Schulsystem Foto: ©
For migrants with a visa

Compulsory school attendance and costs

In Germany it is compulsory to attend school: children must attend school for 9 years. In some federal states, compulsory school attendance also applies to children whose residence status is unclear. A school year begins in August or September and continues until June or July, depending on state. Children usually attend state-funded schools. Nobody pays school fees. There are small charges for copies, materials or outings. In private schools you have to pay school fees. 

School types 

There are different types of school. All children attend elementary/primary school from the age of 6 or 7. After 4 years the children go to a secondary school. There is quite a variety of secondary schools. The primary school will often advise as to which school your child could attend when he/she is ready to transfer. There is the Hauptschule (vocational secondary school; 5-9th grade), at this school you can do a Hauptschulabschluss final school certificate, or one which qualifies you to continue your education. In the Hauptschule there are also practical subjects such as wood/metalwork or technical drawing. A higher level of school than this is the Realschule (intermediate secondary, 5-10th grade), at this school you do the Realschulabschluss (secondary school diploma). After the Hauptschule or Realschule you can learn a profession. Then there is the Gymnasium (grammar school; up to 12th grade). Here you can do the Abitur, which then qualifies you to study at university. At a Gymnasium you often learn 2 or 3 foreign languages, such as English and French.

In some states they have the Gesamtschule (comprehensive school). This combines the Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium in a single building. If a child wants to move schools, for instance from the Hauptschule to the Realschule, it is easier. It is possible to change if the schools are separate as well, but it isn’t as straightforward. Every state also has bilingual schools, special schools, specialist academies and vocational colleges.

School hours

In most schools, lessons finish at midday or in the early afternoon (2 or 3pm). After that children can go to the after-school childcare centre. They can stay there for the afternoon. They will be fed and helped with their homework. But you have to pay for the after-school daycare centre. All-day schools are also on the increase. Children spend the whole day in these schools, usually until 4 or 5pm.

School subjects

The children learn many subjects in school. This includes PE lessons. At primary school they often are not taught in gender groups. So boys and girls do PE together. There are often swimming lessons as well. Most schools have Christian religion lessons. But you can opt out of religious studies, and attending the lessons is not mandatory. Ethics is offered as an alternative, and in some schools there is tuition in other religions (for instance Islam or Judaism).

Out-of-school activities

School students usually go on a class trip once a year. It is usually 3-5 days. The class travels to a different city or location together. There are also field days. The children go on an excursion together. Doing this enables them to learn about history, culture and nature. The schools also stage school festivals. These feature play performances or concerts by pupils for instance.


Every school has parent representatives – i.e. parents who work together with the school. There are parents’ evenings several times a year. The parents are given important information by the teachers at these evenings, and have an opportunity to get to know each other. They can also make an appointment with a specific teacher for a private meeting. This is a parent consultation. This can be done if there are problems in school. Or maybe the parents want to find out how the child is doing at school.

For asylum seekers


Education is compulsory in Germany. This means that children have to go to school for 9 years. Refugee children also have to attend school but they have to wait several weeks before they can do so. The exact length of the waiting period is determined by the respective federal state. Sometimes it may take just a few weeks, but occasionally it may take up to six months. The prerequisite is that you are no longer staying at the initial reception centre. Once you are living in your allocated centre, your children can go to school.

You can get help at the Residents’ Registration Office [Einwohnermeldeamt]. Your contact person will contact a suitable school. After that you will be able to visit the school and meet the teachers.

Children and teenagers who don’t speak German will initially be in a separate class where they will study German and learn about the German culture. These are so-called welcome classes or transition classes designed to make the start at a German school easier. The teachers will be happy to provide support and gladly answer questions.

Attending school is free for refugee children. If your children have to take the bus to get to school, for example, they don’t have to pay for it. School lunches, field trips, books, pencils and notepads are also free. The school will pay for it. To get this type of financial support you will have to fill out several documents. You can get more information at your town hall.

Frequently asked questions

Do I have to register my child at a school?

When does my child have to go to school?

Can I teach my children at home?

How long is a school day?

My child would like to go to university. Which school should he/she attend?

We are new to Germany and my child does not speak German. Can he/she attend a German school?

Can I choose a school?

Can my child travel to school on the school bus?

Will my child be given anything to eat?

More questions? Contact the advisors at the Youth Migration Services.