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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of general lower secondary education

Germany

6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.1Organisation of general lower secondary education

Last update: 24 March 2023

Types of Institutions

The lower secondary level follows on from the primary level and ends with grade 9 or 10. It is run at various types of school where the First School Leaving Certificate (Erster Schulabschluss), the Intermediate School Leaving Certificate (Mittlerer Schulabschluss) and the entitlement to transfer to the upper secondary level can be acquired. The school system at lower secondary level is characterised by the principle of permeability, i.e. all types of school offer the pathway to the First School Leaving Certificate, the Intermediate School Leaving Certificate or the Allgemeine Hochschulreife either within the respective type of school itself or via suitable connections. Under certain conditions (e.g. by extending school attendance, with certain achievements or on the basis of an additional assessment of performance), some Länder award an extended First School Leaving Certificate, which goes beyond the First School Leaving Certificate in its requirements. In addition to the standard cross-Länder qualification designation, the Länder-specific qualification designation can also be shown as equivalent.

The types of school at lower secondary level are divided into three categories:

  • School types with a course of education leading to the First School Leaving Certificate or the Intermediate School Leaving Certificate or the Allgemeine Hochschulreife (Abitur),
  • School types leading to the First School Leaving Certificate and the Intermediate School Leaving Certificate, or
  • school types leading to the First School Leaving Certificate, the Intermediate School Leaving Certificate and the Allgemeine Hochschulreife (Abitur).

Hauptschule and Realschule only exist in any appreciable numbers in five Länder (Baden-Württemberg, Bayern, Hessen, Niedersachsen, Nordrhein-Westfalen). The Gymnasium exists in all Länder. Furthermore, cooperative or integrated comprehensive schools (kooperative or integrierteGesamtschulen) exist in the majority of Länder. The cooperative comprehensive school brings together the educational pathways Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium under one pedagogical and organisational roof. The integrated comprehensive school forms a pedagogical and organisational unit covering the three educational programmes of lower secondary level, irrespective of the number of levels of proficiency when differentiating between the performance in specific subjects. Schools offering several courses of education combine two or three courses of educa-tion under one roof and may also integrate the grades of the primary sector. In the meantime schools offering several types of education they have led to the abolition of the Hauptschule and Realschule in most Länder.

The following types of school with two courses of education bring the course of education leading to a Erster Schulabschluss and the course of education leading to a Mittlerer Schulabschluss under one educational and organisational umbrella: Mittelschule (Bayern), Oberschule (Brandenburg, Niedersachsen, Sachsen), Verbundene Haupt- und Realschule (Hessen), Mittelstufenschule (Hessen), Regionale Schule (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern), Realschule plus (Rheinland-Pfalz), Sekundarschule (Sachsen-Anhalt), Regelschule (Thüringen). The course of education leading to the Allgemeine Hochschulreife (Abitur) is also offered at types of school with three courses of education: Integrierte Gesamtschule, Kooperative Ge-samtschule, Gemeinschaftsschule (Baden-Württemberg, Berlin, Saarland, Sachsen, Sachsen-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein, Thüringen), Integrierte Sekundarschule (Berlin), Gesamtschule (Brandenburg, Nordrhein-Westfalen), Oberschule (Bremen), Stadtteilschule (Hamburg), Sekundarschule (Nordrhein-Westfalen).

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 general education schools and sonderpädagogische Bildungseinrichtungen (special schools, e.g. (special schools, e.g. Förderschulen, Förderzentren, Schulen mit sonderpädagogischem Förderschwerpunkt, Sonderpädagogische Bildungs- und Beratungszentren) may be found in the section on educational support and guidance.

Common principles for lower secondary education were laid down by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (Kultusministerkonferenz) 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, as periodically amended.

Description of the school types and organisation of the courses of education

The types of school at lower secondary level each comprise one or more courses of education. At schools with one course of education, all teaching is geared to a specific qualification.

Schools with one course of education which are geared to the First School Leaving Certificate provide their pupils with a basic general education which enables them, according to their performance and inclinations, to continue their education in accordance with their qualifications, above all in courses leading to vocational qualifications, but also in courses leading to higher education entrance qualifications.

School types with a course of education geared to the Intermediate School Leaving C provide their pupils with an extended general education which enables them, according to their performance and inclinations, to continue their education in courses leading to vocational and higher education entrance qualifications.

School types with a course of education leading to the Allgemeine Hochschulreife (Abitur) impart to their pupils an in-depth general education which enables them, according to their performance and inclinations, to continue their education at a higher education institution, but also in courses leading to vocational qualifications, in accordance with their qualifications at upper secondary level.

At schools leading to the First School Leaving Certificate and to the Intermediate School Leaving Certificate, instruction is given either in classes related to the leaving certificate or is differentiated according to performance at two defined aspiration levels.

At school types leading to the First School Certificate, the Intermediate School Certificate and the Allgemeine Hochschulreife (Abitur), instruction is either given in classes related to the leaving certificate or differentiated according to performance at two or three defined aspiration levels. 

The following applies to performance-differentiated teaching:

Instruction at different levels of aspiration takes place at least in German, mathematics, the first foreign language and in one of the science subjects. It begins at the latest 

  • in mathematics in year 7 at the latest,
  • from Year 7 in the first foreign language,
  • from Year 9 in German,
  • in at least one science subject in Year 9.  

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) or another school offering several courses of education.

During grade 4 or grade 6 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 (e.g. 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 have in principle the option to freely choose which school their child attends. As a rule, 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), core lesson times are generally laid down from 7.30/8.30 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. (Monday to Friday). 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 child and youth welfare services or cultural education, sports clubs, parents’ initiatives or other external cooperation partners. All 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 education and individual support as compared to the aspect of mere supervision. 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.

In all-day schools, an all-day option is provided for pupils pursuant to the nationwide definition of the Standing Conference on the primary or lower secondary level on at least three days a week, comprising at least seven hours daily. More detailed information on the definition of all-day schools is available in the section on the supervision of pupils outside lesson times and provision of all-day education and supervision in primary education.

The sharp rise in the number of schools providing all-day activities is reflected in the reportAllgemeinbildende Schulen in Ganztagsform in den Ländern in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland – Statistik 2017 bis 2021 – that is available on the website of the Standing Conference. An internet portal provides information on the development of all-day offers in the Länder and on current empirical accompanying research.

In May and June 2020, the Conference of Ministers of Youth and Family Affairs (Jugend- und Familienministerkonferenz – JFMK) and the Standing Conference adopted the recommendation "Development and expansion of cooperative all-day education in lower secondary schools" ('Entwicklung und Ausbau einer kooperativen Ganztagsbildung in der Sekundarstufe I'). The recommendation highlights conceptual and structural aspects of cooperative all-day education, aspects of specialists and managers, financing and the law. It makes clear what contribution high-quality all-day education makes to individual support and personal development, to educational equality and equal opportunities, to strengthening the school as a place of learning and living, and to reconciling family and career.

In Germany there is also traditionally a variety of institutions, both public and private, that are active in youth, culture and education work and that offer pupils opportunities for extra-curricular education and recreational activities or that help with homework. Out of the large choice available, special mention should be made of the concerted cooperation of schools with sports clubs and associations, with youth centres and bodies maintaining Vocational Orientation (Berufliche Orientierung) career guidance, youth music schools, youth art schools and other bodies maintaining cultural education as well as maintaining bodies of child and youth welfare.