Constitutional & Legal Foundations
The Federal Constitutional Law of 1920, and subsequent amendments, confirmed the authority of the federal government in educational legislation and policy implementation. The Hauptschule (general secondary school), a compulsory school for students 10- to 14-years-old, was introduced in 1927. With the exception of universities, amendments to federal legislation governing education require a 2/3 majority of the National Council.
In the interest of representing the broadest possible spectrum of parties, legislation is generally developed in cooperation with the so-called "social partners," which may include employers' and employees' associations, labor unions, agricultural representatives, and similar interested parties. Significant legislation has reaffirmed fundamental tenets of Austrian educational policy, while at the same time recognizing specific needs and changing circumstances. Since the inception of the Second Republic, the Austrian educational system was codified and revised comprehensively through the comprehensive 1962 School Organization Act. It included extending compulsory education from eight to nine years, reorganization of teacher training, and expanded educational training, as well as the promotion of a uniform educational system. The act also guaranteed free access to educational opportunities and made schools co-educational.
Likewise in 1962, Federal School Superintendency Act was enacted as an administrative complement to the School Organization Act. The act deals with issues of educational jurisdiction and governance, as well as school inspection and administration. In the same year, the complementary Private Schools Act was enacted.
Subsequent legislation further coordinated and clarified specific educational-policy issues. The 1974 School Education Act dealt comprehensively with the issue of tracking, student transfer and promotion, examinations, schools as learning communities, as well as the relationship between parents, students, and teachers. Given the historical context, the School Acts reflect a wide-spread desire to liberalize the educational process, a desire which was affected by the European protest movements, which had already sought, in many cases successfully, to reform the encrusted and exclusionary hierarchies of the universities. Co-determination was further codified in the 1990 Student Government Act.
In 1985, two items of legislation updated and codified specific issues of educational policy: The Compulsory Education Act, and The School Lessons Act, which regulates the number of weekly classroom hours for the various types of schools. Standardization of testing criteria for diplomas and certificates was addressed in the 1997 Professional Certification Act. The extent to which Austria seeks to establish clear and comprehensive guidelines for the implementation of educational policies is reflected in a number of specific laws, including the 1949 Religious Education Act, which deals with religious instruction in public schools.
Sensitivity to ethnic minorities in Austria is reflected in the 1959 Minority-Education Act for Carinthia and the more recent 1994 Minority-Education Act for Burgenland. In recognition of the need to accommodate nontraditional learners, Austria continues to promote fluid and permeable access to educational opportunities through the 1997 School Education Act for the Employed. Such legislative initiatives confirm Austria's continuing commitment to use the resources of the federal government to guide, promote, coordinate, and supervise educational policies.
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