How the German school system works

Education

Are there tuition fees? Why is education compulsory? We explain the particularities of the German school system to you.

Martina Schüttler-Hansper / 19.11.2018
The surprise bag containing gifts is a custom on the first day of primary school.
iStockphoto
Unlike countries where education is only compulsory, German parents are not allowed to educate their children at home. In Germany, education is compulsory because of the educational mission of the state. In general, children start school at age 6 and must attend for at least nine years.

The organization of the German school system
Children first attend primary school for four years. In the fourth year, it is decided how education will continue. Secondary education is structured into “Hauptschule”, middle school, high school and “Gesamtschule”.

The “Hauptschule” ends after the 9th class with a diploma of general studies and the college after the 10th class with the college certificate. Young people can then follow vocational training or continue their studies in high school. High school is completed after the 12th or 13th class by passing the baccalaureate which gives access to higher education.

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Are there tuition fees in Germany?
Public schools, with their high-level education, are free in Germany and are financed by taxes. About 9% of students attend a private school charging tuition fees.

Who is responsible for the schools?
In Germany, the organization of education is not centralized but falls within the competence of the Länder. The Ministers of Culture of the 16 Länder are therefore responsible for the schools. The subjects taught, the programmes, the diplomas and the transition from one form of school to another are therefore organized differently according to the Länder.

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What topics are present in the debate on educational policy?

Digitization: many schools in Germany still lack fast internet, the necessary technical equipment and teachers willing to practice different methods. The Digital Pact with the school, with which the Federation and the Länder want to improve the digital equipment of schools, must contribute to this.
Equal opportunities: All children should have the same opportunities in education. However, in Germany, academic success strongly depends on their social origin. But the trend is positive, equality of opportunity has increased, as shown by the assessment of the PISA study, the OECD’s international study of school performance, published in 2018.
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