WORLD: Ms. Busse, before you were appointed senator, you were head of a school in the Neukölln district for many years. What is the biggest problem of the Berlin schools?
Astrid-Sabine Busse: Of course the shortage of skilled workers. And not just in Berlin: We lack tens of thousands of people nationwide to replace the baby boomers who are now retiring. It will probably take until 2030 for things to calm down a bit. We still have difficult years ahead of us.
WORLD: As a senator, you now have the chance to change something. But in politics and administration you are a newcomer. Did you have any idea how tough this job is?
Busse: Nobody explained that to me in advance. But just as I have always looked after the career changers at the schools, I also receive very good support here. And of course I wasn’t politically naïve either as the chairwoman of a Berlin school management association.
WORLD: As a senator for education, you traditionally have to take a lot of beatings. The CDU even filed a motion for disapproval against you. How do you deal with that?
Busse: After six months in office, it’s absurd to blame me for the shortage that has existed for years. But as a Senator for Education, you have to be prepared for headwinds. That’s why people aren’t exactly keen on the job. But now I’m here. And I’m staying
WORLD: This year, for the first time, 170 children could not initially be provided with places in secondary schools by the deadline. How could such a bad plan come about?
Busses: It is common for there to be distribution conferences at the end of the school year to accommodate students. And this time all around 26,000 seventh graders got a place. 91 percent of them at one of their three preferred schools. The value is no worse than last year.
WORLD: Things are less rosy for teachers. They expect that 920 positions will remain vacant in the summer. Were you able to narrow the gap by the end of the school year?
Buses: The settings are still ongoing. But it won’t get much better at first. I sign pension certificates here every day.
WORLD: When will it get better?
Busse: Then I’m no longer on duty. It will be a ten year process. Universities need to graduate more young people. And first of all, we need more people to go into work. Of course, this also includes career changers and lateral entrants. It has brought fantastic people to the schools.
WORLD: How can students from Ukraine be integrated with such a shortage economy?
Busse: That comes on top of that. We have now accommodated almost 5000 students. At first I said: We’ll put a chair in everywhere. I got laughed at for that. But we did it. Of course, I wish every family that they can go back. However, we do not know when the war will end. That’s why we have to focus on learning the German language. And we can do that too.
WORLD: Berlin is now the last federal office to reintroduce the civil service of teachers. When do you want to present a concept for this?
Busse: Next week we will have the great pleasure of making the first few hundred trainee teachers civil servants. The transfer of existing teachers is administratively more complicated. Of course, becoming a civil servant is only one element in recruiting teachers. Albeit an important one: in the last ten years we have lost almost 5,000 teachers to other federal states.
WORLD: Berlin has actually already been financially attractive. Most recently, the employed teachers could count on a gross starting salary of 5700 euros. In the end, doesn’t money play a role, but rather the precarious work situation at the school?
Busse: I don’t accept that at all. You can work well at any school in this country – especially in areas with precarious households, because the children are often particularly grateful for encouragement.
WORLD: We now know that many children have suffered enormously mentally from the corona pandemic. What are you doing about it?
Busse: We have created 39 additional permanent positions for school psychologists. That means an increase in staff of 40 percent and will help. The damage is there, we will have to live with it for a long time.
WORLD: Thilo Sarrazin quoted you for his book “Germany abolishes itself” with a 13-year-old statement about migrants of Arabic origin: “They just stay with each other. You don’t even have to integrate here anymore. You take over the neighborhood and you get pampered.” Why did you apologize for that now?
Busse: I expressed my deep regret that people felt hurt. As a headmistress, I also exaggerated. Now that I’m a senator, I’m more likely to listen to what school leaders say.
WORLD: Nevertheless, in many Berlin neighborhoods there is the situation that you have to pay a lot of money for the rent, but 80, 90 percent of the classes in the school are children of non-German origin (ndH). What advice do you have for parents who do not want to send their children to such a school?
Busse: I advise everyone to take a look at the school first. You may be pleasantly surprised. Incidentally, on average in Berlin, a good 40 percent of schoolchildren are not native German. So welcome to reality!
WORLD: Does that mean parents have to accept that the majority of children do not speak German when they start school?
Busse: Many Berlin children speak another language in addition to German. Ndh doesn’t mean that you don’t speak German. I think it’s good when children stay in their environment to make friends. If the school works, a child can also learn well in a class with many children who are not native speakers of German.
WORLD: That means that educational families who move to Kreuzberg or Neukölln are themselves to blame?
Buses: If you want to experience chic urban Kreuzkölln, you have to accept the adventure. Sometimes you actually meet migrants! I advise giving the school in your own neighborhood a chance.
WORLD: The red-green-red coalition agreement states that the characteristic “non-German language of origin” should no longer be published for schools in the future. What speaks against transparency?
Busse: You can read the school quality much better in the reports of the school inspection, which we publish on our website. We have many more factors to reflect the different pressures on a school.
In our new school classification, we summarize six different criteria, including the children’s mother tongue. We have over 700 schools. And schools in social hotspots receive a lot of support from us.
WORLD: Last year, a survey revealed religious bullying and threats at ten schools in Neukölln. What are you going to do about it?
Busse: We want to carry out a study on the subject of political and religious conflicts in schools. The problems are there. We need valid data across Berlin. We are currently looking for a suitable university that we can commission. When the data is available, we will act accordingly. State schools should be a neutral place.
“Kick-off Politics” is WELT’s daily news podcast. The most important topic analyzed by WELT editors and the dates of the day. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music or directly via RSS feed.