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The national government only plays a minor role in providing education in Germany and the responsibility for schools mainly lies with individual states (lander). Differences in the curriculum, teaching style and facilities can therefore 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.
The education system varies throughout Germany owing to the fact that each state is in charge of its own education policy. Most children attend primary school, or Grundschule, from the age of six to 12.
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.
In order to apply to university in Germany, students are generally expected to have passed the Abitur examination following their Gymnasium education. Students who have attended Realschule and passed the Master Craftsman’s Diploma, or Meisterbrief, are also 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, as these institutions eliminate concerns surrounding language barriers.
German cities such as Berlin and Munich have large numbers of international schools that 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. 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 highly 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.
Special-needs education in Germany
Children in Germany, regardless of disability, have the right, according to the Basic Law (Grundgesetz), to early childhood education, and primary, secondary and tertiary schooling. Children with disabilities are supported as far as possible in mainstream schools, and there have been recommendations for increasingly inclusive educational practices in general education and vocational schools.
The goal is to enable children to be educated together regardless of ability, and to guarantee and develop the standards achieved in special education teaching, advisory and support services. Ultimately, the government tries to ensure that those with special needs can comfortably attend their nearest school, have access to the same standard of education as their peers, learn and play in a safe environment and be able to make good academic and social progress.
Tutoring in Germany
Education is extremely highly valued in Germany, and tutors are widely used to improve and assist children's schooling. Tutors might be employed to assist in specific subjects such as maths or science, or expat parents will often hire a tutor to improve their child's German language proficiency. Tutors are further used in preparation for important exams or for university entrance exams.
Newcomers to Germany might also find that their child may benefit from having a guiding hand in navigating a new school system or just to build some confidence. Top private tuition companies include Lernwerk and Teachers24 Network.
Are you an expat living in Germany?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Germany. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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