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Back to School Time

Updated: May 17

We are almost half way through July, and school summer holidays are taking place in both Ireland and Germany. Thanks to Covid-19 these summer holidays feel very different to the usual period of time off, but nonetheless, students embrace the weeks of freedom, while teachers plan for the semester ahead, and parents plan for school books, activities and more.

Germany was one of the first European countries to reopen schools during the pandemic. Some schools reopened on a phased basis in May, with many following suit in June. Reopening rules applied with health and safety protocols in place, including halving student numbers, reduced school hours, social distancing, windows open at all times, no yard time, and temperature checks on arrival to name a few.

The education system in Germany is based on the rules and regulations of the Grundgesetz (German basic or fundamental national law). Homeschooling is considered illegal in Germany, all children must attend school from the age of six, for at least nine years, this usually encompasses primary and secondary school.

The German schooling system is more complex than most European countries, however approximately 53% of students attending university, according to an OECD report.

How is the school system structured in Germany?

There are four main levels to the schooling system:

1, Early childhood - this is a voluntary commitment based on parent/guardian preference, and disposable income. Kindergarten is usually the first education for many German children, and this caters for children aged three to six years. The lessons are more structured than the typical playschool environment we may see here in Ireland, each child has goals, and are assessed on learning skills at the end of each year.

2. Primary school- all children must attend Grundschule (primary school) from the age of six, and it usually consists of four years of education. Each state (16 states in Germany) defines their educational curriculum and length of stay, with the majority opting for the typical four years, however, some have six years, with students leaving at the age of 12. In the students final year of primary school, the teachers and parents decide upon their future and which type of secondary school they will attend.

3. Secondary school- there are four main types of secondary schools in Germany;

  1. Hauptschule – this vocational school teaches basic general education, with students staying here for five years, where they can then move onto Realschule depending on their final year assessment. This education is very hands-on, with lots of apprenticeship work experience.

  2. Realschule – this is the most common form of secondary education in Germany, with students staying here for six years usually, and most will graduate to Gymnasium in preparation for university. Offering more extensive education, with additional language skills, and opportunity to learn more diverse subjects.

  3. Gymnasium – this in-depth general education system is aimed at students who wish to go to university upon completion of their secondary schooling. Students will stay here for eight years, with year seven and eight called Abitur, or Abi, similar to 5th and 6th year in Ireland, where they prepare you for university.

  4. Gesamtschule – this integrated schooling system combines all three, and exists only in certain states. This system is more inclusive, and provides students with a more comprehensive education.