The German School System – Elementary School through University
Every child living in Germany has to visit the Grundschule, which is the equivalent to elementary or primary school. Usually, kids start school at the age of six, and it lasts four years (grade 1 through 4). Many elementary schools offer working parents childcare in the afternoons. To a limited extent, the after-school care center takes up the role of a family or executes functions usually carried out in the family, e.g. lunch, care and help with homework, establishing social contacts, guidance on meaningful leisure-time activities, etc.
After this time, the German school system offers your child three options. He or she can now visit, depending on the grades, the Gymnasium, the Realschule or the Mittelschule (sometimes also called Hauptschule, but this term is being phased out).
The Mittelschule is the default secondary school your child will visit unless they have the grade average to visit the higher school levels. It takes a student from grade 5 to 9, which is the minimum amount of years a child has to stay in school for compulsory education in Germany.
At the end, they finish with a Mittelschulabschluss which will allow them to apply for apprenticeships (practical job training) in various fields, or they can add on another year of school, provided they have the respective grades. During 10th grade, they will work towards a qualifizierender Mittelschulabschluss, which holds a bit of a higher standing and gives them better chances in the job market, or allows them to proceed to the Fachoberschule (FOS – more on that below) as it is about the same level as a Mittlere Reife (see Realschule).
If your child intends to attend the Realschule, they need a grade average of 2.66 in subjects of maths, German and home and science studies, but can also try to pass an admission test or trial lesson at the Realschule if they don’t quite reach that average.
Realschule takes students from grade 5 to 10, finishing their secondary school education with a Mittlere Reife diploma. With this, they can apply to apprenticeships and start their career path in the workforce, or decide to further their education at the Fachoberschule to graduate with A levels.
To fulfill the requirements for the Gymnasium, you need a grade average of at least 2.3 in maths, German, and home and science studies. If the grade average is not quite reached, there is also the option of an admission test or trial lesson to get in.
Gymnasium is grade 5 through 12 or 13 (depending on the state), when the student will graduate with the Abitur or allgemeine Hochschulreife, which is the highest degree of secondary school education in Germany and serves as a general university qualification.
Fachoberschule (short: FOS)
Fachoberschule, or FOS, offers students graduating from Mittelschule and Realschule to add onto their education and work towards a (Fach-)Hochschulreife. Continuing with grade 11 through 12 or even 13, there are multiple options:
- Grade 11-12, graduating with Fachhochschulreife (also called Fachabitur)
this allows them to study at a Fachhochschule, which can be compared to a college, offering a path towards a bachelor’s degree with a more practical teaching approach
- Grade 11-13, graduating with fachgebundene Hochschulreife (also called fachgebundenes Abitur)
this allows them to study at a Universität (university), which is the highest school form in Germany, offering a path towards bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees or even doctorates and PhDs. However, with a fachgebundene Hochschulreife, they can only attend classes within a limited subject selection that has to correspond with the subject orientation they attended and graduated in at FOS.
- Grade 11-13 including a 2nd foreign language, graduating with allgemeine Hochschulreife (also called allgemeines Abitur)
equivalent to the Abitur students graduate with at Gymnasium, this is the highest graduation level in secondary education, allowing them to attend universities to work towards a bachelor’s/master’s degree or doctorates/PhDs in whatever subject or field they prefer (provided they have the required grade point average).