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Basic Education System in Germany


Between the age of three and enrollment in primary school, children attend kindergartens. They spend all day or part of the day at the kindergarten. Attendance is voluntary. Kindergartens are to provide care for children, educate them and foster their development into responsible individuals with good communication skills. In some Länder there are also other institutions such as pre-school classes or school kindergartens which prepare children for transition to primary school. 

Primary schools/ Grundschulen 

Primary schools cover the first four years of schooling, in Berlin and Brandenburg they cover six years. They are attended by all children and provide basic education, preparing children for secondary schooling. The subjects taught include German, mathematics, art and craft, music, physical education and the basics of biology, physics, chemistry, social studies, history and geography. More foreign language instruction is offered in all Länder. 

Orientation stage/ Orientierungsstufe 

This covers classes 5 and 6 which either form part of the various secondary schools or are separated from them. The aim is to promote pupils and to enable parents to decide what type of secondary education they wish to choose for their child. 

Secondary general schools/ Hauptschulen 

Attendance at secondary general school is compulsory for all pupils who, having finished primary school, decide not to attend any of the other types of secondary school. Secondary general school covers classes 5 to 9 and in some Länder includes class 10. In most Länder, voluntary participation in class 10 at secondary general school is possible. Approx. 30% of secondary general school pupils stay on for a tenth year. Secondary general schools provide general education as a basis for practical vocational training. 

Intermediate schools/ Realschulen 

Intermediate schools are secondary schools covering classes 5 to 10 or 7 to 10. The final certificate awarded by these schools in general provides the basis for training in all types of mediumlevel occupations. It qualifies holders for attendance at Fachoberschulen(see below), specialized grammar schools or grammar schools with classes 11 to 13 only (Gymnasien in Aufbauform) Intermediate schools provide extended general education. 

Grammar schools/ Gymnasien 

Grammar schools are secondary schools which, as a rule, cover 9 or 8 years (classes 5 to 13 or 12) or 7 years (classes 7 to 13). Schools in Saxony and Thuringia consist of only 12 classes. Nearly all Länder meanwhile offer or plan to offer the possibility of acquiring the final certificate (Abitur) after 12 years of schooling. There are also grammar schools with classes 11 to 13 only, which as a rule are open to pupils with a final certificate from intermediate school. The final certificate awarded by grammar schools (Abitur) qualifies its holder for studies at all institutions of higher education. 

Comprehensive schools/ Gesamtschulen 

Comprehensive schools combine the different types of secondary school in various organizational and curricular forms. There are integrated comprehensive schools (joint classes for all pupils) as well as additive and cooperative comprehensive schools (the various types of school of secondary level stage I exist side by side on the same premises).  

Special schools/ Sonderschulen 

Special schools apply special teaching concepts which meet the special needs of children and adolescents with handicaps. There are different schools for the different kinds of handicap. Special schools provide not only teaching at the primary and secondary levels, both stage I and stage II, (sometimes organized as boarding schools), but also practical advice for everyday life and support for social integration. Corresponding institutions are also available at the level of intermediate schools, grammar schools and vocational schools. 

Specialized grammar schools/ Fachgymnasien 

Specialized grammar schools are oriented towards occupations. They accept pupils who have earned an intermediate school certificate or equivalent. The final certificate awarded after three years (classes 11 to 13) qualifies its holder for studies at all institutions of higher education (Abitur). 

Evening classes and full-time adult education colleges/ Abendschulen und Kollegs 

These are institutions offering second-chance programmes for adults enabling them to acquire the secondary general school certificate, the intermediate school certificate or the Abitur higher education entrance qualification. There are evening classes at secondary general school level, at intermediate school level and at grammar school level. Participants are working during the first few years. The full-time adult education college (Kolleg) gives an opportunity to acquire the Abitur certificate; it offers full-time schooling; participants are not working. 

Basic vocational training year/ Berufsgrundbildungsjahr 

Full-time or part-time classes provide basic general knowledge or basic vocational knowledge relating to a certain occupational field. 

Dual vocational training/ Duale Berufsausbildung 

The system is called dual because education and training are provided at two places of learning: In companies and in parttime vocational schools. This is the main type of vocational training in Germany; more than 60% of an age-group are involved in dual vocational training. Training in individual occupations is governed by training directives (taking the form of Federal Government ordinances). At present there are about 350 recognized occupations for which the Federal Government has issued training directives. 


