Education in Germany

Although many expats choose to send their children to international schools (of which there are a large and reputable selection in Germany) some prefer to enter them into the German school system. If the latter choice is the one which appeals to you read our handy breakdown of German schooling.

In recent years studies have shown a slip in the standard of German education, although the German education system is still considered to be one of the best in Europe.

One of the main criticisms levied at German schooling is the heavy emphasis on academia. Commonly the curriculum is heavily biased towards academic subjects with more creative or active pursuits sidelined.

The level foreign students enter the system at is dependent on their grasp of the German language. Many larger schools offer additional German classes to help foreign students catch up.

Many schools only run from 8am to 1pm and offer little in the way of extracurricular activities but the holidays students receive are very similar to those offered in Britain.

Public School Structure

In Germany children usually enter school at the age of six. Prior to this age they can go to Kindertagesstatte, a type of pre-school.

The first level of compulsory schooling is Grundschule (primary school) which commonly lasts 4 years – though this can be extended to 6 years in some areas. Subjects taught at Grundschule include English, maths, science, history, geography and religion.

After Grundschule children are assessed on the basis of their academic performance.

Those who have failed to perform well move on to Hauptschule, which will take them from fifth to ninth year. Only basic skills are taught on this programme and students are prepared for apprenticeships or lower-level/semi-skilled work. On successful completion of Hauptschule students can opt to attend a further two years at a vocational school.

Those who perform slightly better during Grundschule spend their next educational years at Realschule where they will be taught until tenth year. This type of secondary schooling teaches less basic subjects and prepares students for mid-level positions. After graduating with a diploma called the Mittlere Reife the student usually goes on to a vocational school to learn further skills in business and industry.

The best performing Grundschule students go on to Gymnasium which will take them to twelfth or thirteenth year.

Students must be in secondary education until year thirteen if they hope to go on to higher education. They must also have learnt at least two foreign languages. In year thirteen students can take the Abitur – an exam which must be passed before the student can enter higher education.

Some regions of Germany have Gesamtschule (or comprehensive school) which combines these three types of secondary school and is open to all abilities.

Private and international schools

Private schools and international schools are structured differently to their public counterparts. There are roughly 3,000 private schools in Germany and the majority of these are boarding schools.

In international schools lessons are predominately taught in English and the curriculum is typically geared towards the International Baccalaureate and International General Certificate of Education.


Expats nearing university age should bear in mind the fact that gaining admittance to a German state university can be difficult as many come with restrictions. The acceptance of foreign qualifications is uncommon and transfers between institutions are a rarity. Foreign students may find applying to one of the many international universities an easier option.

For an informative overview of higher education options in Germany go to: