The German Education System


The German Education System

The German Education System


In the Federal Republic of Germany the individual Länder (states) hold responsibility for the schools and administration of the education system in accordance with the guidelines stipulated by the constitution. As a result, there are In the Federal Republic of Germany the individual Länder (states) hold responsibility for the schools and administration of the education system in accordance with the guidelines stipulated by the constitution. As a result, there are 16 education systems that differ from each other to a greater or lesser extent. By a process of voting and agreement between the individual Länder, generally at the level of the Ministry of Education and the Arts, outline standards were and are determined, leading to relatively standardised education systems ass regards their basic structures. The responsibilities of the Federal Government as the overarching authority include in-company vocational training and vocational further education, training in the health, education and care professions and some elements of university regulations. School attendance is compulsory for all children permanently resident on national territory, regardless of nationality, for nine - or in some instances ten (5 Länder) - years, followed by three years of compulsory part-time attendance at a Berufsschule up to the age of 18. School is compulsory from the age of six. Parents can choose between state schools and a few privately run schools. Pupils attending state schools are not required to pay school fees or contribute towards the cost of teaching materials. The German school systems offer a variety of forms of education, which take into account the differing needs and interests of children and their parents.

The education system in the Federal Republic of Germany is divided into pre-school education, primary education, secondary education, tertiary education and continuing education.

Pre-school education
Pre-school education is provided by various educational institutions catering for children aged from 3 up to school entry age. Attendance is voluntary, but all children have a legal right to a place at a Kindergarten. In Germany, the main provider of pre-school education is the Kindergarten, whose responsibility is to encourage the children to develop social and emotional competence and skills. Almost 95% of all children regularly attend a Kindergarten.

Primary education
From the age of six all children must attend Grundschule (Primary School), which covers 4 school years in most Länder (with the exception of Berlin, Brandenburg where the Grundschule covers 6 years). Being a comprehensive school the responsibility of the Grundschule towards its pupils is to promote a systematic form of learning, encourage children with differing individual learning needs and provide a basis for continuing education and life-long learning. The learning of basic skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic occupies a central position. The learning contents central to the educational process are usually conveyed in cross-subject lessons and relate to the subjects of German, mathematics, Sachunterricht (a mixture of biology, history and geography), art, music and sport. The transition into secondary schools, which have to be attended till the end of compulsory education, is regulated differently by the various Länder. Parents do have a choice as regards the type of secondary school to which they send their child, but the school results attained do play a significant part in determining the kind of secondary school they may attend. The schools support the parents with recommendations and advice when making their decisions.

Secondary education

Secondary education is divided into two levels. At Secondary Level I, the Federal Republic of Germany still has a widely universal three-tier school system: Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium. The Gesamtschule, which cover all three kinds of school under "one roof" and in a different organisational form, is a special kind of school. In individual states there are also special schools such as Orientierungsstufen (Orientation Phase), Middle Schools, Regelschulen (mainstream schools), integrated Hauptschule and Realschule, Werkrealschulen (secondary technical schools) and others.

Secondary education is divided into two levels. At Secondary Level I, the Federal Republic of Germany still has a widely universal three-tier school system: . The Gesamtschule, which cover all three kinds of school under "one roof" and in a different organisational form, is a special kind of school. In individual states there are also special schools such as Orientierungsstufen (Orientation Phase), Middle Schools, Regelschulen (mainstream schools), integrated Hauptschule and Realschule, Werkrealschulen (secondary technical schools) and others.

The Hauptschule (formerly Volksschule), that covers the school years 5-9, gives the pupils a basic general education in the subjects of German, a foreign language, mathematics, physics / chemistry, biology, geography, history etc. In order to meet the differing capabilities of the pupils, lessons in the main subjects are geared towards the pupils’ individual capabilities. Hauptschule leavers usually enter into vocational training, but high-achieving pupils can also attend a school at a higher level before or after vocational training. In its standard form the

Realschule covers the school grades 5-10 and gives the pupils a broader general education. Today the Realschule is quantitatively the most important kind of school, and almost 40% of a year group achieve the general education school leaving certificate upon completion of grade 10. Today the Realschule prepares pupils for high-quality vocational training or university. Lessons are given in German, foreign languages, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, geography, history, politics, music, art, sport and religious education. Depending on their individual inclination and capabilities, the pupils can choose to go into specific compulsory subjects in greater depth or select new subjects.

The Gymnasium gives its pupils an in-depth general education and covers the school years 5 to 13 (in some states 12). The Gymnasium exists to two different forms – the standard Gymnasium where pupils can go right through from Year 5 to Year 13 to university entrance level, and the upper level that starts in Year 11 and prepares pupils for the Hochschulreife (‘A’ level equivalent) either with a general education emphasis or career-orientated as the berufliche Gymnasium specialising in areas such as business, technology, food science, social sciences etc. At the end of Year 10 pupils are entitled to transfer to the advanced level or may sit the examination for the Mittlere Reife (the general education school leaving certificate).

The gymnasiale Oberstufe covers Years 11 to 13 (or 12) and after a one-year introductory phase is divided into half-year courses. Subject to specific requirements, the pupils have numerous opportunities to focus on individual subjects within the given course framework. Subjects are offered at a basic and advanced level, with teaching being structured according to the particular level, the basic course offering a fundamental understanding and the advanced course an in-depth tuition. Up to two thirds of lessons are at the basic level, and advanced courses extend pupils’ knowledge.
The Gesamtschule encompasses several types of school with the aim of giving pupils a flexible transition to the appropriate type of school commensurate with their capabilities. There are two forms of Gesamtschule. In the co-operative form the Gesamtschule combines the Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium educationally and organisationally, but pupils are taught in classes grouped according to the different qualifications available. In the integrated form pupils are taught together as a year group, but from Year 7 pupils are taught in courses grouped according to the level of proficiency, with a minimum of two levels.

Following on from the schools that provide a general education there are numerous career-related educational opportunities that prepare for vocational training or lead to a vocational qualification or secondary general qualifications. In view of the relatively high youth unemployment the vocational training system has become significantly more sophisticated over the past twenty years, and there is a great variety of different schools. It is important to make a distinction between full-time schools which require pupils to attend every day, and part-time schools where pupils only attend on one or two days. It should also be noted that part-time attendance is mandatory. The preparatory vocational schools include the Berufsvorbereitungsjahr (pre-vocational training year), the vocational basic training year and the one-year training college.

The Berufsvorbereitungsjahr (pre-vocational training year) offers a form of vocational training that is generally attended for one-year on a full-time basis and is aimed at young people for whom vocational training is compulsory but who have not found a training opportunity or are out of work. Students extend their general education, are encouraged to acquire key skills, are given a basic understanding of up to three vocational areas and receive help with vocational orientation and identifying a profession. Subject to specific requirements students without a Hauptschulabschluss can obtain a qualification corresponding to a Hauptschulabschluss.

The Berufsgrundbildungsjahr (basic vocational training year) is generally offered as a one-year full-time course and is mainly aimed at young people with the Hauptschulabschluss. Full-time school can be attended without a training contract. At the beginning of the basic vocational training year the students have to decide on one of twelve vocational areas. Over the course of the year the students deepen their general education and acquire knowledge, capabilities and skills in one vocational area, thus acquiring a basic vocational training. Subject to professional approval, the basic vocational training year counts towards subsequent vocational training.
With regard to Berufsfachschulen (vocational colleges) there are three different forms: one-year vocational colleges which serve as preparation for a profession and can be part of vocational training in the dual system, two-year vocational colleges leading to the Fachschulreife (equates to the Mittlere Reife) and one or more year vocational colleges leading to an independent vocational qualification.

Vocational colleges that serve as Berufsvorbereitung (preparation for a profession), such as the vocational trade college offer one-year full-time courses. They are mainly aimed at young people preparing to enter technical training, who need to acquire a level of standardised, comprehensive and modern basic vocational training that meets the requirements of the individual vocational fields or vocational areas. At the same time they can extend and deepen their general education. The vocational college is available in ten vocational areas.

The two-year Berufsfachschule (vocational school) offers full-time courses aimed primarily at young people who have successfully completed nine years at the Hauptschule and want to achieve the Fachschulreife. The students receive lessons in career-orientated subjects or manually skilled basic on-the-job training in various areas (technical, business, social education etc.); at the same time they have the opportunity to extend and deepen their general education. After they leave the Berufsfachschule one year counts as part of their subsequent training time if they take up vocational training in the same subject area, and otherwise a half-year is generally counted. The level of education equates to the Realschulabschluss and entitles the student to take up training in a recognised occupation requiring formal training or to transfer to a one or more year vocational college or vocational grammar school.

Three-year vocational colleges specialise in vocational qualifications in the welfare and social education professions or assistant careers. Training is received either in its entirety at the college or in combination with the workplace. A Hauptschulabschluss and a first vocational training course or alternatively the Mittlere Reife are required to enter into this vocational training, which results in a vocational qualification of a state registered carer for the elderly, child carer etc. The vocational college delivers basic and in-depth knowledge and skills in the respective field for activities in public and private institutions. The students also broaden and deepen their general education.

The Fachoberschulen admits pupils who have completed the Mittlerer Schulabschluss, cover Years 11 and 12 and leads to the Fachhochschulreife. There are Fachoberschulen for technology, business, administration, nutrition, social issues and design. Practical training in the workplace takes place in Year 11, whilst in Year 12 teaching is carried out mainly on a full-time basis in German, social science, mathematics, sciences and vocationally orientated subjects. The Fachoberschulen have been set up in several states in order to enable students who have completed a vocational training course in the dual system to achieve the Hochschulreife. A two-year full time course leads to a subject-related Hochschulreife and with a second foreign language to a general Hochschulreife. The prerequisite for gaining a place at the Berufsoberschule are the mittlere Schulabschluss and at least two-year successfully completed vocational training or at least five years appropriate employment.

Vocational training plays a key role in the dual system. Almost two thirds of young people generally complete a three-year training course, depending on their chosen occupation, with the place of learning alternating between the workplace and the vocational school. The aim of training in the dual system is to provide a broadly based basic vocational training and impart the skills and knowledge necessary to practise a skilled occupation within a structured course of training. Compulsory full-time schooling must be completed before commencing vocational training; there are no other prerequisites such as a formal school-leaving qualification. The training is based on a vocational training contract under private law between a training institution and the trainee and a contract under public law with the vocational college. The young people receive training for three to four days in the workplace and one to two days at the vocational college. The workplace assumes the costs of the on-the-job training and pays the trainees a training allowance, which is generally in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement in the sector concerned. Based on the training regulations the workplace imparts the specialist and general technical skills for actual application on the job. The theoretical knowledge and skills acquired at the vocational school are combined with practical experience and applied in concrete situations.

The Berufsschule is an independent partner with equal rights, which works in collaboration with the other parties involved. The vocational school has the task of providing pupils with general and vocational education, paying particular attention to the requirements of vocational training. The vocational college equips their pupils with basic and specialised vocational training, adding to the general training they have already received.

In the Federal Republic of Germany there are numerous schools offering people in employment the opportunity to acquire secondary school leaving qualifications such as for example the mittlere Reife and the Hochschulreife. In the framework of secondary education Abendgymnasien and colleges have assumed great importance. These institutions enable adults to acquire school leaving qualifications up to the Hochschulreife whilst in employment or in full-time study.

Tertiary education
With the school qualifications achieved within the general education school system which entitle students to enter universities (Fachhochschulreife, subject related Hochschulreife, general Hochschulreife), young people have the opportunity to study at German colleges and universities. The German university system is basically made up of two kinds of institutions: colleges and universities.

Universities are the traditional institutions providing further education and cover almost all familiar study areas at all locations. Approximately three quarters of students study at universities and achieve a Magister degree, Diplom degree or take Staatsexamen. Besides the teaching, which is strongly orientated towards science, universities have a comprehensive research function which further distinguishes them from the colleges. The right to award a doctoral degree is a further privilege of the universities.

Fachhochschulen were established in the Federal Republic approximately 40 years ago and have the function of providing science-orientated training of qualified workers at an academic level. Fachhochschulen have a strong application-orientated approach, combining practical terms with the subsequent application of scientific knowledge from research and development. Diplom degrees can generally be achieved at Fachhochschulen. The structure of the courses of study is rather narrow in comparison with the universities and is generally related to skills that can be used in business. Forty percent of students are currently studying at Fachhochschulen. As a result of the Bologna Process the borders between the various kinds of higher education institutions are becoming increasingly more blurred, and the two kinds of institution are drawing closer together. From 2010 there will be no differences with regard to the academic qualifications: universities and Fachhochschulen will award the Bachelor and Master degrees according to the same modularised study concepts.

Besides the traditional universities and Fachhochschulen there are also higher education institutions with special application-specific orientation such as the teacher training colleges, colleges of art and music, Verwaltungshochschulen, confessional colleges etc. which do not however have any quantitative meaning.

The Berufsakademie represents a special kind of higher education institution which has acquired university status in individual Federal states.

An unusual feature in the Federal Republic of Germany is the complex, to a great extent legally regulated further education system. On the basis of various laws on vocational training (education acts passed by the Länder, the law on vocational training and education, the Craft Regulation) a wealth of Fortbildungsberufe have developed, which represent an important career opportunity for working people with qualifications. Further vocational education for business administrators, sales professionals, master tradesmen in industry, master craftsman, business managers, technicians and many others are taken up by every eighth working person as an opportunity for further vocational training. The Fortbildungsberufe are generally state-regulated, independent of educational institutions and businesses and require preparation of 600 – 2,400 hours depending upon the educational goal. The prerequisite for entering exams for further training careers is generally a completed course of vocational training and two to three years of relevant employment. Besides the Chamber of Industry and Commerce and the Chamber of Crafts, state technical colleges offer appropriate preparatory courses. The qualifications of the state-regulated Fortbildungsberufe make it possible to obtain employment at middle technical and management levels in companies.

Further / Continuing Vocational Training
The sector of continuing vocational training is altogether very heterogeous in the Federal Republic and covers a multitude of different opportunities and qualifications. There are few regulations meaning that it is ultimately the market that decides which continuing vocational training opportunities survive and which go under. Rigorous legislation and structuring of further vocational training is currently not considered desirable by the employer and employee federations.

1) Translator’s note: a Berufsschule is a vocational school at upper secondary level providing instruction in general and vocational subjects

2) Translator’s note: a Hauptschule is a type of school at lower secondary level providing a basic general education

3) Translator’s note: a Realschule is a type of school at lower secondary level providing pupils with a more extensive general education and the opportunity to go onto courses of education at upper secondary level

4) Translator’s note: a Gymnasium is a type of school covering both lower and upper secondary levels and providing in-depth general education aimed at the general higher education entrance qualification

5) Translator’s note: a Gesamtschule is a type of school at lower secondary level offering several courses of education leading to different qualifications

6) Translator’s note: the Volksschule was the former name for the Grundschule and Hauptschule

7) Translator’s note: the equivalent of English ‘A’ level

8) Translator’s note: equivalent of sixth-form

9) Translator’s note: the Gymnasiale Oberstufe is the upper level of the Gymnasium

10) Translator’s note: Hauptschulabschluss = lower secondary school certificate entitling entrance into vocational school

11) Translator’s note: an Abendgynasium is an institution at which adults can attend evening classes to obtain the Hauptschulabschluss.

12) Translator’s note: Staatsexamen are the equivalent of the first degree, the university degree required for the teaching profession.

13) Translator’s note: a Fachhochschule is a University of Applied Sciences.

14) Translator’s note: A Verwaltungshochschule is a Fachhochschule maintained by the Federation or a Land which trains civil servants in a particular sector of public administration for careers in the so-called higher level of the civil service.

15) Translator’s note: The Berufsakademie offers three-year courses of academic training at a study institution combined with practical in-company professional training in keeping with the principle of the dual system.

16) Translator’s note: Fortbildungsberufe are occupations for which certification may be attained through further training.