Education and Schools in Germany

The national government only plays a minor role in providing education in Germany and the responsibility for schools mainly lies with individual states (lander). Therefore, differences in the curriculum, teaching style and facilities can vary not only between schools but between different areas in Germany.

The German education system accommodates and caters for students with various abilities. Beyond the traditional academic subjects of maths, science, geography, history and languages, the German system also provides opportunities for students to study vocational disciplines.

Public schools in Germany

The standard of education in Germany is generally good. Public school is only really an option for expats who plan on relocating to Germany for the long-term or those with children who are young enough to pick up a new language without it having a negative impact on their education.

Most expats send their children to a private bilingual school in Germany or an international school which allows their children to continue studying the curriculum of their home country.

Nursery and kindergarten

Sending children to nursery school or kindergarten between the ages of three and six is optional in Germany. From the age of seven to 18 school attendance in Germany is compulsory.

Primary education

The education system varies throughout Germany due to the fact that each state is in charge of its own education policy. However, most children attend primary school, or Grundschule, from the age of six to 12.

Secondary education

There are five types of schools that make up the secondary education system in Germany:

  • Gymnasium – secondary school which is designed to prepare students for tertiary education and finishes with final examination after grade 12 or 13.

  • Realschule – this type of school offers a broader education for intermediate students. Realschule offers a range of vocational subjects in addition to the traditional academic courses. There is a final assessment after grade 10.

  • Hauptschule – this type of school offers students a vocational education and the final examination takes place after grade 9 or 10.

  • Gesamtschule – school which combines academic courses with vocational ones and allows the student to transfer to either Hauptschule or Realschule in grade 10.

  • Sonderschulen – another type of school which prepares students for Hauptschule or Realschule. Only one in 21 pupils in Germany attends this type of school.

In Germany, most children only attend school in the morning. As there are usually no facilities for serving lunch to the students at public schools in Germany, most return home after their lessons in the morning and return in the afternoon for extra-curricular activities. The amount of extra-curricular activities available at schools in Germany varies considerably and is determined by each individual school.

Tertiary education

In order to apply to university in Germany, generally students are expected to have passed the Abitur examination following their Gymnasium education. However, students who have attended Realschule and passed the Master Craftsman’s Diploma, or Meisterbrief, have also become eligible to apply for certain university courses. 

For students who do not choose to attend university in Germany there is a special system of apprenticeship in place called Duale Ausbildung, which allows pupils who have studied vocational courses at secondary school to do in-service training at a company.

International schools in Germany

Most expats living in Germany send their children to an international school, since they eliminate concerns surrounding the language barrier.

German cities like Berlin and Munich have large numbers of international schools which cater for students of a variety of nationalities.

International schools generally offer a high standard of learning, smaller class sizes and a variety of extra-curricular activities.

The downside to sending a child to an international school in Germany is the hefty price tag.

Bilingual schools in Germany

An alternative to expensive international schools are bilingual schools in Germany. These are effectively public schools and therefore have no fees attached. Bilingual schools are a good compromise as they allow expat children to mix with German and expat students.

Bilingual schools in Germany usually offer two curricula: one based on a child’s mother tongue and another in German.

Bilingual schools are very popular in Germany and therefore spaces tend to disappear fast, so expats considering this option should start researching school choices as early as possible before moving to Germany.

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