Education system in Germany

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This account of German schooling is based upon the southern Baden-Württemberg area and it must be stressed that there are regional differences in education, e.g. pre-school, nursery and Kindergarten provision, number of ‘alternative’ schools, school types and timetables.

Pre-Kindergarten nurseries, playgroups and crèches are generally not state-funded, but privately run and sometimes set up by groups of parents in a particular area if not enough other places are available – these are so-called ‘Elterniniativen’.

Kindergarten begins from the age of 3-4 years onwards and the majority are state-funded. In Kindergarten, the children learn to socialise through means of play and do many creative activities. Writing is generally not taught or encouraged much before the age of 6, but the alphabet and numbers are learned through play, songs and various other activities. There are afternoon sessions at Kindergarten, too, but many parents choose not to use this facility.


(Ages 7-11 approx.)

The state-funded ‘Grundschulen’ are the German equivalent of British primary schools. However, German children do not start the ‘Grundschule’ until they are close to 7 years of age – this late start (by British standards) is considered by many Germans to be a much kinder and more useful age for children to start formal education because it allows them more time to develop vital skills, i.e. motor and co-ordination – skills so necessary for writing, for example.

School hours vary from between 7.30 am to 1 pm or variations thereof. This effectively places the responsibility for after-school care from lunchtime onwards on to the parents, as, in the majority of state-funded schools, lunches are not offered, although the children take a mid-morning ‘snack’ (‘Pausenbrot’) consisting of perhaps a sandwich and fruit, eaten at school between 9.30-10 am (due to the early start).

The main subjects covered at the ‘Grundschule’ initially are German, Maths and Sport with ‘Erdkunde’ (geography with a little science) being introduced in the 2nd class/year (Klasse 2). It has to be said that the teaching of German is very, very thorough indeed and includes intensive tuition in handwriting, learning of vocabulary, grammar and, later on, dictation. Additionally, great importance is placed on the learning of handwriting. By the time the children reach Klasse 3, music and French are introduced, but this can vary from school to school and there are now plans to introduce English into the ‘Grundschule’ curriculum.

Assessment is carried out by means of frequent tests (‘Arbeiten’) and dictation tasks (‘Diktate’) but there are no SATS and no Key Stages like those prevalent in British primary education.

The children leave the ‘Grundschule’ after Klasse 4 to start out on the next phase of their education.


(Age: 11 upwards)

After the Grundschule has been completed the children are ‘streamed’ into different levels of schooling dependent upon results and ability. It is important to note here that it is possible for the children to be moved between levels of schooling should the situation call for it.

As in the Grundschule, school times are generally between 7am and 1pm although occasionally afternoon lessons or session are offered. The post-Grundschule schools can be roughly classified as follows


These schools cater for the slower learner and those with special needs and, invariably, the schools have many foreign children whose knowledge of German is not up to the standard needed for the higher-level schools.


These schools are targeted at those children who wouldn’t manage the Realschule but who would not be suitable for the Förder- or Sonderschulen.

Assessment is continuously carried out by means of frequent ‘Arbeiten’ (tests, exams). Reports are given annually and the children work towards the ‘Hauptschulabschluss’ (Certificate).


These schools are targeted at the ‘middle’ level with a curriculum more extensive than that of the Hauptschule.

Subjects taught are varied but generally include 2 foreign languages plus the sciences, geography, history, arts, etc.

Assessment is carried out by means of frequent ‘Arbeiten’ (tests or exams). Reports are given annually, and pupils can take the ‘Mittlere Reife’ which is roughly equivalent to the English GCSE/O-Level exams.


Probably closest to the one-time British ‘Grammar School’, this is for the quickest and most academically-able pupils. The curriculum is extensive and very intensive and the standards are very high indeed. Again, school hours are generally only mornings, although extra classes are offered in the afternoons in some subjects.

Assessment is carried out by means of frequent ‘Arbeiten’ (tests, exams) and ‘Diktate’ (dictation tasks). Pupils have the option to leave after Klasse 10, although they are strongly encouraged to continue to Klasse 12 where they then take the ‘Abitur’ which is roughly equivalent to A-Levels.


These schools have been introduced all over Germany and they differ slightly in that they not only offer all-day school (including a warm lunch), but the children are streamed into courses, for example, A, B, C & D.

At the primary level of the ‘Gesamtschule’ the children don’t get reports as such, but verbal assessment of their progress and, instead of being ‘sorted’ into stricter levels of separate schools (at the age of 11) as with the previously mentioned three-tiered system, the children at the ‘Gesamtschule’ are reallocated into groups. This reallocation is arranged after Klasse 5 (at approx. 12 years of age) and the children are ‘streamed’ according to their achievements and ability. From Klasse 7 onwards, foreign languages are introduced.

The future of the ‘Gesamtschulen’ depends upon which political party wins the next German elections – the Conservatives want to keep the traditional three-tiered school system (i.e. Förder-/Sonder-, Haupt-, Realschulen and Gymnasien) whereas the socialists would encourage the opening of more Gesamtschulen as they feel that this system is not only much kinder to working families, but perhaps less elitist.

One major difference however between Britain and Germany is that home education is absolutely not allowed in Germany. However, there are numerous special schools for blind or deaf children as well as public schools (i.e. privately-funded), boarding schools (‘Internate’) and, of course, the well-known and respected Steiner Schools.

Useful links

The Germany entry in Eurybase
Eurybase provides detailed information on the education systems in each country within the EU. 10-July-05)