Strategies and opportunities for vocational schools

BIBB undertakes a national comparison of vocational school concepts

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Demographic change, ongoing digitalisation of the world of work, the trend towards higher school leaving qualifications and an increasingly heterogeneous pupil body all constitute multifarious challenges which need to be met by dual vocational education and training and vocational schools alike. All of this was reason enough for the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB), to embark upon an investigation of the current situation of the vocational schools as a learning venue and of the various approaches adopted in the federal states and to undertake a national comparison. Important points emerged in two areas in particular. These were the recruitment and initial and continuing training of teaching staff and the necessity of extensive cooperation, i.e. good harmonisation between the two learning venues of the company and the vocational school.

The BIBB investigation is based on existing data, literature research, secondary analyses and case studies involving expert interviews with ministries of education and cultural affairs and vocational schools. Seven occupations were selected as examples in order to conduct a more precise observation of the schooling situation. These were bricklayer, construction mechanic, mechanic in plastics and rubber processing, information technology specialist, hotel clerk, hunting ground supervisor, and milliner. Within the scope of these occupations, the investigation traced pupil numbers, looked at the structure of vocation-related teaching, and identified possible forms of cooperation between learning venues. The results show the following:

  • A decline in pupil numbers has already led to closures of classes and vocational schools. From 2006/2007 to 2014/2015, the number of vocational schools fell by around 6.6% to 1,552. During the same period, the amount of classes declined by over 8,000 (9.7%) to approximately 75,200. The consequence of this is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to deliver schooling at a location that is near to a trainee’s place of residence. This is affecting vocational school locations in eastern Germany in particular.
  • Greater differentiation within training occupations also has its consequences. It is now harder and harder to ensure schooling by specialism in the final phase of training.
  • The highly heterogeneous composition of vocational school classes with regard to factors such as prior school learning of trainees and the different branches and sizes of company in which young people are undergoing training represents an increasing challenge for vocational schools.

Because the situation in the individual federal states varies due to regional differences, the particular characteristics of individual training occupations and the contrasting ways in which vocational school teaching is organised, it is not possible to arrive at a catch-all solution. However, the BIBB investigation is able to reach the following overarching conclusions:

  • Close contact and good cooperation between companies and vocational schools are of crucial significance in terms of improving teaching quality by setting assignments which are both currently valid and realistic. Cooperation between learning venues has a significant part to play, especially against the background of dynamic technological development in trade and industry.
  • All federal states face the task of recruiting staff to deliver high-quality teaching and of providing these teachers with subject-specific and practice-related initial and continuing training. Recruitment of teachers for technical occupations is proving particularly difficult. The BIBB analysis indicates that cross-federal state schooling concepts may be helpful in terms of securing subject-specific teaching. At the same time, the focus needs to be on making the profession of vocational school teacher more attractive once again, on covering training requirements, and on alleviating staff shortages.
  • The organisation of school development planning across different locations, the creation of information and communication structures, the introduction of modern e-learning provision, the instigation of specialist classes containing more than one cohort of trainees, and the development of individualised teaching concepts could all possibly be viable options.

A BIBB “Academic Research Discussion Paper” entitled “The vocational school in the dual system—data, structures, concepts” (WDP 185) is available for download free of charge at (in German only).

Contact person:
Dr. Monika Hackel

Specimen copy requested if printed.