Skip to main content

Secondary school

In Germany, all children go to school from the age of 6. First, they attend elementary school. After that they choose a secondary school. Secondary schools can be different. For example, a Gymnasium, a Realschule or a Hauptschule. Depending on the school, you get a different certificate. Schools in Germany are free of charge. Parents only pay for materials, books and excursions or class trips.

Elementary school (grade 1 - 4) *

Gymnasium (grade 5 - 12/13)

Gesamtschule (grade 5 - 12/13)

Realschule (grade 5 - 10)

Hauptschule (grade 5 - 9/10)

Special schools for children with special eductional needs or disabilities

*In Berlin and Brandenburg, elementary school usually goes up to grade 6. Secondary school starts in the 7th grade.

After elementary school, your child goes to secondary school. Teachers will make a recommendation on the type of secondary school. The recommendation is based on your child's performance. You do not always have to follow this recommendation. Changing to a new school is a big step for you and your child. Take time to make your decision. Talk to your teachers. Talk to your child. What does your child want?

The secondary schools are called Gymnasium, Gesamtschule, Realschule or Hauptschule. At each school students can achieve different school-leaving certificatess. For example, Mittlere Reife at Realschule or Abitur at Gymnasium.

Have you decided on a particular type of school? Then visit those schools of this type in your area. Schools have different main focuses (for example, musical, language or sports focus). Many schools have their own website. The websites give you an impression of the school. You can visit the schools on 'open day'. The schools introduce themselves on this day. You can also talk to the teachers and the school principal. Take your child with you. It is important that your child also gets an impression of the new school. Speak with your child about the school. Did he or she like the school? Did your child feel comfortable?

Possible questions to ask when choosing a school are:

  • What educational concept does the school offer? Is there individual support?
  • Which subjects are offered? Are there any main focuses (music, sports, language, etc.)?
  • What school-leaving certificatess can be obtained at the school?
  • Are there any full-day care and after-school programs?
  • How far is the school away from home?
  • Can my child reach the school by riding a bicycle or by using public transport?
  • Do any of my child's friends go to this particular school?

There are various school-leaving certificatess in Germany. Depending on which school your child attends, he or she can obtain a certain school-leaving certificate. With the different certificates, one has various options later on. In some federal states, the certificates have different names. However, they are recognized everywhere in Germany. School-leaving certificates can also be obtained later. This is called second-chance education (Zweiter Bildungsweg).


Anyone who successfully passes the 9th grade obtains Hauptschulabschluss. With this certificate, it is possible to start vocational training. Sometimes, however, a higher certificate is required. If you have good grades, you can also continue school and get a higher school-leaving certificate.

  • Hauptschule, Realschule, Gesamtschule, Gymnasium


The Realschulabschluss or Mittlerer Schulabschuss is obtained after a successful examination at the end of the 10th grade. With the Mittlerer Schulabschluss it is possible to do  vocational training. If you have good grades, you can also continue school and get a higher school-leaving certificate.

  • Realschule, Gesamtschule, Gymnasium


The Abitur (general university entrance qualification) is obtained after a successful examination at the end of the 12th or 13th grade at a Gymnasium or a Gesamtschule. The Abitur is the highest school-leaving certificate in Germany. With the Abitur you can do vocational training or start studying at the university. There is also the possibility to catch up on the Abitur later.

  • Gesamtschule, Gymnasium

Fachgebundene Hochschulreife:

The Fachgebundene Hochschulreife is the second highest school-leaving certificate. It is similar to the Abitur, but without requiring a second foreign language. A Mittlerer Schulabschluss (intermediate school-leaving certificate) is necessary. With this, the Fachgebundene Hochschulreife can be obtained, for example, at a Fachgymnasium, a Berufsoberschule or a Berufsfachschule. With this certificate, all courses of study at a university of applied sciences (Fachhochshule) can be studied. In addition, specialized courses of study can be studied at a university. These courses of study depend on the major in the school-leaving certificate. For example, technology, economics or social studies.

