SCHOOL SYSTEM - Discover Germany
December 20, 2012


Learning, having fun and spending time with peers – your children are in good hands in Germany’s preschools and schools. In this section we offer information about child care options and schools, how much they cost and how you can find good providers.

Inside of a classroom with back to school on the chalkboard

Nursery Schools: Children from birth to Age three

A nursery school is a place where your children under the age of three can play with children of the same age, under the supervision of trained early childhood educators who help your children learn through play. Age-appropriate meals, naps and outdoor play are all part of these programmes. Most of them are flexible about drop-off and pick-up times. Nursery schools are run by private and public agencies as well as churches. Prices vary considerably and in part depend on the parents’ income. Availability differs greatly by region.

Preschools: For children aged three to six

The German word for preschool is Kindergarten – perhaps you are familiar with it, since it is also used in English. In Germany, preschools are for children between the ages of three and six. More and more, preschools are focusing on satisfying the curiosity of these young children, in addition to providing plenty of opportunity for active play. Simple experiments and play-based instruction teach them about nature and technology as they hone their thinking and language skills. The preschool day usually begins in the morning and ends either at noon or in the afternoon, depending on the specific facility. Preschools are run by cities, churches, associations and other private entities. As with nursery schools, prices vary widely. Some preschools charge no fees at all, while others may cost several hundred euros per year, depending on the parents’ income and the region.

In-home daycare providers: For children of any age

In-home daycare providers take care of your child in their home while you go to work. In most cases they care for additional children as well, so your child is guaranteed to have contact with peers. Nannies are also an option in Germany. In contrast to in-home daycare providers, nannies come to your home to care for your child. In-home daycare providers and nannies are not required to be trained early childhood educators. However, they need to be certified by the youth welfare office, and most of them have a great deal of experience with children. For a 20-hour week, in-home daycare providers charge an average of 300 to 600 euros per month.

How to find the right child care

Step 1 – Starting your search: Start with the Internet: Local government websites usually provide a good overview. There are also online portals by and for families, where you can look for options in your area and exchange tips with other parents.

Step 2 – Making your selection: Visit some of the facilities. You can meet with the teachers, in-home daycare providers or nannies, and in many cases your child will have the opportunity to get to know the facility and become accustomed to its daily routine. Or ask your new neighbours, friends or colleagues if they can recommend a particular facility.

Step 3 – Registering your child: When you have found the right facility, you can register your child. Since many nursery schools and preschools have deadlines and waiting lists, it is a good idea to contact several providers as soon as possible and have your name put on the list.

Germany’s school system

If your children are at least six years old, they are required to go to school, since attendance is compulsory in Germany. A large majority of German schools are run by the state; there is no charge for your children to attend. In addition, of course, there are private and international schools, which charge fees.

The individual states are responsible for education policy. This means that the school system will vary somewhat, depending on the region where you and your family are living. Children do not always learn the same subject matter in every state, and textbooks may differ as well. Individual states also have different types of schools. Basically, however, the German school system is structured as follows:

  • Primary school: Normally, six-year-olds begin their school careers with primary school, which includes first through fourth grades. It is only in Berlin and Brandenburg that primary school extends through sixth grade. At the end of primary school, you and your child’s teachers will decide where your child will enter fifth grade, depending on your child’s performance. The most common types of secondary schools are:
    • Hauptschule (non-academic secondary school for grades five through nine or ten)
    • Realschule (mid-level secondary school for grades five through ten)
    • Gymnasium (academic secondary school for grades five through twelve/thirteen)
  • Hauptschule and Realschule: Young people who have successfully completed the Hauptschule or Realschule are eligible for vocational training or can transfer to a Gymnasium.
  • Gymnasium: At the end of the 12th or 13th grade, students receive a diploma upon passing the Abitur examination. This entitles them to study at a university. However, they may also choose to undergo vocational training and enter the job market directly.

How to recognise a good school

As a rule you are free to decide which school in your city your child is to attend. So it is a good idea to take a look at a few schools. One sign of a good school is that it not only provides high-quality instruction, but also offers extracurricular activities such as theatre, sports, language and music clubs, and school trips. A good school also encourages parent involvement. In addition to finding out whether the school has room for your child, you should also ask about extracurricular options.

If your children are not yet fluent in German, make sure that the school offers German classes, usually referred to as “German as a foreign language.” Here the teachers will make sure that your child understands classroom instruction and will be able to keep up.