Once your children are six years old, they are required to go to school, since school attendance is compulsory in Germany. Most German schools are run by the state and there is no charge for your children to attend. In addition, there are private and international schools which charge fees.
The individual states are responsible for education policy. This means that the school system will to some extent depend on the region where you and your family are living. Children do not always have the same curriculum in every state, and textbooks may differ as well. Individual states also have different types of schools. Generally, the German school system is structured as follows:
Grundschule (primary school): Normally, six-year-olds begin their school careers at primary school, which covers the first four grades. Only in Berlin and Brandenburg does primary school continue up to sixth grade. At the end of primary school, you and your child's teachers will decide which secondary school your child will attend, considering your child's academic performance.
Weiterführende Schulen (secondary schools) – the most common types are:
- Hauptschule (secondary general school for grades 5 through 9 or 10)
- Realschule (more practical secondary school for grades 5 through 10)
- Gymnasium (more academic secondary school for grades 5 through 12 or 13)
- Gesamtschule (comprehensive school for grades 5 through 12 or 13)
Hauptschule and Realschule: Young people who have successfully completed the Hauptschule or Realschule are eligible for vocational training, or can transfer to the Sekundarstufe II/Oberstufe (≈ sixth form) at a Gymnasium or Gesamtschule.
Gesamtschule: Combines the Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium and offers an alternative to the tripartite school system.
Gymnasium: At the end of the 12th or 13th grade, students take examinations known as the Abitur and if successful graduate from secondary school with a certificate of advanced secondary education, entitling them to study at a university or at a university of applied sciences. However, they may also choose to undergo vocational training and enter the job market directly.