Encountering a new school system can be a real challenge for parents and children. We would like to help you understand the basic structure of the German school system and what you and your child will encounter.
Although there is a wide range of international schools in Berlin (and Germany), often families relocating to Germany choose to send their children to the local school. Chances are you are not familiar with how the school system is structured and how your child’s school day will look.
School attendance is mandatory from age 6 and schools are state-run and therefore have no fees. Although there are private schools, most schools are state schools. The individual states within Germany are responsible for the education curriculum in their own state, therefore the curriculum can vary from state to state. After the first 4 years of elementary school ‘Grundschule’, children are streamed into one of three different types of schools according to academic ability and in consultation with teachers and parents. Berlin and Brandenburg are an exception, here Elementary school can go up until 6th grade. The three types of school are Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium, these can then be from 5 – 9th grade or up to 12th grade.
If you decide to send your children to the local school, you will be assigned to a school in your catchment area. If you want your child to attend a different school, then an application will have to be made to the city and approved, this will usually be based on if there is sufficient places at the school you wish your child to attend. Regarding language ability ‘When parents register a child for primary school, the school tests the child’s ability to communicate in German. Wherever a need for improvement is identified, the children are required to take a half-year language reinforcement course before they enter school. This way, all children start school equipped for success.’ (source: https://www.businesslocationcenter.de/en/information-for-new-berliners/schools/)
If you choose a private school or an international school the curriculum could be very different from the German system. Private schools have varying fees and will also be subject to an application process.
The school year starts in August, the date depends on which state you live in. School vacations are staggered state by state over the summer to avoid a big rush. There are various vacation during the school year, Fall-break, Christmas, Winter-break, Spring-break (Easter) and then public holidays. Summer is the longest break at around 6 weeks, Christmas is usually around 2 weeks.
The school day starts around 8am and goes until around 1.30pm (this can vary). The lesson periods are 45min and include breaks for snack/play. The exception to this can be so-called ‘Ganztagsschulen’ which offer a longer day. However, all schools offer ‘Hort’ which is an after-school programme where children are served lunch, home-work help and can play – this needs to be applied for separately.
Hort is a childcare service offered by schools offered to parents for before and after school hours. Childcare is usually offered from 7am – 6pm, for parents who need childcare due to their own working hours. This is available for children from 1-4th grade, for 5-6th grade a special application needs to be made. Hort fees depend on the state, in Berlin grades 1-2 are free and further grades are based on income.
Hot lunches are also free for all children in Berlin from grade 1-6.