Local authorities in Germany find creative solutions to implement the ‘Education and Participation Act’

The ‘Education and Participation Act’ offers discretionary support for vulnerable children and young people on top of regular welfare benefits. Those could be asylum seekers, young job seekers, or children of families in receipt of social benefits. The law seeks to ensure children and young people’s participation in society through support in their educational activities.

The support delivered by this law may include subsidies for the participation in clubs, associations, music lessons, learning equipment or extra coaching. Mostly, the support comes in the form of benefits in-kind or services through vouchers or direct payments to services providers. This format is supposed to ensure that the support reaches the child concerned. The law as implemented in 2011 is frequently subjected to criticism due to its rather complex case management and the burden this puts on the uptake of support among users. Local authorities are expected to find cost-efficient and practical ways to both increase the uptake of support offered by the law while limiting red tape.

The local implementation of the ‘Education and Participation Act’ in Cologne – Opportunities and Challenges

The local implementation of the ‘Education and Participation Act’ in Cologne requires much administrative effort on the part of local authority. At the same, eligible children and young people do not take up the support due to lack of information and awareness as well as due to demanding application procedures. In that content, the City of Cologne pursues creative and practical solutions in cooperation with local services providers and schools to facilliatate the service access, reduce the required paperwork, and to eventually increase the number of children and young people benefitting from this support.

The project ‘Lernkaskade’ as an example of the local implementation of the law

The so-called learning cascade, the Lernkaskade, is a project that tackles educational needs, where they arise: in schools. The project Lernkaskade of the charity Chancenwerk establishes peer-to-peer coaching between students in schools. Older high school students receive extra lessons from university. In return, they must give lessons themselves to students of lower classes in a subject of their choice. Special learning coaches deliver guidance on teaching methods. The involved students receive a certificate at the end of the year. Usually, the Lernkaskade takes place 2 days per week in all cooperating schools. The extra lessons come free of charge for the involved students and may be taken up through a simple declaration of intent by the parents.

In 2015, the charity supported 2,500 high schools students in 42 schools of 21 cities through a team of 28 persons and 250 university students. The project is under the patronage of the Federal Minister for Family, Older People, and Women, Manuela Schwesig. The project has received numerous awards and enjoys an excellent reputation.

Outcomes of the Lernkaskade

Not only do the extra lessons improve individual students’ performance, the peer-to-peer method aside from the regular curriculum also turns the school environment into settings for informal learning. Through giving lessons, older students, notably those with a migration background, obtain experience as role models for young students, whilst the younger students gradually gain more self-confidence and develop social skills such as team spirit and a sense of pro-activeness.


The Directorate for Social Services and Older People of the City of Cologne is delighted to present the challenges and opportunities around the local implementation of the ‘Education and Participation Act’ to an international audience at ESN’s 24th European Social Services Conference in The Hague from 20-22 June 2016. The European Social Network (ESN) is pleased to involve a representative of the Chancenwerk, Dudu Vural, as co-facilitator of a joint workshop with the City of Cologne to showcase the Lernkaskade.

Author: Anja Ramos, Head of Department for Education and Participation, Directorate for Social Services and Older People, City of Cologne