In Germany, everything seems to be a little more complicated than elsewhere. This applies not least to the school system. Expats who move to Germany with their families face great challenges. What types of schools are there and does my child have to go to school at all? We have the answers to the most common questions about the German school system.

Is school attendance compulsory in Germany?

In Germany, the general compulsory school attendance applies. Unlike in other countries where compulsory education is the rule, parents are not allowed to teach their children themselves. Children start school at the age of six and must attend school for at least nine years. Compulsory education is followed by three years of vocational schooling. This can be fulfilled by attending a vocational school or also by participating in courses at vocational schools or attending a secondary level of education.

Compulsory school attendance applies not only to children of German nationality but also to foreign children living in Germany. In the case of minors, compulsory school attendance must be implemented by the legal guardian. If they do not comply with this obligation, they must expect to be fined.

Who is responsible for the schools in Germany?

School is a matter for the federal states in Germany. The responsibility lies with the Ministries of Education of the 16 federal states. They are responsible for personnel, content to be taught and teaching objectives. Since , the school system, subjects, curricula and degrees can vary greatly from state to state. In recent years, however, common educational standards have increasingly been established.

Structure of the German school system

The German school system is divided into three areas:

  1. Primary level: In Germany, the primary level comprises attendance at primary school. With the exception of Berlin and Brandenburg, children attend primary school for four years. After that, the students go to a secondary school.
  2. Secondary level I: Lower secondary level covers all forms of education from grades 5 to 10. Depending on the level of achievement, children attend the Hauptschule, Realschule, Gymnasium or Gesamtschule. In many federal states, there are also special school forms, such as the district school in Hamburg. The lower secondary level ends after the 9th or 10th grade, depending on the school type.
  3. Secondary level II: Upper secondary level II traditionally concerns the upper secondary school, which comprises grades 10 to 12 after 12 years of schooling and grades 11 to 13 after 13 years of schooling. Vocational education and training also belong to secondary level II. This includes vocational colleges, technical colleges and all other types of vocational schools.

What different types of schools are there?

After the fourth grade, the primary school students part ways. There are different types of schools they can choose from. Depending on the children’s talents, interests, and abilities, the primary schools make suggestions to the parents as to what kind of school their child should go to in the future.

Parents who have not been living in Germany for a long time often do not even know what consequences this decision has for their kid´s school career. After all, the different types of schools not only differ in subjects and contents but also open up various possibilities in later professional careers.

The Hauptschule provides “basic general education”. Students obtain the Hauptschulabschluss with the successful completion of the ninth grade.

The Realschule pursues the goal of providing students with an “extended general education”. It offers a solid basic education, which ends with the acquisition of the Realschulabschluss at the end of the tenth grade. After their certificates, students have the opportunity to start an apprenticeship or to attend a vocational school. However, these school qualifications do not entitle them to study at a university.

For this purpose, attendance at a Gymnasium is required. There one usually learns more things in a shorter time. It is also characteristic to learn a second foreign language besides English, which is already taught from the fifth grade on. Depending on the federal state, the Gymnasium concludes with the acquisition of the general university entrance qualification (Abitur) after the 12th or 13th grade. With the Abitur in their pocket, students have all doors open for their academic education.

The Abitur can also be obtained at a Gesamtschule. The comprehensive school offers the possibility to bypass the structured school system in Germany. Here, all children learn together regardless of their academic performance. Only at the end of the tenth school year does a decision have to be made as to which qualification a student should obtain. In addition, the comprehensive school with its vocational preparation elective courses has greater practical relevance than most Gymnasien.

Public vs. private schools

In addition to public schools, there are also private schools in Germany. However, these are far less important in the German school system than in many other countries. The level of education is high in both private and public schools. Many of the private schools in Germany are under church sponsorship. While public schools are basically free of charge, private schools require parents to pay school fees. Most parents send their children to a public school.

Are international schools a sensible alternative?

Especially in large cities such as Cologne, Munich, and Berlin, parents also have a choice of international schools. This is an attractive alternative, especially for Expats who do not want to stay in Germany for too long. International schools offer the possibility that the children are taught in English or in their mother tongue. The degrees enjoy international recognition.

In public schools, the language of instruction is usually German. However, integration courses are often offered especially for foreign children. When deciding whether to send your child to a public or an international school, the school fees play a major role, because international schools also require parents to pay school fees.

There are several international schools in Bonn to choose from. HereLocation is happy to help you find a suitable school for your children. As a member of the Welcome Team of the Independent Bonn International School we are in constant exchange with people of different nationalities and know the needs, worries, and problems of Expats and their families very well. Of course, we will also help you with all the other questions and problems concerning your relocation to Bonn. Contact us now if you would like to learn more about our extensive services. We look forward to hearing from you!