German and International Schools

For parents new to Germany, finding a school which best suits a child’s needs presents a dilemma between choosing the traditional but inflexible German public school system, or a private but very expensive alternative.

International Schools

International schools are accustomed to dealing with children from all over the world and with varied linguistic backgrounds. One advantage of the international education system is portability and continuity of the curriculum, which helps prevent learning gaps if the family moves to another location or returns home. And as private schools, they can often afford better facilities, extensive extracurricular activities and longer hours – in some cases up to 6 p.m. But you pay for the privilege: tuition and other fees can run to well over 18,000 euros a year. Here’s a list of bilingual and international schools in

  • Frankfurt-Rhein-Main
  • Munich & Bavaria
  • Düsseldorf & Rhein Ruhr

The German School System Explained

German schools represent more than just an opportunity for your child to learn a second language and experience a foreign culture. Enrolling your child in a German school can aid in the integration of both the child and the parents in the community. What’s more, the public education system is government-subsidized and is therefore tuition-free.

Academically, the German school system has a good reputation, although it was hard hit by the OECD’s study as part of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which revealed that German students scored below average in reading, math and science when compared with their peers from other developed countries. Those poor results set off a firestorm of debate about what was right and wrong with the German educational system. Educational reforms have been under way since the release of the controversial report, and progress has been made in establishing more all-day schools in order to boost education standards. Yet the OECD annual report on education suggested that the German government spends too little on education and that further reform is needed in order to improve the German education system.

The major complaints about the German system concern the short hours (in primary schools, it is common for children to finish school at noon), the lack of flexibility and lack of programs for gifted and remedial children. Furthermore, there are few extracurricular activities, study halls or substitute teachers.

In Germany, the school system is the responsibility of the state government. In response to these grievances, the state of Hessen instituted a series of educational reforms, the most sweeping of which is known as the G8, which reduced the length of study for the high school diploma (Abitur) from 13 to 12 years (including four years in a primary school). As a result, the high school curriculum was restructured and afternoon classes were introduced. The other significant reform involved substitute teaching. Hessen passed legislation so that classes will never be cancelled (and students sent home) due to a lack of human resources in schools. With students spending longer days in school, many schools are now offering hot lunches. Organized sports teams and other extra-curricular activities are still not offered at most German schools, but are rather the domain of separate clubs (Vereine) or commercial companies (Nachhilfe).


Kindergarten starts as early as age three and continues until age five. It is not a part of the regular public school system and so is not free. Tuition is often based on income, though fees are usually not expensive. Kindergarten in Germany stresses a child’s social development and concentrates on structured play, arts and crafts, music and coordination skills. Children are not taught “learning ready” skills such as phonics, the alphabet and counting. Kindergartens are often run by churches, social organizations, or private companies. In some locations in the Rhein-Main region, there is an acute shortage of kindergarten places.


All children from the ages of six through nine years must attend a primary school (Grundschule). Here they are taught basic skills like reading, writing and math, as well as local history, geography and biology. In contrast to some other countries, students also have religion classes. In addition to their homeroom teacher, they have separate teachers for music and sports. Students are assigned up to 30-60 minutes of homework daily.

In the child’s final year (fourth grade) in the Grundschule, parents and teachers come together to evaluate the child’s next level of schooling. If a child has the academic aptitude to warrant university education, he or she will move directly into the secondary school (Gymnasium).

Students who need another two years to develop their academic skills can attend middle school (Förderstufe), after which they can choose between the university track (Gymnasium) and intermediate schools (Hauptschule or Realschule). This is one of the most nerve-wracking times for parents whose children are not initially offered a place in the university track. But remember, the teacher recommendations are not final and can be appealed. And students who perform well at another school can also transfer to the Gymnasium.


The lowest track in the German education system is the general school (Hauptschule). It starts with the fifth grade and goes through to the ninth grade. A Hauptschule is a school where students prepare for occupations that require vocational training. They also continue learning basic subjects, as well as English. After a student completes the Hauptschule, he or she can go on to a vocational school, which usually lasts about two years.


A Realschule is more advanced than the Hauptschule. Here, students learn the basic subjects that will prepare them for a mid-level job in business or a technical trade. If a student has performed well in the Realschule, he or she can also transfer to the Gymnasium.


This school is the highest level of secondary education in Germany and prepares students for university. The Gymnasium lasts eight years, and students learn German, math, physics, chemistry, geography, biology and history. Students are required to take a foreign language starting in the fifth grade. This is usually English, but Latin or French are also offered. A second foreign language can be added in the seventh grade and a third in the ninth grade. Students specialize in subjects in their final years. In their last year, students take a week-long series of exams in order to obtain their Abitur, the diploma which qualifies them for university admission.


The comprehensive school (Gesamtschule) combines the Gymnasium, Realschule and Hauptschule. First introduced in the 1960s, this type of school allows students to switch between different tracks without changing buildings.

Private German Schools

In addition to the public school system, there are an increasing number of private German schools which offer bilingual classes (German-English) and could be a less-expensive alternative to a traditional international school. These schools are classified as Ersatzschulen (an officially recognized private school) because they are supervised by local school authorities and receive state funding. Tuition for a typical German private school ranges from 100-300 euros per child, while a school with a strong bilingual program charge up to 900 euros monthly for a full-day of school.