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Germany:Organisation of General Lower Secondary Education

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Types of Institutions

Following the primary school stage at which all children attend mixed-ability classes (grades 1 to 4, in Berlin and Brandenburg grades 1 to 6) the structure of the secondary school system (grades 5/7 to 12/13) in the Länder is characterised by division into the various educational paths with their respective leaving certificates and qualifications for which different school types are responsible, namely:

  • Hauptschule or comparable educational paths
  • Realschule
  • Gymnasium
  • Schularten mit mehreren Bildungsgängen

While the following Länder have additional or alternative school types, namely

Baden-Württemberg:    Werkrealschule

Integrierte Sekundarschule
Verbundene Haupt- und Realschule
Regionale Schule

Realschule plus
Erweiterte Realschule, Gemeinschaftsschule


Each type of lower secondary level school offers one or several courses of education. All the courses at schools offering a single course of education are related to a certain leaving certificate. Schools offering a single course of education are as a rule the Hauptschule, the Realschule and the Gymnasium. Schools offering several courses of education combine two or three courses of education under one roof. Schools offering two courses of education include the Mittelschule (Bayern, Sachsen), the Regelschule, the Sekundarschule (Bremen, Sachsen-Anhalt), the Erweiterte Realschule, the Verbundene Haupt- und Realschule, the Regionale Schule, the Realschule plus, the Regionalschule, the Oberschule (Brandenburg) and the Mittelstufenschule. Schools offering three courses of education include the Integrierte Gesamtschule, the Kooperative Gesamtschule, the Gemeinschaftsschule (Baden-Württemberg, Saarland, Sachsen-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein, Thüringen), the Integrierte Sekundarschule, the Oberschule (Bremen, Niedersachsen), the Stadtteilschule, the Sekundarschule (Nordrhein-Westfalen) and, in some cases, the Regionale Schule.

Grades 5 and 6 of all general education schools constitute a phase of particular promotion, supervision and orientation with regard to the pupil's future educational path and its particular direction.

A description of the special educational support available at Förderschulen (special schools) providing general education, also called Sonderschulen, Förderzentren or Schulen für Behinderte in some Länder, may be found in the section on separate special education needs provision in early childhood and school education.

Common principles for lower secondary education were laid down by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (Kultusministerkonferenz – KMK) in the Agreement on types of school and courses of education at lower secondary level (Vereinbarung über die Schularten und Bildungsgänge im Sekundarbereich I) of December 1993, amended in September 2014.

Schools offering one single course of education at lower secondary level

Hauptschulen (in Bayern the Mittelschule), Realschulen and Gymnasien are schools offering one single course of education. All the instruction at such schools is geared to the attainment of one specific leaving certificate.


The Hauptschule provides its pupils with a BASIC GENERAL EDUCATION which enables them, according to their performance and preferences, through specialisation, and subject to their qualifications, to continue their education, above all, in courses leading to a vocational qualification but also in courses leading to a higher education entrance qualification. It normally covers grades 5–9. With ten years of compulsory full-time education, the Hauptschule also includes grade 10.

As a rule, the subjects taught at Hauptschulen include German, a foreign language (usually English), mathematics, physics/chemistry, biology, geography, history, Arbeitslehre (i.e. pre-vocational studies, also called Economics-Work-Technology or Work-Economics-Technology) and social studies, music, art, sport, religious education and, in some Länder, domestic science and economics and other work-related subjects. In some Länder subjects have been combined into subject groups. Mathematics and foreign language lessons are frequently taught in sets according to the pupils' aptitude. The aim of this is to better accommodate pupils' different abilities, to enable them to obtain the Hauptschulabschluss and to facilitate their transition to other types of secondary school.

Länder in which full-time school attendance is compulsory for nine years offer pupils an opportunity to attend the Hauptschule for a tenth year, if they wish, in order to obtain another leaving certificate, e.g. the extended Hauptschulabschluss. As a secondary school, the Hauptschule also affords particularly able pupils an opportunity to obtain a more advanced qualification under certain conditions such as the Mittlerer Schulabschluss, either in a 10th year or in a subsequent vocational education.


The Realschule provides its pupils with a MORE EXTENSIVE GENERAL EDUCATION which enables them, according to their performance and preferences, through specialisation, and subject to their qualifications, to continue their education in courses leading to a vocational qualification and in courses leading to a higher education qualification. The standard Realschulen cover grades 5 to 10.

As a rule, the subjects taught at Realschulen include German, a foreign language (usually English), mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, geography, history, politics, music, art, sport and religious education. In some Länder subjects have been combined into subject groups. In addition to compulsory courses, pupils are generally required to take three to six hours a week of compulsory electives as from grade 7 or 8. According to their personal inclinations and abilities, the pupils may take additional classes in certain compulsory subjects or choose new subjects, including, among others, a second foreign language (usually French) as from grade 7 or 8. Some Länder provide the option of choosing a second foreign language from as early as grade 6.

A Realschule leaving certificate qualifies a pupil to transfer to a school that provides vocational or higher education entrance qualification.


