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Standing Scientific Commission recommends focus on basic competencies in elementary school

December 9th, 2022

In its new report "Teaching basic skills - securing educational opportunities. Prospects for Elementary Schools", the Standing Scientific Commission of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of Germany recommends important measures to further develop elementary schools. A central focus is on basic skills such as reading, writing and mathematics, so that more students can achieve the minimum standards in German and mathematics in elementary school.

Today (09.12.2022), the Standing Scientific Commission (SWK), with the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of Germany (KMK), presented its report " Imparting Basic Competencies - Securing Educational Opportunities. Prospects for Elementary Schools". The report focuses on diagnosing and fostering basic linguistic and mathematical skills as key challenges. The commission also recommends structural and organizational aspects for the elementary school system.

"The results of the latest IQB education trend are alarming: we cannot simply accept that a growing number of students do not reach the minimum standards. Elementary schools urgently need to focus on basic language and math skills. This requires not only individual measures, but also the development of a strategy that places responsibility on the entire system, from the school to the school supervisory board to the ministries of education. Only then can elementary schools fulfill their educational mandate," states Prof. Dr. Felicitas Thiel, Professor of School Education and School Development Research at Freie Universität Berlin and co-chair of the SWK with Prof. Dr. Olaf Köller, Scientific Director of the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education (IPN). Karin Prien, President of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in Schleswig-Holstein and Minister for Education and Training, Science, Research and Culture: "The foundations for successful educational careers are laid in childhood. Hence, the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs already placed a special focus on elementary school with the state agreement in 2020 and subsequently asked the SWK for the report on elementary school that is now available. The current IQB education trend confirms that we need to look more closely at educational processes in elementary school and early childhood education. All children should have the right to achieve the competencies defined in the minimum standards and, based on this, have a successful school career. Regardless of their starting conditions. I would therefore like to thank the Standing Scientific Commission for the comprehensive report it has published today, which provides us politicians with pointers for further development. We will have to look at the existing levers at all levels in the in-depth discussion of the recommendations that lies ahead of us to advance the necessary systemic development. The report is unambiguous on the point that we must focus clearly on the acquisition of basic language and mathematical competencies. We must also think of education holistically and provide early support for both language acquisition and the development of so-called precursor skills before elementary school, i.e., at home and in daycare centers. This can only be done with the cooperation of everyone involved. The acquisition of the basic competencies can only be ensured through a comprehensive focus on the quality of teaching. It is about appropriate concepts and their effective implementation in the classroom and in early childhood education. At its core, it is about ongoing qualification of teachers, multiprofessional teams and pedagogical specialists in schools and daycare centers. The federal and state ministries responsible for daycare centers, schools, higher education and science must work closely together here to create the conditions."


Increasing the quality of teaching using evidence-based concepts

At its core, the SWK recommends improving the quality of instruction. Prof. Dr. Michael Becker-Mrotzek, Director of the Mercator Institute for Language Development and German as a Second Language and SWK member: "Effective teaching concepts exist for both language and mathematics. Teachers should use these systematically in their lessons to motivate and activate all students. Above all, this includes regular and comprehension-oriented practice of the basal competencies in reading, listening, writing and arithmetic." Increasing the quality of instruction implies, for one thing, sufficient learning time: 24 hours per week should be available for German and 20 hours per week for mathematics in the first four years of elementary school. Secondly, the SWK recommends that children's learning status be continuously assessed, using several diagnostic points per school year.


Training educational staff in diagnosis and support

According to studies, teaching quality is significantly influenced by the teacher. Therefore, SWK is convinced that the professionalization of teachers in their studies, traineeship and profession is a crucial starting point to improve the quality of teaching. "Qualification programs for teachers often do not meet the criteria for effective in-service training. The commission therefore recommends the development of research-based in-service training programs for the diagnosis and promotion of basic competencies in German and mathematics that are implemented across the board," says Felicitas Thiel.


Mandatory diagnosis and education as early as in daycare centers

Scientific findings clearly demonstrate the importance of early childhood education. In view of this, the SWK recommends making everyday educational activities in the daycare center more binding, as well as diagnosing possible support needs in all children aged three to four. "The SWK is aware that the elementary sector faces numerous challenges, particularly with regard to staffing. Nevertheless, we believe there is an urgent need to examine whether and in what form support services should be mandatory, at least for those children for whom a need has been identified. In addition, the legal entitlement to a daycare spot after the first year of life should be consistently implemented," explains Michael Becker-Mrotzek.


