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Systemic interlinking of school, "transitional system" and training

An interview with Peter Thiele on the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) Initiative "Educational chains until the completion of training"

Assistant Secretary, Head of the "Department of Initial and Continuing Vocational Education and Training Policy" at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research

Translated by:Martin Kelsey, Global Language Services


The vocational education and training system has undergone considerable change during the past 20 years. Large numbers of vocational preparation or partially qualifying schemes have grown up alongside the dual system of vocational education and training. Such measures, however, only offer successful transitions to vocational training leading to a recognised qualification for some young people. Over the course of recent years, numerous programmes and initiatives have been introduced at an individual, regional and structural level in an attempt to increase the efficiency of the transitional system. September 2010 brought the launch of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) Initiative "Educational chains until the completion of training".

 : Mr. Thiele, what is the aim of the BMBF Educational Chains Initiative?

Thiele:  The "Educational chains until the completion of training" initiative is not merely a support programme. Its aim is to bring about a systemic optimisation of the transitions between school, the transitional system and dual vocational education and training. Although an initial budget of €362 million has been planned for the "programme part" of the initiative until the year 2014, our orientation is towards a longer term approach. Our goal is to act in targeted manner in reaching young people at lower secondary schools and schools for pupils with learning difficulties who have a particular requirement for support and who have especial difficulty in making the transition to training later. The objective of the initiative is to develop a system of collective responsibility between the stakeholders in the three areas mentioned above and to establish this at an early stage during the time young people spend at school.

The focus is on avoiding school dropouts, preventing waiting loops and achieving efficient transitions to dual training and the completion of such dual training, especially for young people who need particular support. This includes strengthening company responsibility for training preparation. Last but not least, a further aim is to counter the impending shortage of skilled workers occasioned by demographic change.

I admit that this is a challenging project which requires us to look beyond our own individual areas of responsibility. Nevertheless, I am optimistic that we can make discernable progress in this area.



 : The Educational Chains Initiative brings together both new and old support instruments. With which practically tried and tested programmes does the initiative link and how does the interlinking of the three instruments of analysis of potential, vocational orientation and career entry support function in specific terms?

Thiele: We have worked in conjunction with the federal states and acted in accordance with a standardised catalogue of criteria to select over 1,000 lower secondary schools and schools for pupils with learning difficulties right across the country as venues of deployment. Depending on type of school, an analysis of potential will be conducted with all pupils from Year 7 onwards. The aim will be to identify areas of strengths and latent potential and also to reveal support requirements. A school-based and extra-school support plan will be agreed for young people for whom it is ascertained that support is needed. This process will be coordinated with all those involved, including the pupils themselves and their parents. We expect to fund around 60,000 such analyses of potential at the schools per year.

These young people will then receive extra-school support from full-time, experienced educational guides on an individual and continuous basis. This provision will extend until conclusion of training in problem cases. We have planned to fund 1,000 such educational guides. The first guides, numbering just under 500, have already been in post since November 2010. Their tasks are to take on a mentoring role to support and monitor the young people personally and develop and implement individual solutions for problems arising in the educational development of their respective charges whilst cooperating closely with regional educational and support institutions.

The plan is to deploy the third instrument of the initiative from Year 8 onwards. This involves practically related vocational orientation in inter-company institutions and similar establishments with close links to trade and industry where the aim is that young people, and not just those who have been identified as requiring support, by the way, will test out their inclinations and gather specific experiences in three occupational fields whilst - quite literally - grasping along the way that the subjects they have learned at school, such as mathematics, are of considerable practical use in activities such as building a CD rack. Results will be recorded in a "career choice passport" or similar document. The funding available to the BMBF vocational orientation programme, which has already financed over 150,000 practical placements of this nature, has been specifically increased for this purpose.

Not all the individual instruments I have outlined are new. They have already been used and continue to be used on an individual basis in some federal states. What is new, however, is the strategic interlinking of such instruments within a systemic support philosophy aligned on a broad basis and implemented in a coherent fashion nationwide.
Another new aspect is the supplementing of these measures via individual support agreements, the aim of which is to strengthen and emphasise the coordination and collective responsibility of a range of stakeholders within individual parts of the educational system.


: Can you use the example of the educational guides to explain this?

Thiele: The educational guides are the backbone of the Educational Chains Initiative. The aim is for them to use the individual support plans as a basis for ensuring that monitoring of young people in need of support takes place at a personal level continuously over several years whilst acting in conjunction with the stakeholders within other areas of the educational system to realise the gradual transition of the young people into training. During the early design stage of the Educational Chains Initiative, we cooperated closely with the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) and the Federal Employment Agency (BA). We have also incorporated the findings gleaned from the first generation of career entry support staff and commissioned the BA with the implementation of the deployment of "BMBF" educational guides in order to achieve the greatest possible degree of coherence.

