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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of vocational upper secondary education


6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.7Organisation of vocational upper secondary education

Last update: 27 March 2024

Types of Institutions

Full-time vocational schools

Full-time vocational schools include the Berufsfachschule, the Fachoberschule, the Berufliches Gymnasium, the Berufsoberschule and other types of schools that exist only in certain Länder or are of marginal importance due to their small numbers. According to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), continuing vocational training at the Fachschule is part of the tertiary sector.

Berufliches Gymnasium

This course of education is called Berufliches Gymnasium in most of the Länder and Fachgymnasium in two Länder. In contrast to the Gymnasium providing general education, which normally offers a continuous period of education from grade 5/7 to grade 12 or 13, the Berufliches Gymnasium, as a rule, has no lower and intermediate level (grades 5–10). This type of school exists in almost all Länder in the form of the gymnasiale Oberstufe with career-oriented specialisations and comprises a three-year course of education. Starting on the basis of a Mittlerer Schulabschluss satisfying the requirements for admittance to the gymnasiale Oberstufe or an equivalent qualification, the Berufliches Gymnasium leads, as a rule, to the Allgemeine Hochschulreife (a general entrance qualification for higher education). In addition, the Länder can offer double qualification courses of education.


Berufsfachschulen are full-time schools which aim to teach and deepen the basics for pupils to acquire vocational skills, either to provide them with basic vocational qualifications for one or more recognised training occupations or to lead them to a vocational training qualification in one occupation. Berufsfachschulen extend the previously acquired general education and can lead to a school-leaving qualification that is above this level.

Berufsfachschulen generally include upper secondary education, and no vocational training or activity is required for attendance. Full-time courses (standard form) last at least one year, part-time courses accordingly longer.

Pupils can obtain a vocational qualification in accordance with Land regulations. The qualifications of the Berufsfachschulen acquired in accordance with Land law as well as additional school entitlements are mutually recognised by the Länder provided that the courses comply with the agreed framework conditions. Additional school qualifications acquired at Berufsfachschulen for the professions in the health care system regulated by federal law are also mutually recognised by the Länder. Under certain conditions, it is also possible to obtain the Fachhochschulreife at vocational schools.

In cases where such schools do not provide a full career qualification, the successful completion of the Berufsfachschule may, under certain conditions, be credited as part of the training duration in occupations requiring formal training (Art. 7 of the Vocational Training ActBerufsbildungsgesetz – BBiG). In order to prove the equivalence of a vocational training qualification at a Berufsfachschule with dual vocational training, successful graduates can sit an examination before the competent authority if the course of education corresponds to vocational training in a recognised training occupation. Admission to this so-called chamber examination is possible if the Land in question has adopted appropriate regulations pursuant to Article 43, paragraph 2 of the Vocational Training Act or if there are arrangements to this end between the vocational schools and the competent authorities.

Depending on the training objective, Berufsfachschulen require their pupils to have a Erster Schulabschluss (First School Leaving Certificate) or a Mittlerer Schulabschluss (Intermediate School Leaving Certificate). The duration of training at Berufsfachschulen varies from one to three years, depending on the intended career specialisation.


As a rule, the Fachoberschule covers grades 11 and 12 and requires a Mittlerer Schulabschluss. It equips its pupils with general and specialised theoretical and practical knowledge and skills and leads up to Fachhochschulreife, i.e. higher education entrance qualification for the Fachhochschule. The Länder may also establish a grade 13. After successful completion of grade 13, pupils can obtain the Fachgebundene Hochschulreife and, with sufficient competence in a second foreign language, the Allgemeine Hochschulreife. The Fachoberschule is divided into the fields of study business and administration, technology, health and social work, design, nutrition and home economics, as well as agriculture, bio- and environmental technology. Training includes instruction and professional training. As a rule, completed relevant vocational training or sufficient relevant work experience can serve as a substitute for grade 11 of the Fachoberschule, so that pupils with such qualifications can proceed directly with grade 12 of the Fachoberschule. This gives them the opportunity to acquire not only in-depth professional knowledge, skills and competences, but also the Fachhochschulreife. The Fachoberschule thus makes an important contribution to the permeability of the education system and thus to the equivalence of general and vocational education and training.


The Berufsoberschule also contributes greatly to the permeability of the education system or graduates of vocational training under Land law (see Berufsfachschule). Just as in the Fachoberschule, graduates of vocational training in the dual system can acquire a higher education entrance qualification in the Berufsoberschule. Providing two years of full-time education, the Berufsoberschule leads to the Fachgebundene Hochschulreife and, with a second foreign language, to the Allgemeine Hochschulreife. Attendance of the Berufsoberschule can also be on a part-time basis for a correspondingly longer period.

Acceptance into the Berufsoberschule requires the Mittlerer Schulabschluss or qualifications recognised as equivalent and at least two years’ successful vocational training or at least five years’ relevant practical experience. The first year of the Berufsoberschule can be replaced with other study courses leading to the Fachhochschulreife. The Berufsoberschule covers specialisations in technology, economy and management, nutrition and domestic science, health and social professions, design as well as agricultural economy, bio- and environmental technology. The pupils are assigned a specialisation in accordance with the first vocational training or practical experience they have already completed.

