Teacher shortage threatens support for students with disabilities

Wed 24th Aug, 2022

The shortage of teachers in Berlin is becoming a risk for the legal right to school inclusion. This was warned on Tuesday by the Union for Education and Science (GEW) and the Advisory Council for People with Disabilities.]

They complain that schools are increasingly forced to compensate for the shortage by cutting back on special education support. Parent representatives reported at the event at GEW headquarters that there are families who are seeking home schooling to better support their children.

That the shortage of teachers comes at the expense of the quality of inclusion became clear back in May, when the Senate Department for Education announced that the duties of special education teachers could be largely taken over by less qualified "pedagogical teaching assistants" if the special education teachers were not enough. This announcement had sparked so much protest that the Education Administration changed the relevant wording in the staffing allocation rule shortly before the summer vacations.

Now it says again that theoretically all eight hours of support that autistic, deaf or children with mental development needs are entitled to could be provided by special education teachers. However, there is an addendum in the rule that says this only applies if there are enough specialized personnel. Otherwise, all eight hours can be given by more or less trained teaching assistants.

Anne Lautsch from the Berlin Alliance for School Inclusion made it clear what this means: "Then mandalas are painted in the next room or Benjamin Blümchen tapes are listened to" instead of targeted support. Parents could "no longer hear the word mandala".

The proportion of children with mental disabilities has been increasing for years.

As a result, the children are losing out on a lot. There are, for example, good programs that enable children to learn arithmetic despite cognitive disabilities. However, the corresponding further training would not be enough.

In fact, the education administration had been forced to cut in half the training offered to pedagogical teaching assistants (PUs) because of the staff shortage. The GEW calculated on Tuesday that it would take many years to train all the "PUs" currently working.

Not to mention the teaching aides who would have to be added in the coming years to meet the demand. Because the need is increasing enormously. In particular, the proportion of children with intellectual disabilities has been increasing for years. They are the ones who need the most support. New support centers have long been built for these children because they cannot all be included.

This development is strongly criticized by the State Advisory Council for People with Disabilities. It demands more efforts - also with regard to study places for special educators. To this end, a spokesman for the Education Administration said that his agency had made corresponding claims as part of the negotiations on the current higher education framework agreements.

The advisory board is particularly dissatisfied, however, with the shift in care away from special education teachers to classroom aides, due to the shortage. This represents "unequal treatment that massively denies equal opportunities to a single group," criticized Gerlinde Bendzuck, vice chair of the state advisory council for people with disabilities. Inclusive education is "not a freestyle, but a duty as well as a claim and a right" according to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. "We are observing regressions in school inclusion."

Bendzuck also criticized the fact that the interest group representing people with disabilities was not involved, even though participation is required by the state's Equal Rights Act. The German Institute for Human Rights also sees a violation of the participation obligation and is in favor of initiating an action by associations against the changed provision.

Anne Lautsch from the Alliance for School Inclusion reported that there are "many desperate parents who feel forced to enroll their child in a special school or to switch to one, even though they want an inclusive school for their child close to home and actually have the right to one". In view of the lack of resources and even worse conditions at regular schools due to the planned changes, she fears serious deterioration, for example that even more children will only have shortened or no remedial education at all.

In addition, he said, places at remedial centers are also scarce. In some Berlin districts, children have to switch to support centers in neighboring districts or even to Brandenburg.

Mario Dobe, the new chairman of the Advisory Board for Inclusion appointed by Education Senator Astrid-Sabine Busse (SPD), announced to the Tagesspiegel that he would take up the topic at the Advisory Board's meeting on September 13 and enter into an exchange with the Alliance for School Inclusion.


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