The German School System

German public education makes it possible for qualified kids to study up to university level, regardless of their families‘ financial status. The German education system is different in many ways from the ones in other countries. The overwhelming majority of German students attend public schools. Although education is a function of the federal states, and there are differences from state to state, some generalizations are possible.

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. Then, after 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, Gymnasium and Gesamtschule/Stadtteilschule. Teachers recommend their students to a particular school based on such things as academic achievement, self-confidence and ability to work independently. However, in most states, parents have the final say as to which school their child attends following the fourth grade.

The Hauptschule (grades 5-9) teaches the same subjects as the Realschule and Gymnasium, but at a slower pace and with some vocational-oriented courses. It leads to part-time enrollment in a vocational school combined with apprenticeship training until the age of 18. The Realschule (grades 5-10 in most states) leads to part-time vocational schools and higher vocational schools. It is possible for students with high academic achievement at the Realschule to switch to a Gymnasium on graduation.

The Gymnasium leads to a diploma called the Abitur and prepares students for university study or for a dual academic and vocational credential. Curricula differ from school to school, but generally include German, mathematics, computer science, physics, chemistry, biology, geography, art (as well as crafts and design), music, history, philosophy, civics, social studies, and several foreign languages. In recent years many States have changed the curriculum so students can get the „Abi“ at the end of the 12th grade. Other States may still require a 13th grade.

The Gesamtschule (comprehensive school) combines elements from the Hauptschule/Realschule and the Gymnasium. This type of school was introduced later than the others. Students usually spend six years at the Gesamtschule and obtain a leaving certificate after 10th grade. Students wishing to sit the Abitur attend the school for another three years. There are also other schools which combine two or three school types in various ways; the way in which this is done varies between the federal states, as do the names used, e.g. Stadtteilschule.

Unlike some other European countries such as for example England Germany is not a country where boarding school are very common, therefore only a limited number of such schools are available. Private boarding schools also offer a good standard of education and are a good alternative for students not wishing to stay in host families or students that want to experience life at a boarding school while learning German. Prices for boarding schools are quite high and differ significantly from school to school.

German secondary schools have a class schedule with different classes offered each day. Some subjects are taught three days per week, with others taught only twice a week. On Monday a typical schedule might offer six 45-minute classes (and sometimes double 90-minute classes) in (1) math, (2) history, (3) art, (4) English, (5) geography and (6) sports, while on Tuesday a student might have five classes: (1) German, (2) religion, (3) calculus, (4) French and (5) English. There are also break periods, usually a short and a long break, during the school day. Although there is some physical education, German schools are more academic in nature. Competitive sporting events between schools are rare. Athletics is usually done outside of school by belonging to a sports club.

Regardless of the school, students generally have to take a range of compulsory subjects, including mathematics, German, English, history/geography, physics/chemistry/biology, religion/philosophy, sports, music/art and a second foreign language (e.g. Latin, French or Spanish). Elective subjects will vary depending on the school; not every school will offer all subjects. Students will participate in around 10 to 12 subjects whilst they are attending school. It might not be possible for a student to do every subject they want to, it will require some flexibility.

German schools do not have school uniforms. Students will generally be placed in the school nearest the home of the host family.

School Transport

There are various ways in which students travel to and from school. Sometimes they walk or cycle, sometimes a host parent drives them or mostly they use public or school bus transport. It is very difficult to predict the cost of the school transport. If the student needs to use public transportation to get to school, the prices vary between 30 and 60 Euro/month (these tickets are valid every day and can be used for other trips as well).

Sports & Activities

Schools in the Germany offer all kinds of extra-curricular activities, however students tend to participate in sports and other activities in local clubs and associations. This is very normal and most German students belong to sports clubs or attend music or dancing schools during their free time. Our host families and Local Coordinators are happy to help the international students to find activities of interest while on the programme. We encourage the students to have at least one regular after school activity per week, as it is a great way to meet friends and learn about local culture.