In recent years, the number of primary schools has been declining, while the number of primary school classes is higher than ever before – in all Austrian provinces except Vienna. This is largely 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. 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 outlined in the Basic Act on the Maintenance of Compulsory Schools.
Admission requirements and choice of school
General compulsory schooling applies to all children permanently residing 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 period 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, which is usually the school closest to the pupil’s place of residence. Children are legally entitled to be admitted to the district school. However, for specific reasons, provincial legislation can also allow children to attend a school in another district – without requiring the approval of the body responsible for school maintenance. This applies, among others, to children with special educational needs. Since the school year 2017/18 provisions of provincial legislation have extended 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 set by the competent board of education and need to be made known to the public – along with the required personal documents. 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 when there is reason to assume that he or she will be able to follow instruction in the first year without being mentally or physically overwhelmed. 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.
With the school entrance screening (Schuleingangsscreening), primary schools now have an easy-to-use, flexible, scientifically based and at the same time attractive support diagnostic procedure at their disposal.
Children who are of statutory school age but not ready for school are admitted to the pre-school stage.
Since the school year 2016/17, kindergartens and schools have been closely cooperating by exchanging data when 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 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 30.5 percent of primary school pupils in Austria have a first language other than German. The share of primary school pupils with a first language other than German varies across the Austrian provinces. It ranges from 17.4 percent in Burgenland and Carinthia to 58.8 percent in Vienna. The share of foreign primary school pupils is significantly lower, ranging from 13.3 percent in Burgenland to 38.2 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 first language instruction (see 5.2.1.).
Additional supporting measures (improvement of German learning through the formation of German classes and German language courses) started in the school year 2018/19. State of the reform chapter 14.5. Data for school year 2021/2022.
School legislation related to minorities
In addition to 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.
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 must 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 63.4 percent of children of primary school age with special educational needs are integrated into primary schools, while 36 percent attend special needs schools. Children with special educational needs who are taught at primary schools make up 1.6 percent of the total number of primary school pupils.
Exemption from school attendance
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).
There are still occasionally upper stages of primary schools (5th to 8th grade); the total number of pupils in this school type is now only 23, however.
Currently each grade corresponds to one class, if the number of pupils permits. If there are not enough pupils, 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 is determined by the head of school, taking into account the requirements of pedagogy and safety, the support needs of the pupils, the space available and the possible workload of the teaching staff, and in accordance with the teaching staff resources allocated to the school.
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.
- 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.
- 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, while in the other provinces a week later.
A school year consists of the year of instruction (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 it ends 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 (3 days).
Organisation of the school day and week
As a rule, classes must not start before 8 a.m. The school forum may 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 valid reasons.
A lesson typically lasts 50 minutes. For compelling reasons – such as consideration for pupils travelling from a distance – lessons may be shortened to 45 minutes by the school authority of first instance. However, 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 compulsory schools are closed on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays 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, aiming 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), 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.
Both forms of all-day schools offer major benefits:
- They clearly reduce the grade retention rate,
- decrease the need for private tutoring,
- and enhance the job opportunities of the pupils’ legal guardians.
Due to the strong expansion of all-day schools the need for qualified staff has increased, leading to the creation of the new occupational profile of "educators for assisted learning" (ErzieherInnen für die Lernhilfe) in 2016. These educators can be employed during individual learning periods and the leisure section. Subject-related learning times are still 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 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 into account 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.