The German school system

Nursery, primary and secondary schools

The German school system

In Germany, all children are required to attend at least 10 years of school. After four years of primary school, pupils are streamed to different types of secondary schooling depending on their abilities.

Due to the difference school types and the high emphasis on performance, the German school system is very rigid and often criticized for determining a child’s future at a very young age. If you want to send your children to a German school, you should make sure that you fully understand the German school system and the implications of the choice of school for your child’s future in Germany.

Nursery school

Attendance at nursery school ( Kindergarten) is voluntary in Germany and parents are required to pay a fee. However, in some western areas of Germany, there aren’t nearly enough nursery school places available to meet demand. Due to the long waiting lists, some parents enrol their children at birth to ensure a place once the children get old enough.

Most children go to nursery school for two to three hours in the morning. If both parents work, this time can be increased to eight to nine hours and include the afternoon (the fees are obviously higher in this case). Children normally attend nursery school from Monday to Friday. Some nursery schools also offer care for the children of shift and weekend workers. In some cities, there are also some Kinderkrippen for children under three, which provide the same service.

Nursery school is generally a good way to integrate your pre-school children into the German way of life. However, you should be aware that in many nursery schools all children from the ages of three to six play together, with no separation into different ages, groups or activities.

Primary school

Primary school ( Grundschule) starts between the ages of five-and-a-half and six-and-a-half, depending on the month your child was born. The first day of primary school is a very important event for German children. Customs include giving children a bag of sweets ( Schultüte) on their first day of school.

The number of weekly hours of lessons at primary school varies from 20 to 30, depending on the class and the age of the child. Primary school normally lasts for four years, after which parents receive a recommendation from the teachers concerning the type of schools most appropriate for his continuing education in secondary school. This recommendation is based on the teacher’s evaluation of the child’s performance, abilities and interests. If a child has learning difficulties, the teacher might recommend sending it to a special school for slow learners ( Sonderschule).

Secondary school

After primary education, children normally go to one of three types of secondary schools:

  • Hauptschule (until 10th grade) - prepares pupils for vocational education and ends with a Hauptschulabschluss. The Hauptschule is designed for those who are less academically gifted. Graduates generally enter an apprenticeship ( Lehre) in a manual trade, sometimes combined with some part-time studies at a Berufsschule.
  • Realschule (until 10th grade) - offers a broader range of emphasis for intermediary students and ends with a Realschulabschuss. The Realschule is designed for those who will be entering an apprenticeship in a commercial trade or medical profession such as nursing, the emphasis is more on mathematics and language skills than on manual activities.
  • Gymnasium (until 12th or 13th grade) – prepares students for higher education and ends with the Abitur (a prerequisite for enrolling in university). This is the most demanding type of schooling, with 32 to 40 hours of lessons per week and lots of homework.

In some states of Germany, the system provides comprehensive schooling (GesamtschuleI). All children attend the same school, but are then split up within the school according to the abilities. After 10th grade, students can either leave school for a Lehre, or stay for another 3 years to get an Abitur, depending on his performance up to 10th grade.

For more on children's education in Germany, visit our website on expat children, .

Further reading

Does this article help?

Do you have any comments, updates or questions on this topic? Ask them here:

Other comments

  • Klaus, 01 April 2008 Reply

    Right for nursery school in Germany

    According to a new law, every child in Germany now has the right to go to nursery school. This means that places for nursery school are now being extended and - at least in theory - every child should be able to get a place.

    • Petra 01 Apr 2008, 10:40

      Nursery schools in Germany

      Yes, but from what I heard this is only in theory. A friend of mine had a quite hard time finding a place for her kid and they ended up paying more than 400 Euros per month.