Schools in Germany

Update 12.09.2022

Which school is the right one?

Education in Germany is regulated at the federal state level, meaning each of the 16 federal states has its school system. Only the general compulsory education and the grading system are same throughout Germany. The school-leaving qualifications obtained in any individual federal state is recognised throughout Germany. Here you can find information about the school system in Germany as well as advice regarding issues like extra tutoring and bullying in schools.

What do I need to know?

Does my child have to go to school? (Compulsory education)

In Germany, all children are required to attend school from the age of six or seven. Every child who lives in Germany must go to school at this age and study for at least nine years.

This general rule also applies to refugee children and teens- if they are six years old or older, they often have to attend school soon after their arrival in Germany. The regulations regarding schooling vary from state to state. For more information, read the subchapter referring to the education system in your federal state below.

Parents who do not send their children to school will have to pay a hefty fine.

Which school should my child attend?

Initially, all children must attend an elementary school. Elementary school consists of 4 to 6 years of education, depending on the federal state where the child lives. After elementary school, students go to secondary school. The type of secondary school any child attends has a significant impact on his or her future life. The higher your child's grades, the more choices and opportunities he or she will have later in their future education and profession. "Abitur" is the highest school-leaving certificate - only with an Abitur can your child later enrol in a university. In some federal states, a student's scores and his/her teacher’s evaluation determine which secondary school he/she must attend. In many federal states, teachers can only make a recommendation, but in the end, the parents decide. That means you do not have to follow the teacher's advice. It can be difficult, however, to find a high school that accepts your child despite bad marks.

To learn about the relevant regulations in your place of residence, read the subchapter regarding the school system in your federal state.

How does the German grading and certificate system look like?

The German grading system has six marks: "1" is the best mark and "6" is the worst. Twice a year, students are evaluated and handed a school report card containing their marks in each subject. The midterm report card, usually issued at the end of January, serves as a means of evaluation for parents and children to assess the student's performances. The annual report card, often handed out before the summer holidays, determines whether your child can move on to the next grade or needs to repeat the same grade. In most elementary schools, no specific marks are mentioned on the report card during the first two years of education. There is only a brief evaluation of the child's performance from the teacher.

Important: Bad marks are no catastrophe. Teachers will be happy to provide you and your child with advice for better performance in school. You can learn more by checking the section “My child has difficulties at school. Any advice?”. And there are also plenty of counselling centres available. At JMD, you can find a local counselling centre to visit or seek help online; the staff there speak various languages.

You can also seek cost-free anonymous advice from the Parents' Hotline. You can tell the staff about your concerns and difficulties- they will listen and try to help you work out a solution. Furthermore, you can reach the Parents' Hotline daily between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on the cost-free phone line 0800 777 18 77 in German and English. Or you can write an email to fraguns@elternhotline.de in German, English, Arabic, Farsi, French, Turkish, Kurdish, Bulgarian, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Polish or Croatian. The staff will answer you within 24 hours.

Where do children who do not speak German yet study?

Children and teens who speak little or no German should initially attend special courses in which they learn the language and get familiarised with German culture. These classes are often called "Willkommensklassen", "Vorbereitungsklassen" or "Übergangsklassen" (Ü-Klassen); and they prepare children to enter regular schools. In these preparatory classes, students are gradually evaluated according to their age, performance and language skills.

Are there any alternatives to public schools?

Yes, there are also private schools in Germany. These schools are not established by the state - they might be run by private companies, the church or associations. Private schools often have a distinctive concept and teaching method, and they -almost always- demand tuition fees. If you are considering a private school for your child, contact them first to learn more about the conditions, costs and requirements. You can find a comprehensive list of all the schools in your city here.

My child has special needs. What should I do?

In many schools, children with special needs or disabilities can learn together with other children. But there are also specialised schools exclusively for children with special educational needs. If your child goes to kindergarten, you can seek advice from the staff there about your options for school. You can also seek support from JMD- their staff speak different languages. Alternatively, you can reach out to Parent’s Hotline or Elternhotline and discuss the issue in hand with their staff in your language.

What can I do if my child is bullied?

When a child is insulted, teased, ridiculed, threatened, or bullied by another child or group of children over a long time, we talk about "Bullying". Many children experience bullying, especially at school. Anyone may become a victim of bullying - not because of something they did wrong, but simply because there are perpetrators out there who want to counter their own frustrations by victimising other children.