An intermediate school certificate or a recognized equivalent is required for entry to this type of school. Full-time attendance is for at least one year and part-time attendance for up to three years. The certificate awarded on successful completion qualifies its holder for studies at Fachhochschulen.  

Full-time vocational schools/ Berufsfachschulen 

Full-time vocational schools offer courses of at least one year’s duration. In general, attendance is voluntary. These schools can be entered after completion of compulsory full-time schooling. They prepare for an occupation or provide full vocational training for those who have previously not participated in practical vocational training. Participants who have passed their final examination are awarded a certificate; the certificate awarded to those who have completed a two-year course is equivalent to the intermediate school certificate and qualifies its holder for entrance to trade and technical school. Those who complete full-time vocational school can acquire the qualifications for a recognized occupation.  

Vocational extension schools/ Berufsaufbauschulen 

Vocational extension schools are attended by young people who are undergoing vocational training or who are employed. They can be attended after completion of compulsory part-time vocational schooling or in addition to such schooling after at least 6 months’ attendance at part-time vocational school. Most vocational extension schools specialize in certain subjects. The duration of full-time courses is 12 to18 months and that of part-time courses 3 to 3 1/2 years. On successful completion, participants are awarded certificates which are equivalent to intermediate school certificates and qualify them for entrance to trade and technical school.  

Trade and technical schools/  Fachschulen 

Trade and technical schools are attended voluntarily after vocational training has been completed and practical work experience gained, in some cases even after many years of practical work, or on proof of special ability. These schools provide advanced vocational training (leading for example to masters’ or technicians’ qualifications). Full-time attendance is for between 6 months and 3 years and part-time attendance normally for 6 to 8 half-year periods.  

Schools for nurses, midwives, etc./ Schulen des Gesundheitswesens 

These schools provide training for non-academic health-care occupations, for example for nurses and children’s nurses, midwives (male and female), masseurs, occupational therapists and physiotherapists. Many of these schools are integrated with hospitals on whose premises they are located and where theoretical instruction and practical training take place. 

Universities (including technical universities)/ Universitäten (Technische Universitäten) 

Universities are the traditional type of higher education institution in Germany. They provide courses for a broad range of study subjects. Universities combine teaching and research and have the right to award doctor’s degrees.  

Colleges of art and music, colleges of theology and colleges of education/ Kunst-, Musik-, Theologische und Pädagogische Hochschulen  

Colleges of art and music (Kunst- und Musikhochschulen) offer study courses in the fine arts. Colleges of theology (Theologische Hochschulen) provide training for theologians. Colleges of education (Pädagogische Hochschulen) (which have survived only in Baden-Württemberg, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein and Thuringia) provide training for teachers at the primary, secondary general and intermediate school levels and sometimes also for special school teachers. In the other Länder, teachers are trained at universities, technical universities, comprehensive universities and colleges of art and music. 

Fachhochschulen and colleges of public administration/ Verwaltungsfachhochschulen 

Comprehensive universities/ Gesamthochschulen 

Comprehensive universities (existing only in Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia) combine research and teaching functions of the universities, the colleges of education, the Fachhochschulen and to some extent also of the colleges of art and music. What is typical of them is the integrated study courses they offer. Their official name is university-comprehensive university. 

Continuing education 

Fachhochschulen and colleges of public administration are to provide highly practice-related training for occupations which require the application of scientific knowledge and methods or creative ability in the artistic field. They offer study courses above all for engineers and in the fields of economics, social studies, agriculture and design. The colleges of public administration (Fachhochschulen für Öffentlich  Verwaltung) run by the Federal Government and the Länder governments provide training for those wishing to carve out an executive career in the civil service.  

Continuing education means continuing or resuming any form of learning (including informal learning) after completion of an educational phase, which may vary in duration, during childhood and adolescence. Continuing education includes two main areas, namely general and vocational continuing education. Most political and cultural courses are considered to be part of general continuing education. Higher education institutions and voluntary providers offer courses for further scientific training and distant education courses for both these areas. Continuing education is characterized by voluntary participation, a great variety of courses, a plurality of providers and the sub-sidiary role of government. 

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