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Germany - School System

Education in Germany is run on a state-wide rather than national system, so the curriculum varies from state to state.

General, compulsory schooling begins for all children in the Federal Republic of Germany at the age of six and usually involves nine years of full-time schooling (ten years in Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen and Nordrhein-Westfalen).

The young people who do not attend a full-time, general education school or vocational school at upper secondary level once they have completed their period of compulsory general schooling must still attend part-time schooling (compulsory Berufsschule attendance Berufsschulpflicht).
This usually lasts three years, according to the duration of training in a recognised occupation requiring formal training (anerkannter Ausbildungsberuf).

For pupils who do not attend a general education school at upper secondary level orenter training, some Länder have regulations under which pupils are required to remain in full-time education and attend some sort of vocational school. In addition, most Länder offer the option of attending a voluntary tenth year of education to obtain additional qualifications.

Disabled children and young people are also required to attend school and complete their compulsory education. On the basis of their special educational needs (Sonderpädagogischer Förderbedarf), they are either taught in general schools together with non-handicapped pupils, or in special schools(Sonderschulen).

Compulsory schooling involves regular attendance of lessons and other compulsory school events. Both pupils and parents are responsible for seeing that this obligation is met and training companies are also responsible for ensuring that their trainees fulfil their obligation to attend vocational school.
The school head checks on attendance records and can, if necessary, enforce attendance through various measures against the pupil, parents or the training company.

Education system structure and courses of education

The education system in the Federal Republic of Germany is divided into:

Pre-school education

Pre-school education is provided by institutions (mainly Kindergärten) catering for children from 3 and 6, the age at which they usually start school. Children of school age who have not yet attained a sufficient level of development to attend a school have a further option (Schulkindergärten, Vorklassen). These institutions are either assigned to the pre-school or the primary sector according to the particular Land or state. Attendance is usually voluntary, although in most Länder or states the authorities are entitled to make it compulsory for children of school age who are slow to develop. 

Primary education

Once children reach the age of six, they are obliged to attend primary school. All pupils in Germany enter the Grundschule which covers grades one to four. In Berlin and Brandenburg, the Grundschule covers six grades. Primary education is dealt with in detail below.

For pupils with special educational needs (Sonderpädagogischem Förderbedarf), whose development cannot be adequately assisted at general schools, a range of special schools (Sonderschule) exists in accordance with the types of disability, which are also known as Förderschule or Schule für Behinderte in some Länder.

The transition from primary to secondary education
The transfer from primary school to one of the different lower secondary school types where pupils remain at least until the completion of their full-time compulsory education is dealt with differently depending on Land legislation.
The vote of the school which the pupil is leaving is taken as a basis for the decision or as guidance in the decision regarding the pupil's future school career. This is accompanied by detailed consultations with parents.
The final decision is in principle taken by the parents, but for certain school types is dependent on pupils demonstrating a certain level of ability and/or on the capacity available in the desired school and/or on a decision by the school supervisory authority.

Secondary education

Following the primary school stage at which all children attend mixed-ability classes (grades 1 to 4, in Berlin and Brandenburg grades 1 to 6). The organisation of the secondary school system (grades 5 to 12/13) in the Länder is characterised by division into the various educational paths with their respective leaving certificates and qualifications for which different school types are responsible.
The following types of school exist in the majority of the Länder:

- Hauptschule
- Realschule
- Gymnasium
- Gesamtschule

and in some Länder there are also these types:
- Förderstufe
- Orientierungsstufe
- Schulzentrum
- Mittelschule
- Regelschule
- Sekundarschule
- Erweiterte Realschule
- Integrierte Haupt- und Realschule
- Verbundene Haupt- und Realschule
- Regionale Schule
- Wirtschaftsschule

Apart from Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium, almost all Länder have Gesamtschulen (comprehensive schools), albeit in some Länder in only very limited numbers as a special type of school.
With effect from the 1991-92 school year, some Länder introduced new types of schools, the names of which differ from one Land to another, in which, however, the traditional courses available at the Hauptschule and the Realschule are brought under one organisational umbrella - these include Mittelschule, Sekundarschule, Regelschule, Erweiterte Realschule, Verbundene Haupt- und Realschule, Integrierte Haupt- und Realschule and Regionale Schule.
Grades 5 and 6 at all secondary schools can be organised as a phase of orientation (Orientierungsstufe/Förderstufe) with the choice of school career being left open until the end of grade 6. In some Länder the orientation stage may be a separate organisational unit independent of the standard school types. In this case the secondary schools subsequently attended will begin with the 7th grade.

The various types of schools are described in more detail in the secondary education section.

For pupils with special educational needs (Sonderpädagogischem Förderbedarf) whose development cannot be adequately assisted at general schools, various types of special schools (Sonderschule, also known in some Länder as Förderschule or Schule für Behinderte) for different types of disability have been set up within the organisational framework of general and vocational education.

Once pupils have completed compulsory schooling - generally when they reach the age of 15 - they move into upper secondary education.
The type of school entered depends on the qualifications and entitlements obtained at the end of lower secondary education. The range of courses on offer includes full-time general education and vocational schools, as well as vocational training within the dual system (duales System).
The majority of the Länder offer the following types of general education and vocational school, with some forms specific to individual Länder:

- Gymnasium
- Berufsschule
- Berufsfachschule
- Fachoberschule
- Fachschule

and in some Länder:

- Berufliches Gymnasium/Fachgymnasium
- Berufsoberschule
- Berufskolleg
- Fachakademie

A description of the courses on offer at the types of school listed above is included in the chapter on upper secondary education.

The tertiary sector

The tertiary sector encompasses institutions of higher education and other establishments that offer study courses qualifying for entry into a profession to students who have completed the upper secondary level and obtained a higher education entrance qualification.

In 1998 there were a total of 344 state and state recognised higher education institutions spread throughout the Federal Republic of Germany and comprising the following types:

  • Universitäten, Technische Hochschulen/Technische Universitäten, Universitäten-Gesamthochschulen, Pädagogische Hochschulen, Theologische Hochschulen
  • Kunsthochschulen and Musikhochschulen (colleges of art and music)
  • Fachhochschulen

Entry conditions, the range of courses available and the qualifications offered by the individual types of institution of higher education are different for each insitutution.

Apart from the public sector of higher education referred to here, there are a number of special higher education institutions which only admit certain groups (e.g. higher education institutions of the Federal Armed Forces and Verwaltungsfachhochschulen) and are not considered here.

Those with a higher education entrance qualification may also choose to enter a Berufsakademie as an alternative to higher education. These have been established since 1974 in 6 of the 16 Länder. At state or state-recognised private Studienakademien (study institutions) and in companies, students receive academic but, at the same time, practical career training.

Continuing education

Continuing education is increasingly becoming a field of education in its own right. As a continuation or resumption of organised learning on completion of initial training of differing duration, continuing education builds on existing knowledge and skills as well as experience.Continuing education encompasses the general, vocational and socio-political domains in equal measure. While each of them has specific functions, their interactions are on the increase.

In response to the vast range of demands made on continuing education, a structure has been developed which focuses on the principles of a social market economy. Continuing education is provided by municipal institutions, in particular Volkshochschulen, as well as by private institutions, church institutions, the trade unions, the various chambers of industry and commerce, political parties and associations, companies and public authorities, family education centres, academies, Fachschulen, institutions of higher education and distance learning institutions. Radio and television companies also provide continuing education programmes.
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