German school system – dont get anxious

German School System

Written by Germany Simplified

March 12, 2019

Do you remember your school days? What’s your favourite school memory? For instance, sharing lunches during recess, or playing in the school ground in the afternoon? Some even cherish getting punished for not doing the homework as a fond school memory. The excellent German school system provides a rich framework for creating such memories.

The multi-layered German school system provides children with a rich treasure trove of memories. Read on to find out about the richness of the German school system. Study it before gifting your children with a world of knowledge, love, intellectual stimulation, and memories.

The school system in Germany educates highly advanced students up to the university level. It does not depend on the financial status of the student’s family. The German public school system is different in many aspects from the ones in other nations — it creates highly advanced students. However, many students in Germany attend the government-funded public schools. The entire framework of the education system is accessible to the wards of bona fide expats in Germany. It includes including the colleges and universities.

Above all, the classes in the school happen in German. It is a basic aspect and suitable for German school beginners. However, it can be more of an issue as the students get older and go to higher classes. There are many private institutions and schools too along with public schools. School education is a part of the federal state. However, there are quite a few differences between one state and another.

German School System: In a Nutshell

The kindergarten class in the German school system is for children between the ages of three and six. After kindergarten, it is compulsory to attend school for the next nine or ten years. From the first grade to the fourth, children attend Grundschule or elementary school. They teach the same subjects to every student. Students are separated after the fourth grade by academic abilities and the guardian’s wishes.

After the fourth grade, the children can opt for three different kinds of high school in Germany. They are Hauptschule, Gymnasium, and Realschule. The teachers from Grundschule recommend a particular school to the students. However, it depends on their ability to work independently. Their academic achievement and self-confidence also matter. In most states of Germany, the guardian or parents of the students make the final call. They decide which school to send the student to after fourth grade.

The Different Framework of the German School System


According to the International Standard Classification of Examination, the Hauptschule provides a lower secondary level of education. Hauptschule is the lowermost secondary school in Germany. It is the objective of Hauptschule to provide students with a general education. It can be for average grades or below average.

The fifth grade to the ninth grade forms the Hauptschule of the German school system. The Hauptschule gives knowledge in the same subjects as Gymnasium and Realschule. But it happens at a slow and steady speed, with other vocational-related subjects.

The curriculum at Hauptschule includes physics, chemistry, mathematics, biology, history, and geography. Also, religion, art, music, sports, politics, and language are also a part of it. Every student learns English from the first year at Hauptschule.

Above all, the course also includes a part-time enrolment of the student in a vocational school. It comes along with training in apprenticeship up to the age of eighteen.

The state government spends more money on the education of students that go to public Hauptschule. Also, the Hauptschule has a better ratio of students to teachers compared to others in the German school system.

The school has many students who belong to different groups. It can be a mix of ethnicity, religion, language, ability, and social class. Also, Hauptschule teaches students of average academic skills, in addition to students with special needs and learning difficulties.

In some German states, like Bavaria, Hauptschule offers different classes to the students. For instance, the school provides P-classes of the students with difficulties and M-classes for the advanced students.

About 54.4% of students graduated from Hauptschule in the year 2004. But, the young jobholders are much less likely to hold Hauptschule degrees.


In most German states, the Realschule has part-time and advanced vocational schools for the students. Established by Johann Joachim Becher, Realschule helps to educate students along with giving them insight into the organised structure of the state.

Realschule lies between the Gymnasium (ranked the highest) and Hauptschule (ranked the lowest) in the German school system. Students with excellent academic performance in Realschuleget a choice to switch to Gymnasium upon graduation from Realschule. The good students of Realschule can also attend Beruffsschule or pursue an apprenticeship.

In many of the states of Germany, students begin Realschule at the age of 10-11. They complete the course at around 16-17. For some students, Sekundarschule or Oberschulehas replace Realschule. About 1.320 million students graduated from Realschule in the year 2006 (1).

In Realschule, every student gets a continuing education and learn at least one foreign language, primarily English. However, in Baden-Wurttemberg, the student has choices. They can choose from home economics, technology, and a second foreign language (that is generally French). This happens after finishing the sixth grade in the German school system.

The other subjects at Realschule include history, economics, religion, social sciences, geography, and physical education. After the eighth grade at Realschule, the student must choose between music and art.

In the year 2011, the Berlin government put an end to the Realschule. Also, they integrated the same with Hauptschule and old Gesamtschule to form a new kind of comprehensive school. It is called as the Sekundarschule in Berlin and Staftteilschule in Hamburg.


The gymnasium is the most advanced form of the German school system. It has a strong focus on academic learning. Therefore, the admission criterion for Gymnasium is the completion of four years of Grundschule. It has an age limit of 10-12 years in the German school system.

The student pursues a diploma course at the Gymnasium stage of the German school system. It prepares them for studying in the university or for a dual vocational and academic credential.

The curriculum of the Gymnasium course varies from one school to the next. The subjects include German language, computer science, mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, art, geography, and history. They also have music, civics, philosophy, social studies, and foreign languages.

However, all the subjects are compulsory for younger students in the German school system. But the older students can choose from the elective subjects. The academic standards are very high as the Gymnasium only caters to first 25-35% of the range of able students (2).

Why are Gymnasium schools different?

The Gymnasium schools are the schools for gifted students. Admission depends upon several factors. States like Bavaria selects through entrance examination score or grades of the elementary school. Also, parents cannot decide whether their children will attend Gymnasium or not. The academic performance of the student at the elementary school is the deciding factor.

