I. International and Supranational Codifications
Germany is bound by several international and supranational treaties that affirm a right to education, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights; and the European Union (EU) Charter of Fundamental Rights.
II. German Law Codifications
A. German Constitution
Article 7 of the German Basic Law, the country’s constitution, provides that the country’s entire school system is under the supervision of the national government. That article has been interpreted to guarantee the school as an organized institution with a minimum duration that conveys certain learning and educational goals in a variety of subjects, but does not guarantee an individual’s right to education. When the Basic Law was adopted in 1949, it was agreed that education, although supervised by the national government, would fall within the competencies of the individual German states, unlike under the Weimar Constitution of 1919. The Basic Law does not specify how the individual German states have to implement the responsibility of the states with regard to education.
B. German State Constitutions
As the Basic Law places education within the competency of the sixteen German states, the states may vary as to whether education is recognized in state constitutions. Most states have chosen to codify a right to education in their constitution; others have opted to codify it in a statute. The German State of Lower Saxony is among one of the states that has included a right to education in the constitution. Article 4, paragraph 1 of its constitution states that “each person has a right to education.” Thuringia, Brandenburg, Berlin, and Bremen have almost identical wording in their constitutions. In Saxony, article 102, paragraph 1 of the Constitution provides that the state guarantees the right to “school education.” In addition, article 7, paragraph 1 of the Constitution of Saxony lists the right to education as one of the state objectives.
Other German states have codified norms with a slightly different wording in their constitutions that guarantee a right to education only with regard to children or adolescents in accordance with their abilities. Article 11, paragraph 1 of the Constitution of Baden-Württemberg, for example, provides that “every young person has a right to education and training in accordance with his or her abilities without regard to origin or economic situation.” A similar wording can be found in the constitutions of North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland Palatinate, Saarland, and Saxony-Anhalt. Bavaria limits the right to education to residents of Bavaria.
C. German State Statutes
The German state of Hesse codified the right to education in its School Act. Section 1 provides that “every young person has a right to education.” The right to “school education for everyone” is also guaranteed in the School Act of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania. Schleswig-Holstein’s School Act states that the mission of the school is determined by the right of a young person to receive an education and training based on his or her abilities, skills, and liking. A similar provision can be found in the School Act of Hamburg.
III. Impact of the Constitutional Codification of the Right to Education
In the German states of Brandenburg and Lower Saxony, which incorporated the right to education in their constitutions, courts are occasionally called upon to decide if the right to education includes a right to attend a specific school.
A case which was decided by the Constitutional Court of the State of Brandenburg (which has jurisdiction only over cases involving interpretation of that state’s constitution) involved an applicant who had just finished elementary school and received an evaluation that she was generally qualified to attend a Gymnasium, a high school that qualifies the student to attend university afterwards. There are other types of high schools in Germany that end after the ninth or tenth year and therefore do not qualify the student to attend a university.
The applicant applied to two different Gymnasiums located in her school district. Both schools had recently reduced the number of students that they admitted. She received rejection letters from both schools. The schools argued that they had more applicants than places and determined that other students were more qualified than her. She did not apply to any other schools and was therefore assigned to attend a high school that would not have qualified her to attend a university later. The applicant sued and claimed that the rejection by the schools of her choice violated her constitutional right to education.
The Constitutional Court of Brandenburg held that the rejection by the two schools did not violate the applicant’s right to education. It elaborated that the right to education only guarantees equal access to existing schools, but does not require the schools or the state to create additional capacity or to establish a certain type of school. The Court further ruled that as long as the admission process was based on objective criteria applicable to all students, which was the case here, the right to education was not violated.
In a similar case, the Administrative Court of Hannover in Lower Saxony, interpreting the Lower Saxony Constitution and a statute implementing the constitutional right to education, held that a right to attend a specific school exists if three cumulative criteria are fulfilled. According to the Court, the right to education includes a right to attend a specific school if
(1) the school that was picked by the parents is the only available school of that type in the school district;
(2) the selected school has available capacity; and
(3) there are no provisions in the education law that would prohibit the admission of the student in this particular case.
The Administrative Court of Hannover elaborated that the capacity of a school is only exhausted if the admission of one more student would prevent the school from fulfilling its educational mandate due to a shortage of personnel or resources. In the case under consideration, the court ruled that the fact that the number of students that the school had established as the maximum admissions number was reached was insufficient for a rejection of the plaintiff. The school would have been obligated to prove that the admission of one more student would keep it from fulfilling its educational mandate. The Court therefore ruled in favor of the plaintiff.
Prepared by Jenny Gesley
Foreign Law Specialist
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 Id. para. A.I.
 Id. paras. B.II.1. & 2.
 Verwaltungsgericht Hannover [VG Hannover] [Administrative Court of Hannover], Aug. 6, 2008, Docket No. 6 B 3368/08, http://www.rechtsprechung.niedersachsen.de/jportal/portal/page/bsndprod.psml?doc.id=MWRE080002971 &st=null&showdoccase=1, archived at http://perma.cc/95NN-U7LM.
 Id. para. 18.
 Id. para. 21.
 Id. para. 29.
Last Updated: 12/30/2020