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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of primary education

Austria

5.Primary education

5.1Organisation of primary education

Last update: 5 October 2022


Geographical accessibility

In recent years, the number of primary schools has been declining; but the number of primary school classes has dropped even more strongly – in all Austrian provinces except Vienna. This is not least due to the population decline in the peripheral regions of the individual provinces and the population increase in the federal capital Vienna.

Accessibility of public primary schools is guaranteed in all Austrian regions, however. By law, the bodies responsible for school maintenance (i.e. the municipalities, associations of municipalities and provinces) are obliged to ensure that there are a sufficient number of primary schools so all children of statutory school age can attend a primary school within a reasonable travel distance. A school district must be defined for each public school. Such a school district is the legally defined catchment area of a public compulsory school. School districts of primary schools must be adjacent to one another without any gaps in between.

Specific exceptions to this provision are set out in the Basic Act on the Maintenance of Compulsory Schools

Admission requirements and choice of school

General compulsory schooling applies to all children permanently resident in Austria. Permanent residence means that a child resides in Austria for a minimum assessment period of one semester. Children residing in Austria for a shorter spell may attend an Austrian school but are not obliged to do so.

General compulsory schooling starts on 1 September following a child’s sixth birthday. Children are admitted to the first grade of primary school, in most cases after enrolling in their responsible district school, this is usually the school closest to the pupil’s place of residence. Children are legally entitled to be admitted to the district school. For specific reasons, however, provincial legislation can also allow children to attend a school in another district – without requiring the approval of the body responsible for school maintenance – which applies, among others, to children with special educational needs. Since school year 2017/18 provisions of provincial legislation extend the possibilities to attend a school in another district, such as an all-day school run in a combined form.

The deadlines for enrolment at school vary but are always in the first half of the calendar year before school entry and end four months before the beginning of the summer holidays at the latest. These deadlines are fixed by the competent board of education and need to be made known to the public – together with the personal documents which have to be submitted. The child needs to be present when enrolling so that the school head can determine if the child is ready for school.

A child is considered ready for school where there is reason to assume that he or she will be able to follow instruction in the first year and without being mentally or physically overtaxed. If there are doubts about a child’s readiness for school, the school head is obliged to obtain an expert opinion from a school doctor. An expert opinion from a school psychologist may only be obtained with the consent of the child’s legal guardians. Children who are of statutory school age but not ready for school are admitted to the pre-school stage. Sufficient competence in the language of instruction German is not considered a criterion for the readiness for school.

Since the school year 2016/17, kindergartens and schools have been cooperating closely by exchanging data at the time a child enters school. Attendance of a kindergarten in the year before school entry has been compulsory in Austria since September 2010, not least to provide targeted language support to the children. The information about a child’s level of development and language skills which is obtained at the kindergarten stage by conducting language screenings and measures of language support aims to make it easier, if necessary, to continue the targeted (language) support of the child at school. For this purpose, the legal guardians need to submit relevant documents on paper or electronically when enrolling the child.

Regular pupils – non-regular pupils

To be admitted to a school as a regular pupil, children must, for example, have sufficient command of the language of instruction to make sure they can follow classes. Where this is not the case, they may be admitted as non-regular pupils initially for a maximum of 12 months. The school head may then extend this status for another 12 months.

Pupils with first languages other than German

Based on official school statistics, roughly 29 percent of primary school pupils in Austria have a mother tongue other than German. The share of primary school pupils with a mother tongue other than German varies across the Austrian provinces. It ranges from 15 percent in Carinthia to 56 percent in Vienna. The share of foreign primary school pupils is clearly lower, only about half as high, and ranges from eight percent in Burgenland to 26 percent in Vienna.

Children with first languages other than German are integrated into the classes and can, where necessary, obtain special support in the language of instruction German and, where sufficient staff resources are available, receive mother tongue instruction (see 5.2.1.).

New measures in this respect (Improvement of German learning through the formation of German classes and German language courses) started in the school year 2018/19. Please see here.  

Placement test

Pupils who want to be admitted to the fourth grade of primary school, but do not have a relevant certificate entitling them to this, need to take a placement test. This test aims to determine if the pupils’ previous education suffices for the school year they wish to attend. But the teacher can dispense with the placement test if it is evident from classroom participation and other proof of competence that the respective pupil has largely met the educational objective of the previous school grades. In practice, no placement tests are held in primary schools. 

School legislation related to minorities

As well as the general forms of Austrian primary school with German as the language of instruction, the following forms are provided in Burgenland especially for the Croatian and Hungarian ethnic groups:

  • primary schools or primary school classes with Croatian and German as languages of instruction and
  • primary schools or primary school classes with Hungarian and German as languages of instruction.

In the province of Carinthia, there are primary schools and primary school classes with German and Slovenian as languages of instruction especially for the Slovenian minority. 

Attendance of primary school at an early age

At the request of their parents, children who are not yet of statutory school age but will reach the age of six by 1 March of the following year need to be admitted to the first grade at the start of the school year provided they are ready for school and have the social competence required for school attendance.

If it is found that excessive demands are made on the child in the first grade, the early admission needs to be revoked. Such a revocation must be pronounced by the end of the calendar year in which the child was admitted. In such a case, the parents can register their child for the pre-school stage.

Attendance of the pre-school stage

Children who are of statutory school age but not yet ready for school, and therefore attend the pre-school stage, must be supported to ensure they become ready for school, taking the social integration of children with disabilities into account. 

School attendance for pupils with special educational needs

School-based support of children and young people with special educational needs can be provided, at the request of their parents or legal guardians, either in an integrative form at a regular school or a special needs school appropriate for the respective type of disability.

Integrative classes and integrative instruction enable children and young people with and without disabilities to have joint learning experiences.

Pupils are provided with appropriate special needs education by using specific curricula and also, if necessary, by using an additional qualified teacher.

The boards of education have the task of ensuring the successful implementation of integrative teaching.

Currently 62 percent of children of primary school age with special educational needs are integrated into primary schools, 38 percent attend special needs schools. Children with special educational needs who are taught at primary schools make up about two percent of the total number of primary school pupils. 

Exemption from school attendance

Where school attendance is not possible for medical reasons or would constitute an unreasonable burden for the child, he or she must be exempted from attending school. 

Age levels and grouping of pupils

Primary school comprises:

  • elementary level I (the 1st and 2nd school grade, and the pre-school stage where required) and
  • elementary level II (the 3rd and 4th school grade).

Only in the provinces of Upper Austria, Tyrol and Vorarlberg are there still occasionally upper stages of primary schools (5th to 8th grade); the total number of pupils in this school type is now only 57, however.

Currently – the number of pupils permitting – each grade corresponds to one class. If there are not enough pupils, however, more than one grade can be taught in one class (which is heterogeneous in terms of age).

Where grades of elementary level I are taught jointly, the following options are currently possible, by way of example:

  • the pre-school stage jointly with the 1st grade
  • the pre-school stage jointly with the 1st and 2nd grade
  • the 1st grade jointly with the 2nd grade

Since 2017/18 provincial regulations basically allow joint teaching of grades in one class at primary schools. This means that every primary school can autonomously decide – in agreement with the school authority and the body responsible for school maintenance – if it teaches pupils of different grades in classes that are heterogeneous in terms of age or in classes organised by school grades.

By law, the number of pupils in one primary school class must not be below ten. For special reasons (such as to keep a school location), the responsible body can permit exceptions. By law, the guiding value for the maximum number of pupils per class is 25; the average number of pupils in primary school classes is currently 18.5. In the pre-school stage, the number of pupils must not be below ten or above twenty.

Primary schools are schools with a class-teacher system, which means that one class teacher is responsible for the entire instruction in one primary school class (with the exception of Religious Education). A change of teacher from one grade to the next is only possible where it is necessary for compelling educational or other reasons.

For:

  • children who are not yet ready for school (where the pre-school stage and grades of elementary level 1 are taught jointly),
  • children with special educational needs, and
  • children with a first language other than German and insufficient command of the language of instruction, it is possible to employ an additional teacher with related qualifications, either on a lesson-by-lesson or permanent basis.

The curriculum of primary school also provides for the possibility of internal differentiation to ensure targeted support for pupils (both for those with learning difficulties and for especially gifted ones). Possible criteria for grouping within a class (but also for individual support) include interest, self-assessment, different learning requirements and the pace of learning.

Possible differentiations:

  • different assignments (such as the number of assignments, the foreseen time required, the level of complexity),
  • different media and resources,
  • different support from teachers and other children. 

