We’re trying to find solutions,” she says.