Education and Schools in Austria
While the standard of education in Austria may not be on par with that of the UK or the USA, expats moving to this central European country with their children can still expect sound schools and a culturally enriching educational experience.
Expat parents will need to decide whether to send their students to a private, international school or to a public, bilingual school. Standard Austrian public schools are taught completely in German, and most foreign parents believe that the language barrier is too high a hurdle for their children to overcome.
Primary factors to take into consideration prior to making the decision are cost of school fees and the curriculum taught.
Schooling in Austria is compulsory between the ages of six and 15 and is separated into Volksschule, primary school (four years), and Gymnasium, secondary school (eight years). The latter is further divided into lower secondary school (four years) and upper secondary school, with vocational or academic avenues on offer, for the final four years.
Schools are usually co-educational and do not require their students to wear uniforms. Registration takes place in March, and most schools have an open house (Schnuppertag) in February.
International schools in Austria
There's a smattering of privately run international schools in Austria, most of which are based in Vienna. Similar to the situation in most places, it is assumed that these institutions uphold an elevated standard of education, boast better infrastructure and a broader range of facilities, and claim higher-paid and more devoted teachers.
The international schools offer either a home-country curriculum or an International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, and are taught in either English or the language of the sponsoring country. Many expat parents prefer to send their children to these schools to eliminate difficulties created by language barrier, and to allow children to continue with a familiar curriculum and teaching style.
Such comforts are naturally accompanied by high costs; tuition at these institutions can be as much as EUR 20,000 per year, depending on the school and the age of the child. Furthermore, the more popular schools have limited space, and children still stand the chance of being denied entrance even after paying a hefty application fee.
It is recommended parents bring school records and teacher recommendations along with them to Austria; while these documents may merely facilitate the admission process in some schools, they are required by others.
Public bilingual schools in Austria
Public bilingual schools are an attractive option for expats who are more eager to have their children interact with local students and learn the local language. These schools are officially part of the public system and are usually free.
Instruction in bilingual schools is given in both English and German, and young expat children tend to achieve fluency in both languages quickly and efficiently. Older children may initially struggle, as the curriculum is tailored to those who have knowledge in both languages, but still, with a little determination they can also do well.
Kids who attend these institutions tend to come from either multicultural or international backgrounds, creating a diverse learning environment and a unique cultural experience. As part of the state system, these schools follow the national curriculum or an IB curriculum. Some expat parents feel the local coursework is not adequately challenging, especially during the early years when play is given priority over lengthy learning hours.
For the most part, though, these schools uphold a high standard, and what they may lack in academic rigour they compensate for in cultural richness. Again, space can be limited, especially for the popular schools with high demand. Students may need to attend an alternative school while waiting for admission.