Organisation of the school year

The school year is more or less uniformly structured for all school types.

Depending on the province, the school year begins on the first or second Monday of the month of September. In the provinces of Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland, the school year begins on the first Monday of the month of September, in the other provinces a week later.

A school year consists of the instruction year (comprising two semesters) and the main holidays. There is a one-week break between the two semesters in the month of February, which – depending on the province – is either in the first, second or third week of February. In the provinces of Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland the year of instruction ends on a Friday between 28 June and 4 July, in all other provinces one week later. The main or summer holidays last for nine weeks – from the end of one year of instruction to the beginning of the next. In addition, there are Christmas holidays (duration: 14 days), Easter holidays (10 days), Autumn holidays (5 days) and Whitsun holidays (4 days). 

Organisation of the school day and week

As a rule, classes must not start before 8 a.m. The school forum or class forum may, however, bring the start of classes forward to 7 a.m. at the earliest if this is deemed necessary out of consideration for pupils travelling from a distance or for other good reasons.

A lesson usually lasts 50 minutes. For compelling reasons – such as out of consideration for pupils travelling from a distance – lessons may be shortened to 45 minutes by the school authority of first instance. However, both for the pre-school stage, primary school and the first four years of special needs school, it is possible to deviate from this strict requirement as long as the total duration of lessons is equal to the number of weekly lessons as stipulated in the curriculum.

There must be breaks of at least five minutes between the individual lessons. Where this is useful for the organisation of classes, two lessons can also be held without a break in between.

The total number of weekly lessons must, as far as possible, be spread evenly over the individual school days. The number of lessons per school day in the first four years is between four and six.

All pupils in compulsory school classes are off on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, on 2 November (All Souls’ Day), and on the holiday of the patron saint of the respective province

All-day school forms

In 2017, Austria launched an expansion initiative for all-day school forms, which aims to increase the out-of-hours provision rate from about 22% in 2016 to 40% by 2025. Since the school year 1994/95 there has been the legally established option to organise schools or classes as all-day forms. This applies to compulsory schools (i.e. primary school, special needs school, compulsory secondary school, pre-vocational school) as well as to the lower cycle of academic secondary school.

Two variants of all-day schools are possible: There are all-day school forms where classroom instruction and assisted periods (“out-of-hours provision”) are organised consecutively and others where they overlap. In all-day school forms where instruction and assisted periods are clearly separated, pupils are provided with a midday meal after morning classes; assisted periods comprise learning times and a leisure section in the afternoon, which currently need to last at least until 4 p.m. (until 6 p.m. at the latest).

In all-day school forms where instruction and assisted periods overlap (these are the typical all-day schools), based on the pedagogical concept, all pupils are present until 4 p.m. because the classes, learning times and leisure sessions alternate several times during a day.

As part of school autonomy, the times when parents can fetch their children from school were flexibilised. At all-day schools where instruction and assisted periods are clearly separated, pupils can also take advantage of afternoon care on individual days.

With the goal of increasing the share of pupils who take advantage of an all-day school offer, the Ministry of Education, Science and Research is investing EUR 750 million by 2025 to further improve the quantity and quality of these schools as part of an expansion initiative. The goal is to enhance equality of opportunity for children and improve the reconciliation of working life and family especially for single parents.

In both forms, all-day schools offer major benefits: All-day schools:

  • clearly reduce the grade retention rate,
  • decrease the need to pay for private tutoring,
  • enhance the job opportunities of the pupils’ legal guardians.

Due to the fact that the strong expansion of all-day schools also increases the need for qualified staff, the new occupational profile of “educators for assisted learning” (ErzieherInnen für die Lernhilfe) was created in 2016. These educators can be employed during individual learning periods and the leisure section. As before, subject-related learning times are held only by teachers. Educators for assisted learning acquire their qualification – closely based on training for “free-time teachers” (FreizeitpädagogInnen) – in one-year higher education programmes which is offered since the autumn 2017.

The exemption from tuition fees does not apply to assisted periods in all-day public schools. However, contributions for the assisted periods must only cover costs at most and need to take account of the financial standing of those who are legally responsible for the children. The ongoing expansion initiative also promotes a reduction of the parents’ contributions, in addition it aims to generate offers for the holiday periods.