The German Education System

The German Education System

Germany's education system is world-renowned for a reason. It's incredibly well-organized and designed to be highly accessible to all students. To an extent, it is up to each of the 16 German regional states (also known as Bundesländer) to lay out the exact shape of their education systems. The best part of the entire national system is that it makes it possible for students to continue up to the university level regardless of a family's finances, and all mandatory schooling is free.

So what are the most important things to know about the German schooling and education system? This article will give you an overview of the German standards of education, the organisation of the school system, the subjects taught, grading systems, and more.

German education standards

General information about how education is organized in Germany.

Compulsory education in Germany is based on the rules and regulations of the Grundgesetz (which is the German basic or fundamental national law). The departments of Education, Cultural Affairs and Science come together to put together comprehensive education guidelines, administrative regulations, organizations, and foundations.

German education standards are relatively pretty high. In fact, precisely because the German school system is so well structured and rigorous, it produces some of the most accomplished students in the world. In a 2015 OECD/PISA study, Germany ranked 16th in mathematics as well as in science, and 11th in reading.

Students are thoroughly tested and evaluated at each stage of schooling. If a student fails to achieve the required minimum grades in two or more classes, they have to repeat the whole year to ensure that they are always meeting the requirements to move up.

Only 18% of students have to repeat the year once, and more than 50% of students report attending post-secondary education in Germany.

How does the German education system work?

Compulsory education in Germany dictates that all students from the age of six to 15 years old need to attend school consistently. However, students usually stay in school until 18 years of age.

While parents can choose to put their kids in private or even international schools, the curriculum in public schools is sufficient enough to allow their students to aim confidently for university-level education.

Kindergarten and Preschool in Germany

Did you know that nursery or preschool in Germany is optional? Up until six years old, children may legally stay at home with the parent(s) or spend the days with a privately-run child-minding service provider (or Tagesmutter) instead of going to an official nursery or Kita/Kindergarten.

After this, children will then first attend elementary school or Grundschule and later one of the available types of secondary/high-school education.

See our page The German School System to learn more about the different kinds of pre-schools as well as the primary, secondary and further education options available in Germany.

How many days a week do German students go to school?

The German school week runs from Monday to Friday. Students start pretty early, from 8 a.m., and stay on until 1 or 2 p.m. For older kids in secondary education, these hours may be extended until about 4 p.m.

School Organization

Primary and secondary education in Germany.

Primary school in Germany is known as Grundschule and term starts around the beginning of September. From ages six to ten, children go through four years of school at a primary level. However, some primary schools run for six years; that means your 5th-grade age would be 11 and a 6th year student would be 12 years old.

How old are you in 4th grade? This depends on when you entered school. If a child hasn't turned six by the time school starts, they are considered a kann Kind or a "can child" - as in they can attend school. They're not a muss Kind, which is a "must" child. These children must attend school.

What does the kann Kind's eligibility depend on? They may be required to pass a test known as the Einschulungsuntersuchung -- and even if this is passed, administrators may not offer entering secondary school as an option if the child is not also socially or physically ready.

Once primary school is complete, students progress to the secondary school component. There are five types, including:

  • Gymnasium: for "academic" students
  • Realschule: for intermediary (more vocation-focussed) students
  • Hauptschule: for "less academic" students
  • Gesamtschule: a comprehensive school for all education types
  • Integrated schools (where the Hauptschule and Realschule curricula are merged)

School holidays in Germany include common breaks like Easter, winter holidays, and summer holidays. The exact dates differ for each kind of school, however.

Berlin public schools, for example, begin the summer break around June 20th and end around August 2nd. Meanwhile, students in Bavaria break around July 29th and resume around September 9th. The exact dates change from year to year.

Is education in Germany for free?

Administrators and educational ministers in Germany believe that the costs for education should not be a prohibiting factor in a child's education. That's why compulsory education in Germany is completely free for students.

Do German Students wear a school uniform?

No. If you're attending a public school, you do not need to wear a school uniform.

Does Germany have homework?

Homework in Germany is considered very important, and the school day is structured in such a way that students have plenty of time to complete it and gain extra help or support where necessary.

Even in primary school, students spend at least half an hour on homework every day (known as Hausaufgaben). Students will have 20 to 30 hours of lessons every week.

How long is the average school day in Germany?

Each class runs for about 45 to 50 minutes. There are breaks for food and socialising, but there's usually no need for a cafeteria because school ends at around lunchtime.

Full-day schooling

If you're moving from overseas and are used to a different structure of full-day schooling, don't fret. Increasingly, German schools are offering a full day of education that sets aside time for homework, extracurriculars and lunch hours.

Subjects taught in German Schools

Learn more about the general subjects in Germany.

Subjects taught in German schools differ at each level. For example, students at the Realschule level will study a range of subjects (science, mathematics, etc.) while also achieving a decent academic level.

The difference is that this kind of school's culminating diploma will be known as the Realschulabschluss and this will qualify graduating students to take vocational qualifications, training courses, or apprenticeships in, for example, in a commercial trade or medical profession.

However, these students still have the opportunity to transfer to the Gymnasium for their final two years if they're set on attending university.

What subjects are taught in German schools?

This depends on which secondary school the student has chosen and where in the country they're located.

In general, education at the Gymnasium level (required for those planning to attend tertiary school, i.e. university) covers a broad range of subjects.

Students are opting for 32-40 hours of lessons a week, plus additional homework. They'll be studying a variety of subjects, usually including two languages from a pick of English, French, Spanish, Latin and more.

There are also sports, music, drama and art lessons. "Honours" courses in Germany are known as Leistungskurse.

Is Homeschooling illegal in Germany?

Yes, homeschooling in Germany is considered illegal because students must attend school from 6 to 15 years of age.

What is the Grading System in German Schools?

The grading system in Germany runs on a scale from 1 to 6. The highest is 1 or sehr gut ("very good"). This is an outstanding achievement. An average score is 2,6-3,5 or befriedigend, which is "satisfactory".

International Schools in Germany

International schools in Germany are a big draw for foreign families that want their kids to be schooled in a familiar language - usually English. This can help students feel more comfortable as they transition into life in a new country.

These are full-day schools with students from other nationalities and countries represented. They offer a full range of educational subjects and extracurriculars. They're perfect for students who are already halfway through their curriculum in their own countries.