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State Schools in Germany

Submitted: December 2013

The overwhelming majority of German students attend state schools within their neighbourhood. The whole German education system is available to the children of expatriates. However, the classes are conducted in German, which is usually fine for school beginners but this becomes more difficult as the children get older. Although education is a function of the 16 federal states, and there are differences between each state, it is possible to make some generalizations.

Pre-School - The German preschool is known as a Kindergarten or Kita. Children between the ages of 3 and 6 may attend Kita, but this not part of the official school system. As a result, Kita are often run by city administrations, churches, or registered societies. Attending a Kita is neither free of charge nor mandatory, but can be partly covered by the local authority and the income of the parents. In a Kita, development of children and their relations with other children are fostered through play, rather than being given formal instructions.

Primary School (Grundschule)–There is a wide choice of elementary schools for parents to choose from. State schools do not charge tuition fees. Schooling begins at the age of six in the first year of a Grundschule. Children must attend the Grundschule for 4 years (6 in Berlin), during which time they learn to read, write and to do arithmetic. Some basic instruction is also offered in history, geography, social science, biology, art and music. The subjects taught are generally the same for all.

Secondary School: After children have completed the Grundschule at 10 years of age, or 12 in Berlin, there are the following four options for secondary schooling:

  • Hauptschule: this is attended until grade nine. The main objective is to prepare students for their entry into the world of work. From the first year of Hauptschule, all children are taught English, German, mathematics, biology, geography, history, physics / chemistry, religion, music, art, sports and politics.
  • Realschule until grade ten or eleven (with MittlereReife as the exit exam which entitles them to ­­­start vocational training, go to a vocational school or attend a Gymnasium. It gives children a broader general education. They also have a chance to learn a second foreign language, usually French. At the end of their 10th or 11th year, successful pupils will normally obtain the Realschule leaving certificate.
  • Gymnasium (grammar school) until grade 12 or 13  - The Gymnasium leads to a diploma called the Abitur which prepares students for university. The common subjects offered by the standard Gymnasium are classical language, modern language, and mathematics and natural science. Students at the Gymnasium receive intensive specialized instructions to prepare them for academic work at a higher tertiary level.
  • Gesamtschule (comprehensive school): this school normally combines elements from the Hauptschule, the Realschule and the Gymnasium. Students usually spend six years at the Gesamtschule, from grades 6 to 10. Depending on his/her ability, a student can obtain a Realschule or a Hauptschule leaving certificate. For those who wish to sit the Abitur, school must be attended for another three grades.

 

ENROLMENT

You will find that German children typically attend the primary school in their area of residence. About six-months before the start of the new school year, school authorities hold school registration (Schulanmeldung) days for six-year-olds.

It is very important for all parents to avail themselves of the relevant information, as non-registration is punishable by a fine.

When registering your child, the relevant forms need to be taken to the local registry office, known as the Bürgeram. The department which has the sole responsibility for the allocation of preschool places and school places is called ‘AbteilungfürJugend und Finanzen’.

When you go to register, ensure that you walk with the following documents:

  • Birth certificate
  • Passport (for non-German children)
  • A certificate of the child’s good health from the State Health Office (StaatlichesGesundheitsamt)
  • Your residency permit

 

N.B:

  • German students at state schools attend school in the morning. Classes normally start between 7:30 and 8:15 a.m. and end between 12 noon and 1:30 p.m.
  • Class periods are normally 45 minutes long with a short break in between. There is no provision for serving lunch.
  • The school year (consisting of two semesters) starts around the middle of August. There are long breaks at Christmas and in the summer.
  • There is normally no school uniform or a strict dress code.

 

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