At the interface of economics and education

Dr Carsten Breyde is executive director of Phorms Management AG. In an interview, he explains why the Phorms schools are so special


Bildungsthemen: Mr Breyde, what do you think is special about the Phorms schools and nurseries?

Carsten Breyde: At our schools, young people are prepared for a globalised world and learn to approach anything foreign or new with an open mind. This is because right from the start lessons are conducted bilingually in both German and English. Many of our teachers and childcare staff are native speakers from the USA, Canada, England, Australia, South Africa or India. This means that children at our schools become familiar with another language and culture from an early age. Bilingualism opens up a wide range of possibilities for young people and helps shape their future. We offer German school leaving certificates such as the intermediate leaving certificate and the Abitur secondary school leaving certificate. In addition to those, we also offer optional international leaving certificates.

You manage the central headquarters in Berlin, but are also responsible for the Phorms schools. What exactly is your job description?

My task is mainly to communicate key issues between the spheres of the management centre and the schools and then to make decisions. The management centre obviously prioritises the economic aspects, which is a natural result of the processes it is involved in. Of course the schools consider these too, but with a slightly different focus. In this job, my aim is always to find solutions that suit both sides. After all, everything that we manage, organise or decide in the management centre must reflect positively in the school community; it must reflect positively on the way we educate our students. The team in our Berlin management centre is exceptionally capable. It gives me great pleasure to work with such a fantastic team.

So you see yourself as a mediator between economics and education?

Yes, you could say that. This is also because I always have to demonstrate to the business owners who have invested in the idea behind Phorms that the investment was worth it. This needs to be in the form of a social return on their investment that also has to be justified in economic terms.

What do you mean by the term, social return?

Our investors and supporters know that their engagement is not comparable with involvement in traditional industries.

These people are also investing in social returns. As soon as we have provided young people with a good education and positive values, the result is a social return. “Education” in the British or American sense refers to education that is both academic and social. This is also how we understand our work at Phorms. When young people graduate from our schools with cosmopolitan values and outstanding academic achievements that enable them to lead their lives positively in future, they make an important contribution to Society.

But Phorms does have school fees. Not every family is likely to be able to afford to send their children to Phorms ...

To start with, payment of the school fees is based on income. Naturally, there are laws in place to make sure that there is no discrimination based on the parents’ income or assets. Then we also have a ped­agogical assessment, which is a determining factor in deciding the children’s enrolment. This process is completely unrelated to any financial questions. The aim of the process is to establish whether the child can handle the bilingual concept and whether he or she has the necessary social and cognitive skills. In addition, we also offer scholarships for some of our schools, which cover almost all of the school fees. In the long term, we plan to develop an additional scholarship programme to attract children from educationally underprivileged environments to our schools. I’m sure that there are many children who have excellent intellectual abilities but simply have not received enough support. 

Your job involves two areas that might appear to be contradictory: economics and education. How did you come to choose this field?

After graduating from secondary school with my Abitur in Hamburg, I initially trained in logistics management – seaport export. That’s very “hanseatic”, typical for the Hamburg area. I even started working in that job, but then I decided to go to university. I chose Business Management, Business Education and Sports Science. This combination enabled me to obtain my certification as a teacher of business studies and to take the civil service examinations for teaching at comprehensive secondary schools or vocational schools. My inten­tion was to do a better job than the teachers who taught me when I was at school. 

Were your plans successful?

Not entirely. Before I could start my traineeship, I was offered a position as an assistant lecturer at Hamburg University. This really appealed to me because the position focused on the research topic of the improvement of teaching and learn­ing conditions at schools. I obtained my doctorate during this time. After that, I always chose positions at businesses that understand education as a service, with the purpose of empowering and strengthening people. So I have always worked in the interface between education and economics. 

Education and economics – that sounds like a conflicting combination. What is it that fascinates you?

