Schools in Germany

Update 01.10.2020

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 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, 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, 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, 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.


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 Hesse, there are five options after the primary school: Hauptschule, Realschule, Mittelstufenschule, Gesamtschule and Gymnasium.

The school system

Primary School

In Hesse, the primary school takes 4 years to accomplish.

After the primary school, parents decide which school their child attends next. The school staff help them decide by providing their recommendation. There are five options to choose from:

  • Hauptschule
  • Realschule
  • Mittelstufenschule
  • Gesamtschule
  • Gymnasium

The Hauptschule starts in 5th grade and ends after accomplishing the 9th or the 10th grade. The Hauptschule prepares your child for their professional career from early stages. Here, students can graduate with einfachen Hauptschulabschluss or qualifizierenden Hauptschulabschluss (after 9th grade) or the Mittleren Abschluss/ Realschulabschluss (after 10th grade). Any of the school-leaving certificates mentioned above suffice for starting a vocational training.  In case your child has very good grades, he/she can also continue his/her studies and go for an Abitur


The Realschule starts in the 5th grade and ends with the 9th or 10th grade. The main goal here is to graduate with a Mittlere Schulabschluss after the 10th grade. The students, however, can also graduate with a certificate equal to Haupschulabschluss after the 9th or 10th grade. Any of the certificates above will qualify your child for vocational training. In case your child has very good grades, he/she can also continue his/her studies and go for an Abitur.


A Mittelstufenschule could be described as a merger of Hauptschule and Realschule. The Mittelstufenschule starts with the 5th grade. Here, in most subjects, students learn together (up to the 8th grade), regardless of the school-leaving certificate they plan to obtain. In the 8th grade, students have to decide which certificate they want to opt for. In a Mittelstufenschule, your child can graduate with the einfachen Haupschulabschluss or qualifizierenden Haupschulabschluss (after 9th or 10th grade) or the Mittleren Schulabschluss (after 10th grade). With a Haupschulabschluss, your child can start vocational training. With a Mittleren Schulabschluss, your child can either opt for vocational training or go for university education.


The Gesamtschule starts with the 5th grade. Here, your child has the possibility to graduate with any of the school-leaving certificates they like. There are two types of Gesamtschule schools:

  • Kooperative Gesamtschule: Here, there are three different levels to choose from- - the Hauptschule level, the Realschule level, and Gymnasium level. Your child must choose one of these levels of performance, but it is possible to switch between later.
  • Integrated Gesamtschule: Here, all children learn together up to the 10th grade, regardless of the school-leaving certificate they plan to obtain. There are at least two courses with different performance requirements for each subject.

In a Gesamtschule, students can graduate with einfachen Hauptschulabschluss or qualifizierende Haupschulabschluss (after the 9th grade), the Realschulabschluss (after the 10th grade) or the Abitur (after the 13th grade). Any of these school-leaving certificates can qualify your child for vocational training. But to go to university, students need to graduate with an Abitur.


The Gymnasium starts with the 5th grade and ends (with the Abitur) after the 12th grade. In a Gymnasium, children have to study more and be very diligent. Those who leave the Gymnasium after the 9th or 10th grade, often automatically qualify for - at least - the Hauptschulabschluss or Realschulabschluss. With an Abitur, your child will be able to choose between university education and vocational training.

How can I register my child at school?

When should refugee children start school?

Once you leave the initial reception facility, your child must go to school.

The school responsible for your child is the school closest to your home or accommodation centre. Children who do not speak German sufficiently yet should initially attend special German classes.

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

When and where can I enrol my child?

During the year before your child goes to school, you will receive a letter from the primary school responsible for him/her with all the necessary information and an appointment. You then have to register your child there on the designated date. While registering, your child will be examined by a doctor and his German language skills will be tested.

The employees in your child's kindergarten can provide you advise regarding the registration process.

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