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.

There are five options in North Rhine-Westphalia After elementary school: Hauptschule, Realschule, Sekundarschule, Gesamtschule oder Gymnasium.

The school system

Elementary school („Grundschule“)

The primary school takes four years to finish in North Rhine-Westphalia

After elementary school, parents can decide which school their child attends next. The current school will help with some recommendations. There are five options:

  • Die Hauptschule
  • Die Realschule
  • Das Gymnasium
  • Die Sekundarschule
  • Die Gesamtschule
Hauptschule

The Hauptschule starts with the 5th grade and ends with the 9th or 10th grade. Here your child can graduate with a Hauptschulabschluss (after 9th or 10th grade), or attend a special course ("Type B") after the 10th grade and obtain a Mittleren Schulabschluss. With a Hauptschulabschluss or Mittleren Schulabschluss, your child can begin vocational training. Students with the Mittleren Schulabschluss and particularly good marks can continue their education at a Gymnasium or Gesamtschule.

Realschule

The Realschule starts with the 5th grade and usually ends after the 10th grade with a Mittleren Schulabschluss. With this certificate, students can begin vocational training. Students with a Mittleren Schulabschluss and particularly good marks can continue their education at a Gymnasium or Gesamtschule. Your child would also have the opportunity to earn Hauptschulabschluss instead of a Mittleren Schulabschluss.

Sekundarschule

The Sekundarschule starts with the 5th grade and ends either with the 9th or the 10th grade. Sekundarschule offers both an early career orientation and the opportunity to prepare for an Abitur. Your child can obtain a Hauptschulabschluss (after the 9th or 10th grade) or the Mittleren Schulabschluss (after the 10th grade). Students can start vocational training with any of these certificates. Students with the Mittleren Schulabschluss and particularly good marks can continue their education at a Gymnasium or Gesamtschule.

Gesamtschule

The Gesamtschule starts with the 5th grade and offers all types of school-leaving certificates. That means that your child does not have to decide about the certificate he/she wants to obtain immediately. Here your child can earn the Hauptschulabschluss (after the 9th or 10th grade), the Mittleren Schulabschluss (after the 10th grade), or Fachhochschulreife or the Allgemeine Hochschulreife (after finishing the 11th or 13th grade). With the Hauptschulabschluss or the Mittleren Schulabschluss, your child can start vocational training. With a Fachhochschulreife or Abitur, your child can start vocational training or enter university.

Gymnasium

 

In a Gymnasium, students can do their Abitur after the 12th class. Here students have to study hard and be very diligent. Many Gymnasiums have particular focus areas such as science, music & arts, languages, or sports. Those leaving Gymnasium after the 9th or 10th grade will often obtain - at least - the Hauptschulabschluss or the Mittleren Schulabschluss. Your child would also have the opportunity to acquire the Fachhochschulreife here and enter a university of applied sciences ("Fachhochschule") later. With an Abitur, your child can start vocational training or go to a university.

How can I register my child at school?

From what time are refugee children obliged to attend school?

Once you are granted a residence permit and leave the initial reception centre, your child must go to school.

You will receive a letter from your community administration, containing all necessary information and contact details of the Municipal Integration Centre ("Kommunale Integrationszentrum"). They will offer you advice on schooling, and a doctor there will examine your child. Then the school office ("Schulamt") looks for a school for your child and informs you about the result in another letter. Children who do not speak German yet are initially tutored in special German courses.

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

When and where can I enrol my child?

You must register your child at a primary school of your choice until November of the year before his/her school starts. In due time, you will receive a letter from the school administration office with all the necessary information and an appointment. You should register your child personally in the designated school on the appointment date. 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 help you in the registration process.

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