Education System Guide

The German education is very structured. The curriculum usually focuses on mostly academic subjects, even in vocational schools, with a limited offering of physical education, sports, art, and music.

The school day starts at between 7:30 and 8:00 in the morning. Classes are on a college-style schedule, with some courses offered only two or three times a week. The school day typically ends between noon and 2:00 pm and in the afternoon children usually have a fair amount of homework to do.

Although the school year is ten months long and the summer vacation period only lasts about six weeks, students get many more holidays and short vacations during the school year.

Children aged three to six may attend kindergarten. After that school is compulsory for nine or ten years. From grades 1 through 4 children attend elementary school (Grundschule), where the subjects taught are the same for all. Following the 4th grade, they are separated according to their academic ability and the wishes of their families, and attend one of three different kinds of schools: Hauptschule, Realschule or Gymnasium.

Students and their parents have the choice of which school they want to attend, provided their grades are good enough and that the school will accept the student. This means that at age 10 they must select either a Hauptschule, Realschule, or Gymnasium. Students are not “zoned” to any particular school in a community, and in larger cities, like Berlin, they may have a choice of several schools that offer the curriculum they wish to study.

The Hauptschule (grades 6-9) teaches the same subjects as the Realschule and Gymnasium, but at a slower pace and with some vocational-oriented courses. Attendance at this type of school leads to part-time enrollment in a vocational school combined with apprenticeship training until the age of 18.

The Realschule (grades 6-10) leads to part-time vocational schools and higher vocational schools. It is now possible for students with high academic achievement at the Realschule to switch to a Gymnasium upon graduation.

The Gymnasium (grades 6-13) leads to a diploma called the Abitur and prepares students for university study or for a dual academic and vocational credential. The most common education tracks offered by the standard Gymnasium are classical language, modern language, and mathematics-natural science.

Grundschule teachers recommend their students to a particular school based on such indicators as academic achievement, self confidence and ability to work independently. However, parents have the final say as to which school their child attends following the fourth grade.

No matter what kind of school a student attends, he/she must complete at least nine years of education. A student dropping out of a Gymnasium, for example, must enroll in a Realschule or Hauptschule until nine years have been completed.

Beyond the Haupschule and Realschule lies the Berufsschule, combining part-time academic study and apprenticeship. The successful completion of an apprenticeship program leads to certification in a particular trade or field of work. These schools differ from the others mentioned in that control rests not with the local and regional school authorities, but with the federal government, industry and the trade unions.

The Federal Ministry for Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF) regulates general education policy in Germany. However, educational policy is mostly decided at a state level, limiting the ministry’s influence.


Children attend the primary school of their area of residence. School authorities hold school registration (Schulanmeldung) days for six-year-olds, about six months before the start of the new school year. It is important that parents find the relevant information as non-registration is punishable by a fine. The school can provide parents with the relevant application forms.

To register a child with any preschool or school, the relevant forms need to be taken to the local registry office (Bürgeramt – see below) which is part of the Bezirksamt. The department responsible for the allocation of preschool places and school places is called Abteilung für Jugend und Finanzen.

The following documents will be necessary:

  • Birth certificate
  • Passport (for non-German children)
  • A certificate from the State Health Office (Staatliches Gesundheitsamt) confirming the child’s good health
  • Other documents if relevant, such as residency permit
  • The transfer to one of the different lower secondary schools depends on individual states’ legislation: decisions may be taken by the parents or the new school, based on recommendations by the pupil’s primary school.

You can find your local Bürgeramt at this website: