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This is how the German school system works

Are there school fees? Why is school compulsory? We explain the special features of the German school system.

In contrast to countries with purely compulsory education, parents in Germany are not allowed to teach their children at home. The general compulsory schooling applies here, which is justified by the state educational mandate. Children usually start school at the age of six and go to school for at least nine years .

How is the school system structured in Germany?

First of all, children attend elementary school for four years. In the fourth grade it is decided how they will continue their education. The system of secondary schools is divided into Hauptschulen, Realschulen, Gymnasien and Gesamtschulen.

The secondary school ends after the 9th grade with the secondary school certificate, the Realschule after the 10th grade with the secondary school certificate. Afterwards, the young people can start vocational training or continue school. The grammar school closes after the 12th or 13th grade with the Abitur, which entitles you to study at a university .

Are there school fees in Germany?

The public schools with their high level of education are free in Germany and financed by taxes. Around nine percent of pupils are taught in private schools that charge their parents for school fees.

Where is the responsibility for the schools?

In Germany, schools are not organized centrally, but rather a matter of the state . The education ministries of the 16 federal states are responsible. The range of subjects, curricula, qualifications and transitions between school types can be regulated differently in each federal state.

Which topics influence the education policy debate?


  • Digitization: Many schools in Germany still lack fast internet, the necessary technology and teachers who are interested in new teaching methods. The School Digital Pact aims to change that, with the federal and state governments aiming to better equip schools with digital technology.
  • Equal opportunities: All children should have the same opportunities in education. However, educational success in Germany is heavily dependent on social origin. The trend is positive, however, and equal opportunities have increased. This is shown by a special evaluation of the PISA study published in 2018, the OECD’s international school performance study . Critics also see the early, performance-oriented division of pupils after elementary school as a disadvantage for socially disadvantaged pupils, immigrant children and children with disabilities.
Christopher Patillo
Christopher Patillo
Christopher Patillo is an accomplished writer and editor with a passion for exploring the intersections of technology, society, and culture. With a Master's degree in Journalism Patillo has contributed to various publications. His writing focuses on emerging trends in artificial intelligence, digital privacy, and the ethical implications of technology in everyday life. He is also involved in community outreach programs aimed at promoting media literacy among youth.

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