  • Fachgymnasium, Fachoberschule, Berufsoberschule


The Fachhochschulreife is somehwat different from Fachgebundene Hochschulreife. Two things are important for this certificate: the school-based part and the vocational part. The school-based part (11th/12th grade) can be completed, for example, at a Berufsfachschule or Fachoberschule or also at a Gymnasium. For the vocational part, a one-year internship, vocational training or a voluntary social year must be completed. After completing both, you obtain the "Fachhochschulreife". With this degree, it is possible to study anything at a university of applied sciences (Fachhochschule). Very rarely, it is also possible to study at a university.

  • Abendgymnasium, Berufsoberschule, Fachoberschule, Fachschule 

My child does not have a school-leaving certificate. Can a school-leaving certificate can be obtained later?

Yes, any school-leaving certificate can be obtained at a later date. For more details, see " Second-chance education" (Zweiter Bildungsweg) in the section " School finished - what now?".

Yes, your child can change schools. Changing schools is a big step for you and your child. Talk to teachers, school staff, and school administrators about a possible school change. There are many reasons for changing school. The change of school must be justified. For example, because of moving to another city. Or if your child is underchallenged or stressed with the school material. Bullying and problems with teachers can also lead to a change of school. For a school change, you must submit an application to the relevant school authority. The school authority (Schulamt) decides on the change of school. It is important to check whether the new school still has capacities left. It is easier for your child to change schools at the beginning of the new school year or term. This makes it easier to understand the school material and to arrive in the new class.  

What documents are needed for a change of school?

  • written recommendation from the current and new school
  • informal application to the school authority (Schulamt)
  • Change of school for psychological reasons: Report of the school psychologist
  • Change of school for physical reasons: Medical opinion of the school doctor

There can be various reasons why your child wants to drop out of school. For example, because of being under or overchallenged, bullying, or a desire to earn money.  Talk to your child. Why does your child want to drop out of school?

If your child is struggling with learning and school curriculum, you can seek after-school assistance or extracurriculars. Learning together with classmates can also help. Talk to teachers about how your child can be supported.

If your child is underchallenged and bored at school, a change of school to a higher school type can help. For example, from Realschule to Gymnasium.

If your child is being bullied at school, talk to the teachers. Seek advice. Sometimes changing schools can be an alternative to dropping out.

Is your child tired of school and wants to work? Talk to your child about possible alternatives. It is much easier to find a job with a school leaving certificate. If money is the reason for dropping out of school, your child could also work a part-time job.

What are the options? 

  • Counseling: Get counseling for yourself and your child. There are counseling centers about dropping out of school. Sometimes the school offers counseling as well. You can also ask our counseling team about counseling centers. 
  • Voluntary service: After dropping out of school, your child can do a Voluntary Social Year (FSJ) or a Voluntary Ecological Year (FÖJ). Your child learns practical experience and often the voluntary service serves as a career orientation.  In Berlin, Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, voluntary service is recognized as a higher education entrance qualification.
  • Second-chance education: Even after dropping out of school, your child has the chance to catch up on a school-leaving certificate. This possibility is called the second-chance education (Zweiter Bildungsweg). Your child can obtain a Hauptschulabschluss, Mittleren Schulabschluss or Abitur outside of regular school. You can find more information in the section „School finished - what now?“ 

As parents, you have rights and duties at school. Parents' rights are described in the School Act. You have the right to be informed and to participate. At the parents' evening/parents' meeting, the school will inform you about your rights. You also have duties and responsibilities to the school. You have the chance to get to know your child's daily school life better and to get actively involved.


What are my rights as a parent at school?

... to be informed about the teaching content and assessments.

... to have access to the student file. The file contains school reports, documentation of your child.

... to be informed about your child's performance.

... to be informed about school decisions (e.g. evaluations, transfers, disciplinary and support measures).

... to attend classes.

... to get involved in the school (for example, as a class parent representative).


What are my duties as a parent at school?

... to register your child at school.

... to observe compulsory school attendance.

... to ensure that your child attends school regularly.

... making sure that your child attends school events.

... to ensure that homework is done regularly.

... ensure that your child has school books, exercise books, pencils, etc.

... in some federal states, parents are also expected to play an active role in the school.

A class parent representative represents the interests of the parents in a class. They are very important because they talk to parents and teachers about questions, information and problems regarding the school. They help with questions about homework, exam dates and class trips and are involved in decision making. They also assist with school events, such as the school party or Christmas bazaar.

Subscribe to our newsletter