Gymnasien provide an INTENSIFIED GENERAL EDUCATION. The course of education in the standard Gymnasium comprises both the lower and upper secondary level and covers grades 5 to 12 or 5 to 13 (or years 7 to 12 or 7 to 13 following a six-year primary school). Apart from standard Gymnasien, there are special types of Gymnasium into which Hauptschule and Realschule pupils can transfer following grade 6 or 7, as well as special courses for particularly able Realschule and vocational school leavers. In almost all Länder, the conversion from nine to eight years at the Gymnasium has been completed by 2013. In Rheinland-Pfalz, selected Gymnasien providing eight-year courses of school education are set up in combination with all-day schools.

In Schleswig-Holstein Gymnasien can return to nine-year courses of school education or offer both courses in parallel from 2011/2012 onwards. In Nordrhein-Westfalen some Gymnasien will be given the opportunity of testing a new nine-year course of education within the framework of a pilot project.Baden-Württemberg is also testing a new nine-year Gymnasium course of education within the framework of a pilot project in the 2012/2013 school year. In Hessen Gymnasien have been able, since the beginning of the 2013/2014 school year, to choose whether to offer the eight-year or nine-year Gymnasium course of education. An educational and organisational concept is also being tested in a school trial to enable the eight-year or the nine-year Gymnasium course of education to be offered in parallel at one school. Niedersachsen decided in March 2014 to return to the nine-year Gymnasium course of educa-tion from the 2015/2016 school year. High-achieving pupils can still obtain the Allgemeine Hochschulreife (general entrance qualification for higher education) after twelve years.

In grades 5–10 or 5–9 of the Gymnasium, which comprise the lower secondary level there, the main subjects taught are: German, at least two foreign languages, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, geography, history, politics, music, art, sport and religious education.

Schools offering several courses of education in lower secondary level

Depending on the Länder, the Schularten mit mehreren Bildungsgängen (schools offering more than one type of course of education) include the comprehensive school known as Gesamtschule and the following types of school: Mittelschule (Bayern, Sachsen), Regelschule, Sekundarschule (Bremen, Sachsen-Anhalt), Erweiterte Realschule, Verbundene Haupt- und Realschule, Regionale Schule, Oberschule, Realschule plus, Gemeinschaftsschule, Regionalschule, Integrierte Sekundarschule, Stadtteilschule and Mittelstufenschule.

Schools offering several courses of education provide instruction in certain subjects and grades either in classes organised according the desired qualification or – in some subjects – in courses divided up into two or more two levels of proficiency defined in terms of the curriculum covered. Instead of courses, in order to avoid excessively long ways to school and to test special pedagogical concepts, in-class learning groups may be formed in all grades for German and the natural sciences, and, as a rule, in grade 7 only for mathematics.

For demographic reasons or due to school structure in-class learning groups may be extended to other grades.

Geographical Accessibility

For the geographical accessibility of schools in the secondary sector, the information on the geographical accessibility of primary schools applies.

Admission Requirements and Choice of School

In terms of the choice of school, a distinction must first of all be made between the choice of a particular school type and the pupil's acceptance into a specific school establishment.

Choice of school within the differentiated school system

The Länder have different regulations governing the transition from primary into secondary education. In some instances, a binding decision on the choice of school attended and/or course of education pursued in lower secondary education (Sekundarstufe I) is made in grade 4, and in others during grades 5 and 6, while in others still this decision is only made at the end of grade 6. No such decision has to be made if the pupil is entering an integrierte Gesamtschule (integrated comprehensive school).

During grade 4 in the primary school, a vote is taken by the school which the pupil is leaving that contains general information about the pupil’s progress in primary school and concludes with an overall assessment of her or his aptitude for certain types of secondary schools. This is accompanied by detailed consultations with parents. The vote of the primary school is either the basis for the decision or an aid in the decision regarding the pupil's future school career. Depending on Land legislation, various methods can be used to assess the pupil's suitability for a future school career at the Realschule or Gymnasium (trial half-year, trial lessons, entrance examination). The final decision is taken either by the parents or by the school or school supervisory authority. An overview of the regulations of the individual Länder regarding the transition from primary to lower secondary education is available on the website of the Standing Conference.

Choice of a specific school establishment

The right of parents to choose a school for their children does not mean that a pupil has the right to be accepted by a specific school. The right to a free choice of the place of training which is laid down in the Basic Law (Grundgesetz) does not refer to acceptance into a specific school. As a result, as long as attendance of another school of the same type is possible and can reasonably be expected, some Länder rule out a legal right to acceptance into a specific school in their Education Acts.

Pupils wishing to complete their compulsory schooling at the Hauptschule or Berufsschule must always attend the local school. This rule also applies to pupils at other types of secondary school if school catchment areas have been fixed for the type of school they have chosen. However, parents may choose a school other than that which is responsible for the local area and apply to the school authority to admit their child to that school. The school authority then decides on the merits of each particular case, following consultations with the parents and the authority maintaining the school, with the well-being of the pupil concerned being the decisive factor.