It is often not straightforward to find out whether your child is a victim of bullying. If your child suddenly behaves differently, does not like going to school, becomes sick often, skips school, has poor grades, show no interest in going to the sports club anymore, experience sleep problems, etc., there is a chance he or she is suffering from bullying. If that is the case, talk to your child empathetically and try to find out what the cause is. Generally speaking, you must regularly ask your child about school and their friends and listen carefully to what they reply. Also, keep in regular touch with your child's teachers, trainers, parents of friends, etc. - so you can learn more about your child's behaviour.

If your child is being bullied, speak to the teachers and school workers/ trainers immediately. They should work with you and your child to find a way to solve the problem. If there is physical violence or extortion, you can also contact the police. For help in your language, reach out to counselling centres such as the JMD or the Parents' Hotline.

What can I do if my child is bullied online?

Embarrassing/funny videos and images of children are often uploaded to social media (TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.) without their consent. Sometimes, even, a perpetrator may hack into a child's profile and post in their name. Cyberbullying is when someone is slandered, threatened or harassed online- and it is a criminal offence. If your child is a victim of cyberbullying, download and save the materials in question as proof, so you can later show it to the school staff and, if necessary, the parents of the perpetrators and find a way to solve the problem together. Also, inform the operator of the website so that the posts are deleted - it is your right to have the content in question deleted. Generally speaking, you must talk to your child about their online activities and discuss how they can protect their privacy. On klicksafe.de, you will find a lot of information about cyberbullying in German. The JMD or the Parents' Hotline can also help you in your language.

What can I do when my child has difficulties learning at school?

It is quite normal for children to have problems with one or more subjects at school. And tutoring ("Nachhilfe") can often help. A tutor is someone who can help your child after school with subjects in which he or she has difficulties. There are tutoring classes in which several children study together - an option which is a little less expensive than private lessons. But older students, former teachers or helpful neighbours can also function as tutors who often do not charge you with a hefty tuition fee. In some schools and Children and Youth Centres, one can also find "free homework help" in the afternoons. It is best to ask your child's teachers or other parents for tips and recommendations.

Your child can also find help with studying online:

  • At  stayschool.de, children from the 5th grade can seek free online help studying - volunteers help your child study through video chats. Their service is available in various languages.
  • At corona-school.de, your child can get find student tutors free of charge for 1st grade upwards. Here, students volunteer to younger students with their homework while schools are closed. The service is offered through video chat and in German.

Important

If you have difficulties with a teacher, contact the school administration. In case your problem is with the school management, contact the school office ("Schulamt“) in your district. Alternatively, the JMD or the Parents' Hotline can help you in your language.

In Schleswig-Holstein, there are two options after primary school: Gemeinschaftsschule or Gymnasium.

The School system

Primary school

In Schleswig-Holstein, the elementary school takes four years to accomplish. After elementary school, parents decide which school their child attends next. The current school will help parents by offering their recommendation.

There are two options:

  • Gemeinschaftsschule
  • Gymnasium
Gemeinschaftsschule

The Gemeinschaftsschule starts with the 5th grade, and students can graduate after successfully finishing the 9th, 10th, or 13th grade. Up to the 10th grade, all students are grouped into several learning units with different levels of performance. Your child can earn Ersten Allgemeinbildenden Schulabschluss (after 9th grade), the Mittleren Abschluss (after 10th class), or the Abitur (after 13th class). The Ersten Allgemeinbildenden Schulabschluss and the Mittleren Abschluss will qualify your child to start vocational training. With an Abitur, any student can choose between vocational training and university education.

Gymnasium

The Gymnasium starts with the 5th grade and ends with the Abitur at the end of the 12th grade. Students should study quite intensively and be very diligent. Those who leave the Gymnasium after the 9th or 10th grade often automatically obtain the Ersten Allgemeinbildenden Schulabschluss or the Mittleren Abschluss. After the 11th grade, your child can also earn the Fachhochschulreife (university of applied sciences entrance qualification). With an Abitur, your child can decide between vocational training and university education.

How can I register my child?

When do refugees need to attend school?

In Schleswig-Holstein, all refugee children are required to attend school immediately upon arrival.

As long as you live in an initial reception centre, your child will most probably take part in the classes there. Afterward, your child will be tutored in a school with a DaZ centre (roughly: "German as a second language" centre). You will receive a letter from the School Office ("Schulamt"), containing the address and other necessary information about the school responsible for your child. You have to register your child personally at the designated school.

The staff at your accommodation centre will assist you in the registration centre.

When and where can I enrol my child?

You will receive a letter from the primary school responsible for your child before the registration deadline. You should register your child there in person. During registration, your child will be examined by a doctor, and his German language skills will be checked.

The staff in your child's kindergarten can give you advice on the registration process.

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