The language of instruction at Gymnasium is French and English in some specialised schools. Most classes happen in high standard German language. It is the same even in those parts of Germany where advanced German language is not common.

The most common types of Gymnasium include Humanistisches Gymnasium, Neusprachliches Gymnasium, Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliches Gymnasium. Some other kinds of Gymnasium include Sportgymnasium, Musikgymnasium, Europäisches Gymnasium, and Gymnasium for advanced students.

Traditionally, it takes 13 grades to acquire Abi (Abitur, or the qualification granted by German prep schools). In the last few years, many states transformed the curriculum for students to get Abi by 12th grade. The states who have not adopted this change are on the road to adopting it.


Also known as the comprehensive school, the Gesamtschule is only in a few states of Germany. In other words, it is in place of both the Realschule and Hauptschule as per the German school system. Gesamtschule makes up the 5th grade through the 10th grade and includes students of every academic ability.

The students who finish the 9th grade of Gesamtschule get the Hauptschule certificate. Similarly, the students who finish the 10th grade of Gesamptschule get the Realschule certificate.


Beruffsschule is what comes after Realschule and Hauptschule. It combines apprenticeship and part-time academic studying. After the apprenticeship program, the student gets a certificate on a specific field of work or trade.

The Beruffsschule is different from others. The control of Beruffsschule rests with the federal government, trade and industry unions. It is not with the regional and local school authority.

Students must complete nine years of school education successfully in the German school system (3), irrespective of which school the student attends. For instance, if a student drops out of Gymnasium, he must get admission in Hauptschule or Realschule. It is mandatory for every student to study at least one foreign language for a minimum of five years. A student of the Gymnasium must consider a second foreign language.

Life at the school in Germany

A day in school life

For the students of the German school system, classes begin in the morning. The first class starts at around 7:30 am to 8:15 am. It ends at an hour between 12 noon and 1:30 pm. Every class period is about 45 minutes with a small break in between. However, in the last few years, some of the schools or Ganztagsschule have longer hours. The extra hours are for doing homework and taking part in extra-curricular activities.

The extra time is also for hot lunch for the students at the school cafeteria. The school especially focuses upon the three Rs or the three pillars of education. It includes reading, aRithmetic, and wRiting. With increasing grades, expansion takes place in the curriculum. This expansion is based upon the three secondary schools that the students attend.

A Year in school life

Every school year has two semesters and generally begins around the middle or towards the end of August. The school breaks are longer during summer and Christmas vacation and are shorter during autumn and Easter vacation. The school gets shut down on public holidays. Christmas vacation lasts for a couple of weeks, and the summer vacation goes on six long weeks. However, the Lander decides the specific dates for the variety of holidays.

“Special needs” students of Germany

German school system looks after the students with special needs in an ethical manner. The schools for students who have special needs are Forderschule or Sonderschule. The student can attend only one of these schools, depending upon the needs of the student and the available schools.

The schools for students with special needs have staffs of highly-trained mentors and teachers. They usually have a small ratio of students to teachers as compared to the regular public schools of Germany. A few of the students with special needs do not attend the Fonderschule schools, but instead go to Gesamtschule or Hauptschule.

Private schools in Germany

There are several private schools across Germany. Unlike public schools, the private schools charge the students with tuition fee. They offer many courses that lead to the German Abitur as per the German school system. They provide diplomas and other certificates at the end of graduation.

Boarding schools in Germany

Germans call their boarding schools Internat. There are hundreds of boarding schools in Germany that offer an extensive variety of study courses. Most of the boarding schools offer the German Abitur. They also have many special subjects and classes in a variety of areas and topics.

There are boarding schools for music, sports, and other different fields. There are also some boarding schools in Germany that are either only for boys or for girls.

International schools and bilingual schools of Germany

Several international schools in Germany generally offer courses and subjects in English. It helps the student for achieving an IB (International Baccalaureate) or another certificate or diploma. This allows the students to get higher education at a university or college. International schools are mostly in places with a higher concentration of expats in Germany. These places are Frankfurt, Munich, and Berlin. Feel free to read our detailed post on this topic here.

Bilingual school is an alternative to international school. At a bilingual school, the classes take place in German. Among the other languages are English, Italian, French, and Spanish.

Parochial schools of Germany

The Parochial schools of Germany include Catholic and Protestant private schools. They offer the standard certificate of the German Abitur.

Homeschooling in Germany

Homeschooling is an illegal practice in Germany and is yet to get recognised. It is compulsory by the law for students to attend public schools in the German school system, or they can opt for the approved private schools and receive mandatory education.

Higher education in Germany

There are different varieties of schools at the university level in Germany for advanced training of students. The excellent universities of Germany give a broad general education.

The students attend university for six years. Recently, some changes have happened in the curriculum. Now they allow a student of the university to achieve a Bachelor’s degree after four years.

The Technische Hochschule or the Technical Universities train the students specifically for certain careers. Students attend them for four years. Higher education also happens in the fields of music and art at specific Hochschulen dedicated to these courses.

Many private schools in Germany offer degree programs in a wide range of subjects. Many of the private schools conduct classes in English.


You must be feeling proud of your child, as he or she will be getting the most excellent education in the world. Excellence in education is itself part of the framework of Germany’s school system. Consider keeping a checklist of your requirements ready before deciding on a school. Your child deserves the best of everything, especially education. No gift can be better in the world than a good education.

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