Since its foundation in 2005 Phorms Education has been doing things a little differently, compared to the traditional German model of schooling. For starters the pupils wear uniforms, practically unheard of in Germany, and its seven schools boast a young teaching staff hailing from the four corners of the globe.
What makes Phorms stand out though is its approach to learning English and German. A child attending a regular public school will have to wait until the fifth or sixth grade before they are first introduced to the language of Shakespeare.
Not so at a Phorms school where English, as well as German, is taught by native speakers from your child's first day in nursery.
“Everything is in both languages from 12 months old right up to the 12th grade when students do the German A-level known as the Abitur. Compared to a public school it is like two different worlds as the children here learn English by being immersed in the language from the very start,” says Dr. Karl-Heinz Korsten, headmaster of the Phorms school in Hamburg.
In addition to its Hamburg presence Phorms has six other schools in Germany; Campus Berlin Mitte, Campus Berlin Süd, Frankfurt City, Taunus Campus in Frankfurt, Campus München and Josef-Schwarz-Schule in Baden-Württemberg.
Since opening its first school in the German capital Phorms has grown remarkably in less than a decade. At present they have 2700 students and 500 teachers in total.
“More and more parents want an alternative to the public school system. International families often want a school which teaches in English and more Germans these days are keen on their children learning English earlier. We have a good mix of the two,” says Silke Brandt, head of marketing for Phorms Education.
Each school is connected with a nursery and playschool meaning that children can potentially remain with the same friends during the course of their educational life. Bilingual education is a core component of the Phorms concept with a 50/50 split of classes typically taught in both languages.
For example pupils study maths in grades one and two in English, switching to German for mathematics lessons in grades three and four.
“In Hamburg there is an academic English test where the maximum you can score is 800 points. The average fifth grader in Hamburg scores around 500 but our fifth graders average over 700 points. Their level is that of a ninth grader. Put simply they are playing in another league,” says Korsten, who has 40 years' experience both in public and private schools.
He adds; “The children are able to switch languages like you switch on a light.”
Of course not everybody starts in nursery. Many expats move to Germany at short notice to take up a new job and need to find the right environment for their children, many of whom have previously been in an English school and have no knowledge of German.
Each school has an admissions counsellor and a dedicated group of teachers who test potential students before they can begin. Primary schools use the Cambridge International Primary Programme and all education is based on the federal state curricula.
“If you are lacking in one of the two languages we have a special assistance course to help the pupil reach the level of the other students,” Korsten tells The Local.
Indeed the ‘whole-day' system at Phorms is another major facet of how it approaches education. Classes wrap up for the day at 3pm with students given the option to remain until 6pm participating in after-school programs like art, sport and music.
Term usually begins in August with a mid-term break in the autumn along with holidays for Christmas and Easter together with six weeks off in summer. There is also the option to avail of whole day care during the holidays
Class sizes at a Phorms school are generally small. In some classes at primary level a teaching assistant supports the teacher in helping pupils who require more assistance.
Phorms does not classify itself as an international school, more a bilingual establishment with an education philosophy which is proving popular with expat families, as well as regular Germans.
“The feedback from parents has been very positive. In a private school there is an added responsibility as our clients are paying a monthly fee and we intend to honour the contract by providing high quality education,” says Korsten.
While the perception of private school is that it is expensive the Phorms approach makes it accessible for all parents. Tuition fees are income based and extra costs for expensive clothes are kept under control by the usage of school uniforms.
Pupils wear clothing from the Phorms collection, thus eliminating any friction over the breakfast table about a child's dress sense.
“Wearing uniforms eliminates the differences regarding the economic status of the parents. The label way of thinking is a social situation we don't have to face. What's interesting at Phorms is the education on offer,” adds Korsten.
Among the 2700 pupils are children from the UK, USA, India, Spain, Norway and many other nations. In Hamburg 40 percent of the children in nursery and in secondary school come from an international background, ensuring a healthy mix between foreigners and Germans.
The teachers are equally diverse but with one major difference - they are all either native German or English speakers. At the Hamburg campus 20 of the 47 teachers have English as a mother tongue.
As well as proficiency in both languages being open-minded is another key attribute Phorms seeks in potential teachers. The seven schools are open to all denominations while religion is not taught in the classroom. Traditional German celebrations such as St.Martin's day (November 11th) and Christmas are observed.
“Our pupils grow up in an international atmosphere and get the best from Germany together with the best of other cultures. Our open days in the autumn attract a lot of visitors so there is significant interest in bilingual learning,” concludes Silke Brandt.
* This article was produced by The Local and sponsored by Phorms Education.