Those moving to Germany can find the array of German schools overwhelming. This guide to German education will help you enrol your child into the German school system.
If you're moving to German, it is important to be aware of the different school types in Germany in which you can enrol your child. There is a range of German schools that need to be considered, particularly once a student enters secondary school where there are some five different school types and such choices dictate their higher education opportunities. Trying to size up the education system in Germany is one of the hardest things facing those embarking on a foreign posting in Germany. We set out what you should know about German schools and education in Germany.
German education standards
Germany rates relatively well in regards to education levels, more so in mathematics and science. According to latest OECD/PISA survey (2012) of educational standards among 15 year olds, Germany is ranked 12th in mathematics, 9th in science and 20th in reading out of 65 countries and economies. Notably, more than half of all students in Germany enter higher education. The PISA report also revealed that 90 percent of German students had a strong sense of belonging and feeling liked by other students.
However, there is an emphasis on academic subjects in most German schools, with creative and more active subjects set outside the main curriculum. Most students also have to decide whether to follow an academic or non-academic route at the end of primary school, at around age 10, which creates a divided German education system. Past reforms have attempted to unify German education, but to little success.
Local and international schools in Germany
Most students in Germnay attend local schools, which are free. However, foreign families may consider an international school to ease their child's transition by continuing education in a familiar language and curriculum. Your child's age and length of time in Germany are just some factors to consider. For more information on how to choose a school in Germany, see Expatica's guide to German schools: local, private, bilingual and international schools.
Compulsory education in Germany
Education is compulsory for all children who are resident in Germany aged six years to 15 years old, although education generally lasts until the age of 18 years. The majority of schools in Germany are run by the state and are free, although parents can opt for one of the fee-paying private schools or international schools. For information on the differences between state, private and international schools, see Expatica's guide on how to choose a school in Germany.
Although general education policy in Germany is set by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), each Federal state (Länd) has its own Ministry of Education which sets its own education programme, schools and standards. This means that the school system and what students learn vary across the country: there may be different types of schools available, and students may learn different subjects and use different textbooks in each region. You can find information on your state's Ministry of Education.
However across Germany, standards are high and pupils are tested regularly at every level, receiving two reports a year with grades from 1–6 (1 being the highest). In secondary school, if pupils fail to achieve the required grades in two or more classes they may have to repeat the whole year. In the 2012 PISA survey, one in five students reported that they had repeated a year at least once.
Education attendance is compulsory in Germany – not just participation – thus home schooling is illegal in Germany and you will be fined (or worse) if you take your child out of the German education system.
Most schools don’t have a school uniform.
The school year in Germany
The school year starts around mid August/September and ends around 1 July but exact dates and school holiday dates vary from state to state. There are generally six weeks over the summer holidays, two weeks in the autumn (Herbstferien), two or three weeks at Christmas (Weihnachtsferien), a week at Easter (Osterferien) and various state and religious holidays (see Expatica's guide to public holidays in Germany). There are strict rules about taking children out of school during term time and if you do so without permission from the school you could be fined.