One of the most problematic issues facing international families when relocating to Germany is where to educate our children. Whether to follow the German system or whether to opt for one of the numerous international schools is hotly debated amongst Expats. Whatever your choice, the following sections aim to give an insight into the options available to parents here in Germany.
There are different types of International schools: schools that teach in their native language and follow their country´s curriculum with or without German as a second language, schools that follow an IB curriculum and schools that teach in their native language and follow the German curriculum. Most international schools have lengthy waiting lists and it is advisable to contact schools as soon as possible to find out how their admissions policy works. Some international schools are state funded and offer places for both local children and native speakers other schools are fee paying. Fees vary dependent on the school and it is advisable to check with the schools directly for their policy on fees.
German School System
The German school system is internationally well regarded and most pupils attend a local state funded school. Each of the German 16 states have autonomy over their own educational system which do differ to varying degrees but all of which operate under the same national umbrella. There is not the emphasis on private education that you get in some countries. The school day is much shorter than in other countries starting at 8am and generally finishing at 1pm. Children whose native language is not German are deemed to have the same rights as native Germans. They are taught together with German-speaking children. In addition they also receive three to five hours of instruction per week in their native language taught by instructors from their native country. The courses cover native language skills, the history, geography and religion of that country. Foreigners whose children are raised in Germany and face concerns about their children losing their cultural roots do in some states have the right to tuition funding for classes in their parents mother tongue.
Germany’s early childhood education system is well developed: 96% of 4 year olds and 89% of 3 year olds are enrolled in early childhood education programmes with a lower than average ratio of pupils to teaching staff at 12.6 (OECD average: 14.4). When teachers’ aides are factored in, the ratio becomes even more favourable (Germany:9.9; OECD average: 12.3). Nursery School/Kindergartens are provided for children from the age of 3-6 but attendence is not compulsory. Some kindergartens are private, some religious and some state run. Attending a Kindergarten is not free of charge, but in some cases it can be partly or wholly funded depending on the local authority and parental income.
Primary School/GrundSchule (6-10)
At the age of 6 German children move into "Grundschule". Attendance is compulsory and takes four years, the pupils are between six and ten years old. At Grundschule pupils will learn to read, write, study basic maths and general knowledge. In some schools children will start to learn a foreign language (usually English). Most children will attend their local, state run school which is free of charge. In the final year of Grundschule children are assessed by academic acheivement and teacher evaluation, which leads to different secondary schools dependent on ability.
Secondary Schools (10+)
There are four different types of secondary schools in Germany.
The Gymnasium has a strong emphasis on academic learning and is designed to prepare children for the Abitur and ultimately for a university place. Schools concentrate not only on academic subjects, but on producing well-rounded individuals, so physical education and religion or ethics are compulsory, even in non-denominational schools.
The Hauptschule prepares pupils for vocational education and finishes with the final examination Hauptschulabschlus. It is a six-year alternative to the nine-year gymnasium and has a more practical curriculum but pupils will learn at least one foreign language, usually English. After graduating from a Realschule, more academic students will go on to attend a Gymnasium others will go on to attend a Berufskolleg or do an apprenticeship.
The Gesamtschule combines the curriculum of the Realschule and the Gymnasium and originated in the late 1960s to provide a broader range of educational opportunities for students than the traditional Gymnasium. Dependant on the child finishing in grade 9 or in grade 10, he/she receives the Hauptschule or the Realschule certificate
Förderschulen/Sonderschulen cater for students who have special educational needs due to severe learning difficulties, physical disabilities or behavioural problems. It is estimated that one in 21 pupils of school age in Germany attend a Förderschulen/Sonderschulen. These schools provide individualised education, addressing specific needs. Student:teacher ratios are kept low, often 6:1 or lower depending upon the needs of the children. Special schools will also have other facilities for the development of children with special needs, such as soft play areas, sensory rooms, or swimming pools.