The cheerful colors in the courtyard of the Gräfenau school don’t go with what’s going on behind the walls. Probably 40 first graders have to repeat the school year – a shock for Headmistress Barbara Mächtle. “The extremely high number is frightening. Last year there were 23 or 24,” says Mächtle, who runs the school with 132 first graders in Ludwigshafen. “There are also repeaters in other grades – but not nearly as many.” There are many reasons in the second largest city in Rhineland-Palatinate. The children often speak poor German or come from families with little education.

And most of the time the children were only in a German kindergarten for a short time or not at all. “Many say the parents should do it, but they usually do their best. I have children who were on the run for two years. There wasn’t much school,” says Mächtle. “The precursor skills are missing. It’s not just about holding a pair of scissors correctly, but also about behaving properly in a group.”

At the Gräfenau School, “about 98 percent of the children have always had a migration background,” says the 47-year-old. The Hemshof school location, where many migrants live, is described by many as a focal point or problem area. “Anyone who grows up here does not necessarily need to learn German, but the children do at school.”

Association: Not an isolated case

The Gräfenau school is not an isolated case: “In Ludwigshafen, the deficits in the school system are visible as if under a magnifying glass,” says Lars Lamowski, state chairman of the Education and Training Association (VBE). The head of the elementary school speaks of the “tip of the iceberg”. “Many Ludwigshafens are slumbering under the covers.”

According to the State Ministry of Education, the school supervisory authority is not aware of any case in which a school has approached the authority with such serious information as in Ludwigshafen. A spokesman in Mainz says it is unusual for such a high proportion of a school year to be named as endangered. However, the number 40 has not yet been determined. The decision will be made during the school year.

The Rector admits that the situation is also eroding its substance. “There are moments when I say, ‘Whoa, I can’t do anything about that,'” says Mächtle. But she is with a college that also has to face the situation every day. “I want to support these people and not bury my head in the sand. As long as I have the strength, I will fight for this school.”