If no catchment areas have been fixed for a type of secondary school, parents are always able to choose which school their child attends. In this case, the capacity of the chosen school is the only limiting factor affecting the pupil's right to admission.

Age Levels and Grouping of Pupils/Students

At schools offering one course of education, pupils aged 10 to 16 are taught by subject teachers in classes made up of children of the same age group. Schularten mit mehreren Bildungsgängen (schools offering several courses of education) provide instruction in certain subjects and grades in classes organised, as a rule, either according to the desired qualification or to the required performance at a minimum of two levels of proficiency.

At any school at lower secondary level grades 5 and 6 constitute, irrespective of their organisational allocation, a period of special promotion, observation and orientation to determine a child's subsequent educational path and its specialist focus. Beginning in grade 7, the school types and courses of education increasingly diverge in terms of the subjects offered, the requirements with regard to individual specialisation and the qualifications being aimed at.

Organisation of the School Year

For the organisation of the school year in the secondary sector, the information on the organisation of the school year in the primary sector applies.

Organisation of the School Day and Week

At lower secondary level (Sekundarstufe I), lesson times are generally laid down from 7.30/8.30 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. (Monday to Friday) or 7.30/8.30 a.m. to 11.30 a.m. (Saturday). With the exception of the eight-year Gymnasium, pupils generally have 28 to 30 weekly periods in compulsory and optional subjects in grades 5 and 6 of all types of school, and 30 to 32 periods in grades 7 to 10. Each period is 45 minutes.

For general information about the daily and weekly timetable and the five-day or six-day week, see the section on the organisation of the primary sector.

All-day education and supervision offers

Education and care outside morning lessons is provided to lower secondary level pupils at Ganztagsschulen (all-day schools) and extended Halbtagsschulen (half-day schools), via all-day offers in schools, as well as in programmes run in cooperation with providers of youth welfare services or cultural education, sports clubs, parents’ initiatives or other external cooperation partners. Many Länder have signed cooperation agreements with education providers outside the school sector. Currently these offers are, with particular emphasis depending on the respective Land, being developed in many Länder. Both concepts strengthen the aspect of education and individual support as compared to the aspect of mere supervision. Within the compass of the investment programme Future Education and Care (Investitionsprogramm Zukunft Bildung und Betreuung – IZBB), the Federation supplied the Länder with investment funding amounting to Euro 4 billion for the demand-driven establishment and expansion of all-day schools for the period from 2003 to 2009. The objectives of the expansion of all-day offers include a sustainable improvement of the quality of schools and teaching as well as a decoupling of social background and competence acquisition. In detail, the new all-day facilities are aimed at creating the prerequisites for improved individual promotion, closer linkage between the education available in schools and out-of-school educational facilities and the stronger participation of parents and pupils. The schools and the Schulträger (school-maintaining bodies) are being supported until 2014 by a range of accompanying measures carried out in close cooperation with the Länder and the German Children and Youth Foundation (Deutsche Kinder- und Jugendstiftung) and within the framework of the programme “Ideen für mehr! Ganztägig Lernen” (Ideas for more! All-day learning) through the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung – BMBF).

In all-day schools in the primary or secondary sector, in addition to timetabled lessons in the morning, an all-day programme comprising at least seven hours per day is offered on at least three days per week. There are three different forms:

  • in the fully bound form, all pupils are obliged to make use of the all-day offer;
  • in the partially bound form, part of the pupils (e.g. individual class units or grades) commit to making use of the all-day offer;
  • in the open form, the all-day offer is made available to the pupils on a voluntary basis; registration is usually binding for half a school year.

Activities offered in the afternoon are to be organised under the supervision and responsibility of the head staff and to be carried out in cooperation with the head staff. The activities are to have a conceptual relationship with the lessons in the morning. All-day supervision is organised by teachers, educators, Sozialpädagogen (graduate youth and community workers), pedagogic staff (pädagogische Fachkräfte) and, if necessary, by other staff and with external cooperation partners. All-day schools provide a midday meal on the days on which they offer all-day supervision.

Between 2003 and 2009 the investment programme Future Education and Care (Investitionsprogramm Zukunft Bildung und Betreuung – IZBB) has supplied funding to a total of 8,262 schools in all of the Länder. The large increase in the number of schools providing all-day activities is reflected in the report on general education schools providing all-day activities and care – statistics 2007–2011 (Allgemeinbildende Schulen in Ganztagsform in den Ländern in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland – Statistik 2008 bis 2012) which is available on the website of the Standing Conference. An internet portal provides information on the development of all-day offers in the Länder within the scope of the investment programme Future Education and Care and the ongoing accompanying empirical research.

Outside school there is a large variety of institutions, both public and private, active in youth work as well as others concentrating on cultural and educational activities and private groups offering pupils a midday meal, help with homework and recreational activities. Out of the large choice available, special mention should be made of the concerted cooperation with youth music schools, youth art schools, with youth culture centres and bodies maintaining cultural education, youth sport clubs and with maintaining bodies of youth welfare.