In Germany, the school system is organized by the states, this article will explain the model in Hamburg and shall inform parents about procedures to place their child successfully into school.
The compulsory school age in Germany begins for all children that turn six years old by 1st of July of a year and ends at 18 years old. The nationality or residency status do not exclude children from their obligation to school attendance.
While the state schools are free of charge, parents may need to contribute certain items for their children’s attendance, for example:
– exercise books, pens, pencils, erasers, calculator
– sports clothes
– book bag
Primary School “Grundschule”
Grundschule covers the first four years of education, some places also have “Vorschule” (Preschool), where children can attend the year before the official school start and slowly get introduced to the school setting. Alternatively, children can also complete Vorschule in their Kindergarten. All primary schools offer all-day education if needed, the regular full-day option ends at 4 PM, however there are options available to take care of the children as early as 6 AM and as late as 6 PM. They also offer the possibility to supervise children during the holidays.
Primary schools are divided into two types, GBS and GTS.
GBS is an all-day education and childcare option that cooperates with youth welfare services. Lessons take place from 08AM to 1PM, before and after, care will be provided on the school grounds by the partner according to a joint educational concept often offering help with home work, artistic workshops and sports and opportunities for play.
At GTS, the schools organize the care outside of the school hours themselves and the care staff is directly employed at the institution, which allows for more flexibility in day planning. There are three versions of GTS:
At voluntary GTS, lessons are held in the mornings, the afternoons offer activities that pupils can sign up for. Otherwise, they can be picked up by parents after the regular school day ends.
At compulsory GTS, children attend school each day until 4 PM. The lessons are spread over the day leaving more room to have a break from learning by doing other activities in between lessons.
Semi-compulsary GTS, the school specifies certain days that the children have to stay in school until 4PM. This way, just like at compulsary GTS, the school day consists of a mix of lessons, rest periods, play time, help with home work and activities taking into account children’s ability to concentrate and learn more effectively.
After primary school, children can either attend Gymnasium (Grammar School) or Stadtteilschule (Local Comprehensive School), depending on their educational needs.
Gymnasium (Grammar School)
Gymnasium leads highly academic students to Abitur in just 8 years.
Stadtteilschule (Local Comprehensive School)
Stadtteilschule leads students to Abitur in 9 years, giving kids one additional year to fulfill the curriculum. This type of school is more diverse, as it is attended by pupils with special and extraordinary talents, as well as children and young people with special educational needs.
At the end of year 9, pupils receive the “general certificate of secundary education” (Erster Schulabschluss), which entitles them to vocational training.
At the end of year 10, pupils receive the “intermediate level certificate of secondary education” (Mittlerer Schulabschluss), which entitles them to more complex vocational training.
At the end of year 12/13, pupils receive their “school leaving certificate” (Abitur), that entitles them to study at a university or receive vocational training depending on their preference. Whether they receive the certificate after 12 or 13 years depends on the type of secondary school they attend (Gymnasium or Stadtteilschule)
Unlike in other countries, many occupations in Germany can only be learned as part of vocational training. It has an exemplary reputation worldwide and is founded in a dual system of vocational education and training, meaning apprentices receive their theoretical knowledge at a vocational school and put it into practice in their training company.
Advice on vocational training can be sought after at:
At 4,5 and 5,5 years, children are invited to their local primary school to check if their development is in accordance to their age, and whether they can speak and understand German. These meetings are compulsory.
If the language skills are not sufficient, the child must either attend pre-school or be taken care of in a kindergarten to develop them in time. They might also receive up to four hours of German lessons per week, the school will inform parents further about possibilities at the meetings.
If families move to Germany with children that are already of school age, they start their school journey in an international preparatory class (IVK) or basic class (BK) in case they are not familiar with the Roman alphabet. The school information center (SIZ) is responsible for placing kids up to the age of 16 into an appropriate school that offer IVK and BK classes. During the first 6 months in IVK-class, students receive intensive German language tuition, after that they are also taught regular subjects to prepare them for the transition into a regular class.
Teenagers ages 15 and older have the option to part-take in a two-year international preparatory class to obtain their „Erster Schulabschluss“ (ESA). They can also prepare for the „Mittlerer Schulabschluss“ (MSA).
Teenagers aged 16 and 17 are assigned to a two-year training preparation for migrants (AvM-Dual) that prepares them for an apprenticeship. After an initial phase lasting several months, young people spend three days at a vocational school and two days in a company-based internship. In-company integration mentors assist the young people and the companies. AvM-Dual is a two-year program in which young people can earn their first or intermediate school-leaving certificate. This program is organized by the Information Centre of the Hamburg Institute for Vocational Training and Education (IZ-HIBB).
There are a couple of international/bilingual schools in Hamburg. Please take into consideration, that most of them are private and therefore take school fees that are to be paid by parents.
International School of Hamburg – English
Skandinaviska Skolan i Hamburg – Swedish
Phorms Bilingual School – English/German
Moderne Schule Hamburg – English/German
Location: Groß Borstel/Lokstedt
Lycee Franco-Allemand Hambourg – French/German
Location: Lokstedt (planned to move to Altona for school year 2025/2026)
École Française de Hambourg – French
Location: Lokstedt (planned to move to Altona for school year 2025/2026)
WABE International School – English
Just like any other child, children with special needs have the right to attend primary and secondary school. Depending on the support needed, parents can decide to send their child to mainstream school or to a special school (Sonderschule). In any case, an individual support plan will be drawn up to determine the type and amount of assistance the child will receive, which will be reviewed regularly.
Consultation to choose the right school for your child can be received at (among others):
– the relevant Regional Education and Advice Centres (ReBBZ)
– the school the child currently attends/plans to attend
– special schools
– the autism advice centre
– Ombudsstelle Inklusive Bildung
Please contact relevant places/authorities before coming to Hamburg to find out, whether you shall bring along diagnosis/supporting documents to speed up the process of your child receiving the support they deserve.