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Germany has a good education system, and state schools are free of charge.

Your older children will be able to attend good schools, most of which operate on a full-day basis. Many cities also have international private schools.

In Germany, school is compulsory for children aged six and over. Depending on the federal state you live in, they will be required to attend for nine or ten school years. Pupils who then choose not to stay on at school to take exams like the mittlere Reife (intermediate school-leaving certificate) or Abitur (higher education entrance qualification) will have to attend a vocational school. How long a pupil attends a vocational school will depend on the duration of their vocational training programme. As a rule, this will be three years.

State schools are free of charge. The rules about who pays the costs of school books differ from state to state. Often they are based on the income of the pupil’s parents. Some of Germany’s states provide school books free of charge, some use a fee-based lending system, and others require parents to share the costs.

The way schools are structured is determined by the individual federal state. This is why schools have different names in different states, or may offer different final qualifications.

Generally speaking, however, children attend one of the various secondary schools once they have completed primary school, which in most states lasts for four years. There are three main types of secondary school:

  • Hauptschule (lower secondary school)
  • Realschule (intermediate secondary school)
  • Gymnasium (grammar school)

Then there are some mixed types such as the Realschule plus or the Regelschule at which pupils can take either a lower secondary or an intermediate school-leaving certificate.

There are also Gesamtschulen (comprehensive schools) where pupils can normally acquire any of the different qualifications, including the Abitur (higher education entrance qualification). At comprehensive schools, pupils are taught together but streamed according to ability. This makes it easy for them to switch between the different school types.

At a Hauptschule, pupils attend classes from year five to year nine or ten. Year ten is voluntary in some of Germany’s states. Pupils leave the Hauptschule with the Hauptschulabschluss (lower secondary school-leaving certificate).

Pupils at a Realschule and other secondary schools take exams called the mittlere Reife (intermediate school-leaving certificate) at the end of year 10. If they do well in these exams, they can then attend the gymnasiale Oberstufe (the upper level of Gymnasium) to take their Abitur or can do a vocational training course.

Your children will be able to take the Abitur at a grammar school (Gymnasium) and at many comprehensive schools (Gesamtschule). The Abitur is the higher education entrance qualification. Abitur exams are taken in either year 12 or 13, depending on the type of school and the federal state.

Full-day schools are now very common in Germany. At primary schools in particular, but also in most comprehensive schools, pupils are looked after all day. For pupils up to year 10, after-class supervision may be compulsory, partly compulsory or voluntary.

Good to know:

  • Two out of every three schools in Germany are full-day schools.
  • It is easier for pupils at comprehensive schools (Gesamtschule) to switch between the different curricula.
  • International schools can be found in many cities. Information can be obtained from the Association of German International Schools:

More information

Information for international researchers: > Childcare and schools 

Information about the education system in Germany: