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Types of school

Primary school

All children in Germany start by attending primary (elementary) school for four years (or six years in the Länder Berlin and Brandenburg). As a rule, they go to primary school near their home. Parents in some Federal Länder can choose their child’s primary school themselves.

A decision concerning what secondary school (secondary school stage I) the child will attend is made in the final year of primary school. The primary school teachers give a recommendation ("Übergangsempfehlung" – transfer recommendation) and should also meet with parents to provide advice. Parents can decide in most Federal Länder which school their child will attend after primary school. Crucial factors involved in the recommendation are the child’s grades in primary school and the teachers’ assessment of the child.

Secondary schools (secondary school stages I and II)

There are considerable differences in Germany between the schools that exist in secondary school stages I and II. Careful deliberation should take place between children, parents and teachers with regard to the school to be selected for the child. The educational authorities offer information on this.

Children can attend secondary school lessons on a trial basis in some of the Federal Länder. You will find an overview of the individual regulations on the webpage of the Conference of Ministers of Education and Culture (see the link in the right-hand column of the German-language version of this article).

The following types of secondary school exist in Germany:

  • secondary general school (Hauptschule) (up to year 9 or 10)
  • intermediate school (Realschule) (up to year 10)
  • schools with several curricula (at which secondary general school or intermediate school leaving qualifications can be obtained)
  • grammar school (Gymnasium) (up to year 12 or 13)
  • comprehensive school (Gesamtschule) (with or without the final years of grammar school-type pre-university study. All school-leaving qualifications can be taken here.)

In several Federal Länder there are types of secondary school in which the secondary general school and intermediate school curricula are amalgamated in organisational terms. It is possible to acquire both secondary general school and intermediate school-leaving qualifications at these schools:

  • Mittelschule (Saxony, Bavaria),
  • Sekundarschule (Saxony-Anhalt, Bremen, Berlin),
  • Regelschule (Thuringia),
  • Oberschule (Brandenburg, Lower Saxony),
  • Erweiterte Realschule (Saarland),
  • Realschule plus and combined or amalgamated secondary modern school and intermediate school (Rhineland-Palatinate),
  • integrated secondary general school and intermediate school and also Stadtteilschule (Hamburg),
  • Regionalschule (Rhineland-Palatinate, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Schleswig-Holstein),
  • Werkrealschule (Baden-Württemberg).

After obtaining the leaving qualification for secondary general school or intermediate school, young people can attend a school at secondary level II and obtain their general school-leaving certificate (Abitur) or technical school-leaving certificate (Fachabitur). They can then study at a university or other institution of higher education. Alternatively, after obtaining their leaving qualifications at a secondary general school or intermediate school, young people can begin a vocational training course and attend a vocational school. There are more areas of work available to people with a leaving qualification from an intermediate school than are available to those with a qualification from a secondary general school.

Schooling at a grammar school or during the final years of grammar school-type pre-university study is completed after the 12th or 13th year with the Allgemeine Hochschulreife (general school-leaving qualification permitting tertiary study) (Abitur), and entitles candidates to study at universities or other institutions of higher education. The technical school-leaving certificate (Fachgebundene Hochschulreife or Fachabitur) entitles candidates to study at Universities of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschulen).

In some Federal Länder, the Allgemeine Hochschulreife (general school-leaving qualification permitting tertiary study) can be obtained at vocational schools after the intermediate school leaving qualification.

Young people can take their secondary general school school-leaving qualification as well as the intermediate school leaving qualification at these schools.

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Find out which secondary schools exist in your Federal Land, what school-leaving qualifications can be acquired there and what training or further education can follow on from them! Each Cultural Affairs or Schools Ministry has a website explaining all the educational paths. The administration of the schools, as well as the schools themselves, also offer advice. Most schools organise an Open Day, which in the majority of cases takes place at the beginning of the year, and which parents and children can attend to obtain information on what is on offer.

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Courses at individual local schools are often very different. Find out from the education authority, the Internet or from other parents about the schools in your area. The following questions can help you select a school for your child.

  • Which leaving qualifications does the school offer?
  • What additional classes does the school offer (e.g. foreign languages)?
  • Are there additional programmes for the children (e.g. study groups, sports courses, music and cultural programmes or drama, amongst other possibilities)?
  • Are there any extra support programmes (e.g. language support or help with homework)?
  • How are children with special learning needs supported?
  • How are the classrooms organised?
  • Does the school offer a whole-day programme or after-school care?
  • Is a hot lunch provided at school?
  • Are there parents’ days or other programmes for parents?

Special promotional offers

Kindergartens and schools offer children and juveniles who grow up with a native language other than German special assistance with their language. This takes place in German, and partly also in the children’s native language. Language tests are already being applied in all the Federal Länder in kindergartens, or before children start school, in order to identify their individual support needs. This is then followed by a range of different promotional services which differ from one Federal Land to another.

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You should take advantage of the language assistance services because, in order to ensure that your child is successful at school, it is important for him or her to speak German well. Attendance at special German classes is mandatory in some Federal Länder for those children for whom a support requirement has been identified. Depending on the type of school, it is also possible in many Länder to learn some languages of origin (such as Turkish, Italian, Russian or Spanish) at school as a foreign language. You can obtain information on the services that are available to promote German at school, as well as on the opportunities for learning your home language, by approaching your child’s kindergarten or school directly, as well as from the Migration Advisory Service and the Youth Advisory Services.

Children and juveniles who come to Germany during their school careers need special support. They are offered promotional or language learning lessons in which they are guided by specially-trained teaching staff before they transfer into regular school classes. Your educational authority will inform you of the services that are available for your child.

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You can find out further information about local services in your area from:

  • the Migration Advisory Service for Adult Immigrants and the Youth Advisory Service
  • school authorities/education authority
  • schools
  • parents' representation bodies and parental networks
  • education counselling offices
  • migrant organisations.
Date 17 December 2015

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