Schools in Germany

Update 13.10.2022

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 Lower Saxony, after primary school, students have five options: Hauptschule, Realschule, Oberschule, Gesamtschule and Gymnasium.

The School System

Primary School

The primary school takes 4 years to accomplish in Lower Saxony. After primary school, parents decide which school their child attends next. The school staff help in the process by sharing their recommendations with parents. There are five options:

  • Hauptschule
  • Realschule
  • Oberschule
  • Gesamtschule
  • Gymnasium
Hauptschule

The Hauptschule starts in the 5th grade and ends with the 9th or the 10th grade. It prepares your child for the job market from early stages. Here your child can graduate with a Hauptschulabschluss (after the 9th or 10th grade) or a Realschulabschluss (after 10th grade). Your child can also graduate with an erweiterten Sekundarabschluss I, with which he/she can go to Gymnasium later. Your child will have the opportunity to start vocational training with any of these three school-leaving certificates. With good grades, your child can also continue his/her studies and go for an Abitur.

Realschule

The Realschule starts with the 5th grade and ends with the 9th or 10th grade. The highest school-leaving certificate students can graduate with from a Realschule, is the Realschulabschluss (after the 10th Class). But there is also the possibility to graduate (after the 9th or 10th grade) with a Hauptschulabschluss. Your child can even graduate with an erweiterten Sekundarschule I, and start Gymnasium afterward. Students will have the opportunity to start vocational training with any of these three school-leaving certificates. In case your child has very good grades, he/she can also continue his/her studies and go for an Abitur.

Oberschule

The Oberschule starts with the 5th grade and ends with the 10th grade. Here, the goal is to prepare the students for both the job market and university education. In an Oberschule, your child can obtain a Hauptschulabschluss (after the 9th or 10th grade) or a Realschulabschluss (after the 10th grade). Your child can also graduate with an erweiterten Sekundarschule I, and start Gymnasium afterward. Students will have the opportunity to start vocational training with any of these three school-leaving certificates. In case your child has very good grades, he/she can also continue his/her studies and go for an Abitur.

Gesamtschule

The Gesamtschule starts with the 5th grade. Here, your child will have the opportunity to obtain any school-leaving certificate: the Hauptschulabschluss (after the 9th grade), the Realschulabschluss (after the 10th grade), or the Abitur (after the 13th grade). There are two types of Gesamtschule:

  • Kooperativen Gesamtschule: Here, there are three different divisions, based on the school-leaving certificate students would like to obtain - Hauptschule level, Realschule level, and Gymnasium level. Your child must choose a level, but it is also possible to switch between them.
  • Integrierte Gesamtschule: Here all children study together (up to the 10th grade) regardless of the school-leaving certificate they are planning to obtain. Starting from the 7th class, there are at least two courses per subject, each of which demands different performance levels.

Your child can start vocational training with any of these three school-leaving certificates. With an Abitur, he/she can also go for a university education.

Gymnasium

The Gymnasium starts with the 5th grade and ends with the Abitur at the end of the 13th grade. In a Gymnasium, students have to be very diligent and work hard. Your child will need to learn at least two foreign languages during Gymnasium years. Those who leave the Gymnasium after the 9th or 10th grade, often automatically obtain a Hauptschulabschluss or a Realschulabschluss. With the Abitur, your child can opt for university education or start vocational training.

How can I register my child at a school?

When do refugee children need to attend school?

During your residence in the initial reception facility, your child will be prepared to start school. Once you leave the initial reception facility, your child must go to school. Children who do not speak German sufficiently yet should initially attend special German classes.

The staff at your initial reception facility will assist you in the registration process.

When and where can I enrol my child?

About 15 months before the enrolment time, you will receive a letter from the primary school responsible for your child with all the necessary information and an appointment. You must register your child personally on this date. Your child will be examined by a doctor and his/her German language skills will be checked on the same day.

The staff in the kindergarten your child attends can provide you with more information about the process.

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