There are, however, specific characteristics which we believe are important for the BMBF educational guides, such as a commitment to carry out analyses of potential as the basis for the selection of the young people, the individual support agreements and longer-term deployment of the BMBF support staff. We also continue to collaborate closely on the basis of an administrative agreement reached with the BA which also encompasses qualitative aspects of implementation and to coordinate the tender and selection procedures which have taken place as well as the implementation of career entry support within the scope of the Educational Chains Initiative.
The full-time specialist educational staff, 500 of whom have already been in post at a local level since November 2010, are joined by around 1,000 volunteer educational guides from the Senior Expert Service. These unpaid Senior Experts, most of whom have many years of occupational and training experience, work in close conjunction with the locally based full-time post holders with a particular focus on supporting and stabilising young people during the vocational training process. The experiences we had with the Senior Experts during our JOBSTARTER VERA Initiative, the aim of which was to prevent training dropouts, was very positive and we are now extending our cooperation at a nationwide level. Around 1,200 career entry support staff from the Federal Employment Agency are already in post, and this means that a total more than 3,000 support staff will soon be involved in pursuing the approach of the Educational Chains Initiative. Our aim is to use the "new" generation of educational guides to provide many years of support for up to 30,000 additional young people in need of support and assist them along their educational pathway.
We have also established a service agency at the JOBSTARTER programme office at BIBB, the functions of which will include assisting us with the regular exchanges which take place with schools involved in the Educational Chains Initiative and support staff.



: You have already mentioned that one aim of the Educational Chains Initiative is to bring about further structural development of the transitional system. This is in line with the idea that inclusion is achieved by setting up the entire VET system in such a way so as to offer access to all young people and their heterogeneous requirements rather than by seeking to improve participation in the system by constantly instigating special programmes for specific target groups. What impetuses can we expect from the initiative in this regard?

Thiele: The "programme part" of the BMBF Educational Chains Initiative is already pursuing precisely this objective. We put our faith in successful instruments which we interlink within an educational chain and also use, where necessary, additional provision from the existing sets of instruments available instead of adding to the density of the range of support already in place by instigating new instruments. The one main thought behind all of this is that these instruments should form further connective links in the chain until such time a completion. One example is the combination of in-training support and introductory qualifications for the purpose of extending company-based training preparation for lower ability trainees and delivering a retention effect into training.

The transitional system as a whole, however, also needs to be subjected to scrutiny. BMBF studies revealed that the transitional system included in excess of 190 Federal Government and federal state support programmes as long ago as 2008. Our aims are to monitor the efficiency of these programmes, accord priority to the most effective instruments and achieve optimisation. We are perfectly aware that we have plenty to chew on here. Such an objective will not be achievable within twelve months. We have, however, already made a start and have set up an inter-ministerial group under the lead management of the BMAS to deal precisely with this topic. The plan is for the group to present proposals before the end of 2011.



: One major plus of the Educational Chains Initiative - the broadly based and cross-departmental involvement and participation of stakeholders at the various levels - is possibly also a major challenge to your success. How will it be possible to reconcile these varying vested interests and bundle the large number of ideas and individual initiatives in a target oriented way?

Thiele: We have established a considerable basis of agreement for the Educational Chains Initiative from all stakeholders. The degree of commitment shown by the federal states in particular is also pleasingly high. The bilateral discussions we held with every single federal state focused on the matching and coherence of Federal Government and federal state funding and on the identification of transferable "good practice" as well as on the ongoing future harmonisation of our support measures.

The degree of agreement amongst the social partners is also high. The trade unions are seeking to become involved via such vehicles as their own voluntary additional projects, and the Educational Chains are a central pillar within the new National Training Pact, where the focus is on a rapid transition to training via, for example, extending cooperation between school sand trade and industry and company-based training preparation.



: What else can be done over the coming years in order to ensure that the instruments implemented become broadly based standard provision for all pupils at lower secondary schools and schools for pupils with learning difficulties rather than remaining dependent on Federal Government funding?

Thiele: Sustainability and system optimisation are, of course, objectives which are already being pursued by the initiative. Whether we will succeed in achieving such an objective in overall and permanent terms without funding seems to me to be questionable, however. The fact is that we have problems in the educational system which will require money to solve. Spending this money will, by the way, be a good and sustainable investment! Every time such funding avoids a school and training dropout, subsequent societal costs are saved many times over. And I only need to look at the budget for the transitional system, which amounts to around €4 billion a year, to see that enough money is there. The focus therefore needs to be on improving the efficiency and connectivity of the instruments rather than on additional funding. For this reason, we at the BMBF see the support provided for the Educational Chains as an initial injection of finance for a process which will be funded from various sources.
And we have, of course, already entered into discussions with the federal states on how we can establish the Educational Chains approach in the state systems on a permanent basis. During the bilateral negotiations conducted with the federal states, we were pleasantly surprised by the degree of commitment shown and by the measures already instigated to pursue a diverse range of activities in support of the Educational Chains. We are now backing up these measures with our own funding. We also met with considerable openness with regard to cooperation projects extending beyond actual support for the Educational Chains Initiative. We have already succeeded in reaching additional BMBF-federal state agreements with some states covering such areas as the nationwide introduction of analyses of potential at lower secondary schools and schools for pupils with learning difficulties via self-sustaining teacher training systems in order to enable such analyses to be carried out all over the country and on a permanent basis. We have also set up a Federal Government-federal state support group at the BMBF with the aim of providing a platform for the transfer of good practice and of achieving better coordination of future Federal Government and federal state measures. And finally, we will also use our Educational Chains service agency at BIBB to pursue dissemination of the approach outside Federal Government and federal state funding schemes by instigating an Educational Chains campaign via which we network the diverse range of voluntary projects ongoing in this sector and actively promote additional initiatives of this nature.

(Interview: Christiane Jäger)

Last modified on: April 19, 2011

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Publisher: Federal Institute for Vocational Training (BIBB)
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