I think that working in this middle ground between conflicting interests – economics on one side and education on the other – is a great function to fulfil. I believe that it is one of society’s greatest challenges to unite these two areas in a way that is bene­ficial for the provision of education. This is why I have continued to occupy myself with this issue, because it is a great challenge to translate the demands of one area into the demands of the other and to try to approach the ideal conditions. This can really only be done approximately, because education processes are highly dynamic as they are always subject to changing conditions.

At Phorms your job is also to communicate between economics and education, between the management centre and the schools. How would you describe their relationship to one another?

The role of the management centre is to take on any tasks that interfere with the schools’ capacity to concentrate on educational processes and methodological challenges. The centre functions as a service provider with an established structure that allows our principals and teachers to channel all of their motivation and energy into the academic and social education of our students. 

Doesn’t each of the schools have different requirements?

Of course you need to look carefully to identify the individual type of support that each school needs. This year, our school in Berlin Mitte successfully led a final year to the Abitur for the second time. Our school in Hamburg is starting the new school year with a Year 7 for the first time. Of course these schools have different requirements. But there are also things that all of the schools need equally, such as the placement of teachers or IT services. We have to discuss the other items with each school to determine the ideal requirements. Each school develops its own independent profile. 

How does a school develop its own profile?

Essentially there are three perspectives that must be taken into account. First, there are the girls and boys who are our students. Second, there are the parents, who also play a part in shaping the school profile. And third and most importantly there are our staff, the teachers and principals, who give the school a particular profile. We hope that the people who work with us put their whole personality into the job. This means that the character of each school is going to be very different. And this difference has to be given consideration when the school and the centre work together.

What do you like best about your job?

The fact that I work with fantastic people every day. That includes the heads and the business managers at each school, the staff in the education department and everyone else that I work with in the management centre in Berlin. What pleases me most is meeting enthusiastic people who enjoy doing their jobs and who want to make an impact. Because we’re all working towards the same goal: excellent education for young people. I know that this is a great responsibility that I truly enjoy.

You work with a lot of different people. In your opinion, what is the decisive factor for a good atmosphere at work?

I believe that it is very important to see people and to meet them in person. However in order for managers to be able to do this they must be aware of their own needs. Someone who is always overworked and has used up their reserves of energy is incapable of supporting others. I am convinced that good performance and good cooperation are only possible when people see each other and when there is a friendly atmosphere, a spirit of cooperation. This doesn’t mean that people can’t have their own opinions. I try to maintain the right balance between friendliness and reserve, and I always take everybody I work with or everybody I meet for who they are. This is the motto that I have been following for the past 30 years of my career and one that has always served me well.

What do you like to do for yourself?

I really enjoy doing sport and being active and try to get some fresh air whenever I can. That is a good way to counteract the physical inactivity of job, which involves long periods of sitting during meetings or discussions. That’s why I usually go to work by bicycle. I also enjoy good food and good wine very much. I like urban living surrounded by art and culture, and seeing my two grown-up sons, who are already 24 and 26 years old. My wife and I are very proud of them.


Phorms Education comprises a total ...

of eight schools in various locations. Hamburg, Munich, Neckarsulm, the International School in Heidelberg H.I.S., as well as two schools in both Frankfurt and Berlin. The schools and nurseries, which are all bilingual in German and English, are independently funded non-profit private companies. The head office in Berlin, Phorms Management AG, supports the schools and nurseries by undertaking all of the activities that form the basis of any successful and efficient business: providing start-up financing, seeking and hiring personnel, purchasing furniture, managing the IT infrastructure and procuring material. The establishment of Phorms Management AG formed the basis for the establishment of the schools. Companies and individuals invested in the business because they were attracted by the Phorms concept and saw the need for a new type of good school. Many new businesses fail in the first few years because of the extreme difficulties in securing sufficient finances. Public funds, which can be made available to private schools under independent ownership under certain conditions, flow from federal state to state at different times and in different amounts.

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