The way in which public education is delivered varies greatly throughout Europe. In France, education is highly centralised at national government level, whereas in Germany, educational legislation and administration are primarily the responsibility of the federal states. In this article, we delve into the decentralised structure of the German education system and how areas of potential concern or criticism are overcome.

Which is more common?

Centralisation of education policy at a national level is extremely common in Europe. In a centralised education system, the administrative authority for education is vested in a central body, as opposed to the local community.

Which countries decentralise?

Our European Landscape Report found that countries where education policy is decentralised tend to be those which have a federal or regional state structure, such as Germany, Belgium, or Spain, as opposed to a unitary structure. As such, education, as with many other areas of domestic policy, is devolved from national to regional level.

What does this mean in practice?

In Germany, educational legislation and administration of the education system are primarily the responsibility of the federal states (Lands or Länder) while the federal government plays a minor role. There are 16 federal states in Germany, which means 16 different ministries of education, school laws and education landscapes.

How is consistency assured across the country?

The Land governments co-operate on education through the ‘Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany’ (KMK). The KMK is based on an agreement between the Länder and deals with co-ordinating education policies and providing recommendations for further developments.

What about when it comes to exams?

The extent to which Germany’s exam system is decentralised varies between Federalised Länder across the country. Each state has its own approach to assessment.

Each State Ministry of Education and Science prepares its own annual exams, with the exception of Rhineland-Palatinate, where each school issues its own final exam. Usually the exams are not primarily designed to test factual knowledge, but rather the ability to think analytically.

The Abitur, which is the final secondary school exam that qualifies pupils to enter university, is organised centrally in each state. The Abitur is recognised across Germany and thus secondary school graduates with this degree can study in any state.

In order to compare varying marks across the country, the States Ministries of Education and Science have agreed a set of common scores, the “Uniform Exam Conditions”, which help secure equivalence and could provide the basis for established education standards that apply nationally.


Do you work in a centralised or decentralised education or exam system? Or is it a mixture? Let us know on Twitter @RM_Results!

If you would like to learn more about the education and assessment landscape across Europe, request a complimentary copy of our European Education Landscape report.