The Education System in Germany

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.

The German education system explained:

The German education system offers a structured path for students to pursue their academic journey. Here is an overview of the different stages and educational options within the system:

Elementary School (Grundschule):
Children usually start elementary school at the age of six and attend for four years. Elementary school provides a broad foundation in various subjects, including mathematics, languages, sciences, arts, and social studies.

Secondary School Options:
After completing elementary school, students proceed to different types of secondary schools based on their abilities and interests:

How the German school system works
The education system may vary slightly between different German states

Hauptschule: The Hauptschule offers a more practical-oriented curriculum and prepares students for vocational training. It typically ends after the 9th grade with the Hauptschulabschluss, which is a certificate of completion.

Realschule: The Realschule provides a more comprehensive education and prepares students for both vocational training and further academic studies. It concludes after the 10th grade with the Realschulabschluss, a certificate that allows students to pursue vocational training or continue to upper secondary education.

Gymnasium: The Gymnasium is an academic-oriented school that prepares students for higher education at universities. It offers a more challenging curriculum and usually lasts until the 12th or 13th grade. Upon completion, students obtain the Abitur, a university entrance qualification.

Gesamtschule: The Gesamtschule is a comprehensive school that combines elements of all three types of secondary schools (Hauptschule, Realschule, and Gymnasium) under one roof. It offers a more individualized approach, allowing students to choose their educational path based on their abilities and interests.

Vocational Training:
After completing secondary education, students have the option to enter vocational training programs (Berufsausbildung). These programs combine theoretical education with practical work experience and lead to recognized vocational qualifications in various fields.

Higher Education:
Students who complete their education at a Gymnasium and obtain the Abitur have the opportunity to pursue higher education at universities, technical universities, or colleges. Germany has a strong reputation for its universities, offering a wide range of academic disciplines and research opportunities.

It’s important to note that the education system may vary slightly between different German states (Bundesländer), and there may be additional educational options available, such as specialized schools or international schools.

Overall, the German education system aims to provide students with a well-rounded education and multiple pathways for their future careers, whether in vocational fields or academic pursuits.

Around nine percent of students are educated at private schools

Is education free in germany?

Yes, education at public schools in Germany is generally free of charge.

Public schools in Germany are funded by taxes, and as a result, students attending these schools do not have to pay tuition fees. This applies to both German citizens and international students.

The cost of education, including primary, secondary, and higher education at public institutions, is covered by the government. However, it’s important to note that there may still be some minimal fees for things like school supplies, extracurricular activities, or optional services.

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.

kenny-eliason/ unspash
State schools in Germany are the most common choice

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.

The German State schools

State schools in Germany are the most common choice for German families, as they offer free education and maintain a high standard of academic quality.

The primary language of instruction in state schools is German, but many schools also provide German courses for foreign students to support their language learning and integration.

State schools follow the German education system, which consists of different educational stages, including primary school (Grundschule), secondary school (Hauptschule, Realschule, and Gymnasium), and vocational schools (Berufsschule). The curriculum is designed to provide a well-rounded education covering various subjects such as mathematics, sciences, languages, social sciences, and arts.

Choosing a state school can be a suitable option for families planning to reside in Germany for an extended period. It allows children to immerse themselves in the local language and culture, fostering integration and facilitating their academic progress. State schools also offer opportunities for extracurricular activities, social interactions, and a diverse learning environment.

It is worth noting that the education system may vary slightly between different German states (Bundesländer), so it is advisable to research and consider the specific offerings and requirements of the state school in your desired location.

Overall, state schools in Germany provide a solid educational foundation and an opportunity for children to integrate into the local community, especially if they already have a good command of the German language.

School in Germany
There are English schools in Germany, known as international schools

Does Germany have private schools?

Yes, Germany does have private schools. Private schools in Germany are independent institutions that charge tuition fees for their educational services. These schools operate outside of the public education system and often offer different educational approaches or specialized programs. Private schools in Germany can vary in terms of curriculum, teaching methods, and facilities.

While they charge tuition fees, private schools may also receive government subsidies to ensure accessibility to a broader range of students.

Admission to private schools typically involves an application process, and acceptance is not guaranteed as there are often limited spaces available.

Are there english schools in Germany?

Yes, there are English schools in Germany, known as international schools. These schools cater to students from diverse cultural backgrounds, including expatriates and internationally mobile families.

International schools primarily use English as the primary language of instruction, and they often offer a curriculum based on international education standards such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) or the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) curriculum.

International schools provide an opportunity for students to continue their education in English or their native language, making it easier for them to transition to different schools or countries in the future. The degrees obtained from these schools are internationally recognized, which can be advantageous for students who may move to another country or pursue higher education abroad.

While international schools typically charge tuition fees, they provide a high-quality education with modern facilities and a diverse learning environment. These schools are particularly prominent in cities like Berlin, Munich, and Frankfurt, where there is a higher concentration of expatriate communities. Choosing an international school can be a suitable option for families who are not planning to stay in Germany long-term and are willing to invest in their children’s education during their time in the country.