education system in Germany

Education system in Germany in 2024 ?

Navigating the German Education System for Expat Families

Relocating to Germany with school-aged children can be an exciting journey, but it is essential to understand the German education system to ensure a smooth transition. 

My name is Christin and I have been a high school teacher for more than 10 years and I am also a co-founder of FamiLingua, an online English school for English-speaking children. Our aim at FamiLingua is to help international families make the best decisions for their children’s education in Germany. So let me use my knowledge about the German school system to give you an overview of the different types of schools, the educational structure, and the enrolment process. 

Principles of the German School System

The German education system is organised on a federal level. The following information is generally applicable for the whole of Germany, but there can be some variations depending on the federal state.

Compulsory schooling from age 6-18

The German education system consists of four main stages:

  • Grundschule (Primary School): Ages 6-10/12
  • Sekundarstufe I (Lower Secondary Level): Ages 10/12-15/16
  • Sekundarstufe II (Upper Secondary Level): Ages 15/16-18/19
  • Higher Education: Universities, Fachhochschulen (Universities of Applied Sciences), and vocational institutions

After completing Grundschule, students transition to one of three types of lower secondary level, based on their academic performance, teachers’ recommendations, and parents’ preferences:

  • Hauptschule: A more practice-oriented school, focusing on vocational preparation (for instance in crafts)
  • Realschule: A school that combines preparation for vocational training (for instance in trade) and academic education, offering a broader range of subjects 
  • Gymnasium: An academically oriented school preparing students for higher education (school leaving certificate: Abitur)

There are also different kinds of comprehensive schools, depending on the federal state. For instance in Berlin, there are no Haupt- and Realschulen anymore because they have been replaced by the Integrierte Sekundarschule (ISS). Haupt- and Realschule end with school leaving certificates that are needed to start vocational training. Higher educational qualifications can also be completed via the so-called second educational pathway, i.e. there are, for example, evening schools where Abitur can be obtained. 

Full-time compulsory schooling ends after 9 or 10 years of school attendance, depending on the federal state. However, a vocational or upper secondary level must usually be attended afterward until completion of an apprenticeship or the 12th year of schooling (Berufsschulpflicht).

Schooling options in Germany

  • Public Schools: State-funded schools providing education in German. Some public schools offer bilingual programs or language immersion classes.
  • Private Schools: Fee-based schools that may offer alternative pedagogical approaches, smaller class sizes, or specific religious affiliations. Some private schools also provide bilingual or international curricula.
  • International Schools: These schools cater to a diverse student body and usually follow an international curriculum, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB). Teaching is typically in English, or another foreign language.

The Enrolment Process 

To enrol your child in a German school, you’ll need to provide documentation such as birth certificates, proof of residence, and vaccination records. It’s essential to research schools and their admission requirements well in advance, as some schools have waiting lists, certain entry requirements or specific enrolment periods.

I recommend starting school research at least one and a half years beforehand. If your child is of primary school age and is to attend a public primary school, the place of residence is usually decisive for the school assigned. Options only exist on certain conditions.

Bilingual Education Opportunities 

Depending on your family’s language preferences, you can explore bilingual education options in public, private, or international schools. Bilingual programs usually involve teaching subjects in both German and a foreign language, allowing students to develop proficiency in both languages.

After-School Activities and Support 

Many schools in Germany offer after-school activities or all-day-learning (Ganztagsschule), providing additional learning opportunities and support in various subjects. These activities can be particularly helpful for expat children who may need extra language support or assistance with adjusting to the new educational environment.


Understanding the German school system is crucial for expat families relocating with school-aged children. Researching the different types of schools, educational structure, and enrolment process is the foundation to make well-informed decisions for your children’s education in Germany. Embrace the opportunities that bilingual education and the German school system offer, and your children will have a good school life in their new home country.

And if you need more information or help with schooling, don’t hesitate to ask for support: