In Germany, the Länders (States) and the Federation share the responsibility for education. The Federation has a minor role while the Länders (States) have a high degree of autonomy in education policy. Therefore, the system is different from one Länd (State) to another: different school calendar, types of schools, curriculum, textbooks, number of lessons per subjects, courses and extracurricular activities.

Children start the compulsory education at the age of 6 and attend classes until they complete a 9 or 10-year full-time schooling. 

  • Elementary School covers the first years of study, from grades 1 to 4 (grades 1 to 6 in Berlin and Brandenburg);
  • The Lower Secondary Level it is addressed to students aged 10 to 15/16 in grades 5/7 to 9/10;
  • The Upper Secondary Level it is addressed to students aged 15/16 to 18, who completed the Lower Secondary Level and want to continue their studies at university or want a vocational qualification.

The grading system is from 1 to 6, where 1 = very good, 2 = good, 3 = satisfactory, 4 = adequate, 5 = poor and 6 = very poor.

German education system

During the first years of compulsory education, from grades 1 to 4 (grades 1 to 6 in Berlin and Brandenburg), children study the same general subjects, in mixed-ability classes. 

The curriculum varies by Länd (State), but lessons include: Literacy, Mathematics, Science, a Modern Language, Religion and Computer Skills.

Based on their academic ability, teachers’ recommendations and parents preferences, after Elementary School children continue their studies in one of 3 different types of schools: Hauptschule, Realschule or Gymnasium.

Students enrolled in Hauptschule (grades 5 to 9 or 5 to 10), are studying the same subjects as students enrolled in Realschule or Gymnasium, but at a slower pace. Some vocational courses are also included in their programme.

At the age of 15 or 16, after the grade 9 or 10 and upon completion of final examination, students receive their leaving certificate (Hauptschulabschluss). The transition to Realschule is possible.

Until the age of 18, they may combine part-time studies in vocational school with apprenticeship training.

Students enrolled in Realschule (grades 5 to 10) receive a more extensive education, leading to a vocational qualification.

Upon completion of final examination, students receive their leaving certificate (Realschulabschluss).

Until the age of 18, students may continue their studies in a vocational school or enter apprenticeship training.

Students with high academic achievements may do the transition to Gymnasium.

Students enrolled in Gymnasium (grades 5/7 to 12/13), are prepared for university study.

Curriculum varies from one school to another, but generally it includes: German, Mathematics, Physics, Geography, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Arts, Music, History, Philosophy, Civic Education, and a number of languages.

Students can choose between different directions of study: Humanities and Social Sciences, Mathematics and Science, Foreign Languages and Music. Each school offers one or two of these programs, students can choose a minimum of 2 subjects studied as advanced and 7 ÷ 10 as standard.

Upon completion of final examinations (4 or 5 subjects), students receive their leaving certificate (Abitur).