German School System

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Deutschlands Schulsystem

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  • There are five types of schools in Germany – Grundschule (Elementary School), Hauptschule, Realschule, Gesamtschule und Gymnasium

School System in Germany

Schooling is compulsory in Germany. Children older than six years must go to school. The vast majority of schools in Germany are run by the state. These schools are free. There are also private and international schools. But these schools are not free.

Depending on the federal state, you will therefore find somewhat different school systems. Children in individual federal states do not always learn the same things. Some of them also use different books. In addition, there are different types of schools in the individual federal states.

Every school has a parent representative. These parents work together with the school.

A rough classification of schools applies throughout Germany:

Primary School (Grundschule)

After kindergarten around the age of six children is to be enrolled in an elementary school or in German “Grundschule”. It usually lasts from the first up until the fourth or sixth grade, depending on the county (Bundesland). Even though the school system has a lot of differences throughout the various counties the base of education stays the same. School subjects usually revolve around German, English, Maths, P.E., Arts, and “Sachkunde”. This subject is a combination of different sciences like biology, chemistry, and physics but of course, adapted to the elementary school level.

During the 1st grade, the children do not get grades but rather a specific and individual statistic which shows the child’s progression and his or her skills or respectful lack of. From the start of the 2nd grade up until the end of their school education, pupils’ progress is shown through grades from 1 to 6, 1 being the best and 6 being the worst-case scenario.

After those 4 to 6 years in primary school, it’s time for pupils to actively chose the type of school they wish to go to next.

These schools are collectively called “weiterführende Schulen” and there are four main options one can choose from. These options consist of “Hauptschule”, “Realschule”, “Gesamtschule” and “Gymnasium”.


Hauptschule consists of the words “Haupt” meaning main and “Schule” meaning school, so basically, pupils of these schools learn the main basics of a selected number of school subjects from the fifth up until the 9th grade. After finishing school pupils get a report card that allows them to enroll in a “Realschule” or “Gesamtschule”. These schools cannot be found in every county and there is a big possibility that they will soon be excluded everywhere.


As previously mentioned, another option is Realschule which is to be attended a year longer than Hauptschule. The education is based on a bit higher level so the difficulty and expectations rise but after successfully finishing 10th grade pupils can enroll in Gesamtschule, Berufskolleg, or even a Gymnasium. To get the full diploma, the pupils must do a 2-week internship and take final exams in three main subjects.


Gesamtschule is a perfect loophole for all pupils who are not quite sure what type of school they wish to attend as it has the possibility of deciding while going to school. It is a mixture of Realschule and Gymnasium and allows students to take classes on either Realschule or Gymnasium level. The longest it can last is from 5th to 13th grade. After 13th grade, the pupils get their “Abitur” which is the highest Highschool diploma one can have in Germany. But if the individuals decides so, they can leave the school after either 10th, 11th, or 12th grade. After 10th and 11th grade they lie every with a “Realschule diploma” and after 12th with the same diploma as from a “Berufskolleg”.


Lastly, the highest level of education is given at a Gymnasium. It lasts from the 5th up until the 12th or as newly decided 13th grade. During the first 5 years, pupils get to study all the subjects their perspective school has to offer.

The 9th grade is the only time they have all those subjects during one grade, and this is important as from the 10th grade (Einführungsphase) they have the freedom to choose the subjects they wish to have. “Einführungsphase” means the introduction phase as it is seen as a basis for the “Qualifikationsphase”. It is almost like a “free trial” if you will, as those grades must impact the high school diploma (german: Abitur).

The Qualifikationsphase however are the last two grades during which the pupils learn all the material important for their Abitur and must be aware that their grades now have a pact on their average for their Abitur. During this time, they also must choose 2 main courses to take (5 times a week each) and two additional ones that will be a part of their Hugh school diploma.

When achieved after the 12th grade, this high school diploma (german: Abitur) is the highest diploma one can have in Germany and it allows the individual to enroll into any university or college they wish, naturally after taking the GPA into consideration.

Grading System in German Schools

In the German school system, grades range from 1 to 6. A grade of 1 is considered excellent, while grades 5 and 6 indicate failure. Universities utilize a grading system that ranges from 1 to 5.

Grades in German schools are from 1 to 6. Grade 1 is the best, and grade 6 is the worst.

1Very good. It is an outstanding piece of work (german: Sehr gut)Pass
2Good and all expectations have been met in full (german: Gut)Pass
3Satisfactory, an average work (german: Befriedgend)Pass
4Sufficient. An average work with some minor deficiencies (german: Ausreichend)Pass
5Deficient. Minimum expectations have not been met, but a basic grasp of the main concepts are shown (german: Mangelhaft)Fail
6Inadequate. Failed to demonstrate coherent knowledge of even the basic main points (german: Ungenügend)Fail

Wikipedia School system in Germany.

Must-Read Info

Detailed information about Gymnasium you can find in the article Gymnasiums in Germany.

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