How the German school system works

How the German school system works

Are there school fees? Why is school compulsory? We explain the unique features of the German school system.

Unlike countries with purely compulsory education, parents in Germany are not allowed to teach their children at home. Here, general compulsory schooling applies, justified by the state’s educational mandate. As a rule, children start school at the age of six and attend school for at least nine years.

How is the school system structured in Germany?

Initially, children attend elementary school for four years, and in the fourth grade, they decide how to continue their education. The secondary school system is divided into Hauptschulen, Realschulen, Gymnasien and Gesamtschulen.

The Hauptschule ends after the 9th grade with the Hauptschulabschluss, the Realschule after the 10th grade with the Realschulabschluss. Afterward, young people can start vocational training or continue school. The Gymnasium ends after the 12th or 13th grade with the Abitur, which entitles students to study at a university.

How the German school system works
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Are there school fees in Germany?

Public schools in Germany with their high level of education, are free of cost and are financed by taxes. Around nine percent of students are educated at private schools, which charge parents school fees.

Where does responsibility for schools lie?

In Germany, schools are not organized centrally but are the responsibility of the states, and the ministries of education in the 16 states are responsible. The government can regulate the range of subjects, curricula, degrees, and transitions between school types differently in each state.

What issues are influencing the education policy debate?

Digitization: Many schools in Germany still lack the fast Internet, the necessary technology, and teachers keen on new teaching methods. The Digital Pact for Schools is intended to change that, with which the federal and state governments want to equip schools with digital technology better.

Equal opportunities: All children should have the same opportunities in education. However, educational success in Germany is strongly dependent on social background. However, the trend is positive, and equality of opportunity has increased, which is shown by a special evaluation of the PISA study, the OECD’s international school performance study, published in 2018. Critics also see the early, performance-oriented division of students after elementary school as a disadvantage for socially disadvantaged students, migrant children, and children with disabilities.

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Find the right school in Germany

Are all schools in Germany free of charge? Are there international schools?

If you move to Germany with your family for a certain period, you will deal with the German school system. There are state schools, private schools, and international schools. Which type of school fits best depends on how long you plan to live in Germany, how old your children are and how well they speak the German language. However, you should consider, that your children will most likely learn German quickly in a German school.

State schools

Most Germans send their children to state schools,  they are free and offer a high standard of education. The language of instruction is usually German, but German courses for foreigners are often provided. You can find information on this at the Federal Office for Migration.

A state school may be the right choice if you stay in Germany for a long time and your children already speak German.

School in Germany
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Private schools

Private schools charge a tuition fee but receive government subsidies to make them accessible to a wide range of populations. Students must pass an admissions process. In many private schools, there is no guarantee of being accepted.

International schools

You can find international schools mainly in Berlin, Munich, and Frankfurt, where many expats live. The advantage is that students are taught in English or their native language. If they move to another country, they can seamlessly transfer to another international school. The degrees are internationally recognized, and they are suitable if you are not staying long in Germany and want to invest the school fees.