Higher investment for staff and schools with a high proportion of socioeconomically disadvantaged students

The commission sees an increased need for investment, particularly with regard to personnel. School principals need sufficient time for leadership tasks. Teachers and educational specialists should have collaboration time and be adequately compensated for their complex tasks. The SWK also recommends data-based instructional and school development. Coordination of these tasks requires functional positions in larger elementary schools and reserved hours to complete these tasks in smaller schools.

The SWK believes that elementary schools with a high percentage of socioeconomically disadvantaged students need special attention. "It is important that resources are more targeted to the schools that need them. However, financial resources alone are not enough. Instruction and all-day schooling must be focused on effectively fostering basic skills. This requires data-based school development," says Felicitas Thiel. In addition, financial allowances and other incentives should be created to attract teachers and school administrators to work at these schools on a permanent basis.

Ties Rabe, A-state coordinator and Hamburg's Senator for Schools and Vocational Education: "We must not resign ourselves to fewer and fewer students having the basic linguistic and mathematical competencies. Researchers have sound reasons for recommending that instruction in Germany be intensified, especially in elementary school, and designed according to the latest scientific findings. This includes more intensive and longer practice periods."

Prof. Dr. R. Alexander Lorz, B-state coordinator and Hesse's Minister of Education: "The SWK report presents a comprehensive and well-structured agenda on the topic of 'Teaching Basic Competencies', which is impressively underpinned by the findings of the IQB Education Trend 2021. Strengthening German as an educational language is a central building block here, because every child should be able to participate from the very beginning. Mastering it is the basis for success at school. Which is why it is so enormously important to look at language development as early as the daycare center and to develop a common education plan. Education monitoring for the transition to elementary school can also provide us with important information on where we need to take corrective action."


The recommendations at a glance

  1. Greater focus on evidence-based approaches to promoting language, mathematical, and social-emotional competencies in the training and continuing education of educational professionals.
  2. Stronger commitment to implementing educational programs integrated into everyday life to promote language, mathematical, and social-emotional competencies for all children.
  3. Implementation of an early (at the age of three to four years) nationwide diagnostics to identify additional support needs beyond the support integrated into everyday life, and binding support for identified needs
  4. Development of a strategy to reduce barriers to accessing family education services and daycare facilities to strengthen participation in early childhood education for all children.
  5. Integrating parent education measures for cooperation between daycare centers and families in all daycare centers
  6. Mandatory integration of a concept for the systematic diagnosis and support of basic competencies in the school program.
  7. Increasing the quantity and quality of active learning time for the acquisition of linguistic and mathematical competencies.
  8. Consistent implementation and further development of the KMK's overall strategy for educational monitoring
  9. Provision of scientifically based, quality-assured diagnostic instruments and related support tools
  10. Mandatory integration of a concept for the promotion of social integration and social-emotional competencies in the school program of every elementary school.
  11. Establishment of clear procedures for systematic support of teachers
  12. Development of a concept for cooperation with parents firmly anchored in the school program
  13. Inclusion in the school program of a mandate for teachers to cooperate with other multi-professional staff.
  14. Joint state development of a coherent cross-phase core curriculum for teachers.
  15. Targeted recruitment and qualification of specialist teachers and mentors in the second phase.
  16. Implementation of research-based in-service training programs for diagnosis-based promotion of basal competencies.
  17. Development of an appropriate job description for (collegial) head teachers at elementary schools
  18. Development of structures (differentiation of tasks) and granting of (time) resources for data-based school development
  19. Actively compensate for the disadvantages of schools with a high proportion of socioeconomically disadvantaged students through an index-based allocation of additional resources at all levels
  20. Develop strategies to reduce segregation tendencies.


Further information

  • A summary of the report (in German) can be downloaded here.
  • The long version of the German report is available here.



Anna Niewerth
Standing Scientific Commission of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (SWK)
Ph.: +49 (0)228 501 702


Torsten Heil
Secretariat of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs
Ph.: +49 (0)30 25418 462