Vocational education and training in the dual system

About one half of the young people of any one-year age group begin training in one of the around 330 training occupations recognised under the Vocational Training Act and the Crafts and Trades Regulation Code (Handwerksordnung – HwO). The vocational education and training lasting two, three or thee-and-a-half years depending on the occupation takes place in the duales System. It is described as a dual system because training is carried out in two places of learning: at the workplace and in a Berufsschule (vocational school). The aim of vocational training is to impart, within a structured course of training, the vocational skills, knowledge and qualifications necessary to practise a skilled occupation in a constantly changing professional world. Those successfully completing the training are immediately entitled to do skilled work in a recognised occupation requiring formal training (anerkannter Ausbildungsberuf).

There are no formal prerequisites for admission to the dual system; training is generally open to everyone. According to the Report on Vocational Education and Training (Berufsbildungsbericht), around 24.3 per cent of the trainees with newly concluded training contracts achieved the Erster Schulabschluss or an equivalent qualification in 2020, whilst 41.3 per cent gained a Mittlerer Schulabschluss at the time of transition from secondary school in 2020. The number of those undergoing training within the dual system who have already completed the upper secondary level and obtained a Hochschulreife or a Fachhochschulreife (higher education entrance qualifications) corresponded to 29.2 per cent in 2020. The training is based on a training contract under private law between a training company and the trainee. The trainees spend three or four days a week at the company and up to two days at the Berufsschule. Alongside this, training at the Berufsschule in the form of coherent blocks (Blockunterricht) lasting up to six weeks is increasingly common. The training companies assume the costs of the on-the-job training and pay the trainee a training allowance which, as a rule, is in accordance with a collective bargaining agreement in the sector concerned. The amount of the allowance increases with each year of training. For training contracts concluded from 1 January 2020, a statutory minimum training allowance was introduced for the first time with the amendment to the Vocational Training Act in 2020. 

The vocational skills, knowledge and qualifications to be acquired in the course of training at the workplace are set out in the Ausbildungsordnung (training regulations), the particulars of which are specified by the training company in an individual training plan. A  nationwide Rahmenlehrplan (framework curriculum) is drawn up for vocational Berufsschule classes for each recognised occupation requiring formal training as set out in the training regulations.

The acquisition of advanced and in-depth vocational competences can be made possible by offering additional qualifications, which can be laid down in the respective training regulations.

Comprehensive information and data on vocational education and training and especially about the dual system is available in the annual Report on Vocational Education and Training (Berufsbildungsbericht) of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung – BMBF) and in the Data Report Annexed to the Report on Vocational Education and Training (Datenreport zum Berufsbildungsbericht) of the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung – BIBB).

On-the-job training

Vocational training places outside school (on the job) are available in industry and commerce as well as public administrations, in independent professions and, to a lesser extent, also in private households. The training companies are contractually committed to impart to the trainees the vocational skills, knowledge and qualifications as provided for in the Ausbildungsordnungen (training regulations) for the respective recognised occupation requiring formal training.

The binding Ausbildungsordnungen have been established to set uniform nationwide standards that are independent of the companies' current operational needs and meet the requirements in the respective occupation. Training may only be provided in training companies in which the skills demanded by the training regulations can be imparted by training personnel with the personal and technical qualification. Responsibility for the examination of in-company instructors lies with the bodies responsible within the dual system of vocational education and training, such as, for example, industry's self-governing institutions. The qualification of training companies and in-company training personnel is supervised by the bodies responsible for vocational education and training within the dual system. These are predominantly the Kammern (chambers of industry and commerce, chambers of handicrafts, chambers of agriculture, chambers of the liberal professions but also authorities in the public service sector). The responsible bodies also monitor the training to make sure it is conducted properly. Training should correspond to the requirements of the Ausbildungsordnungen (training regulations) in terms of both content and time but can deviate from this if required by practicalities within the company and if the communication of all remaining training contents is guaranteed.

A training establishment may not only be the individual training company, but also an association of several companies which cooperate in order to meet the requirements of the training regulation (network training – Verbundausbildung). Inter-company training centres, which can be linked to boarding-schools, provide supplementary training to young people who are being trained at small or specialised companies where they do not receive comprehensive training as defined by the Ausbildungsordnungen (training regulations). With modern technical equipment, these inter-company training centres can give training in areas many small companies are unable to cover for reasons of cost and capacity.

Training at the Berufsschule

The Berufsschule and the training establishments have a joint training and educational mission in the dual system of vocational education and training. In accordance with its position as an autonomous place of learning, the Berufsschule works together on an equal footing with the parties participating in vocational education and training. Its function is to enable pupils to acquire vocation-related and interdisciplinary competences, having particular regard for the requirements of vocational education and training, and to enable them to carry out their occupational duties and to help shape the world of work and society as a whole with a sense of social and ecological responsibility. The Berufsschule is also expected to offer courses preparing for vocational education and training or accompanying professional activities. In cooperation with general education schools, the pupil's competence is advanced so that they are able to take a reflected decision on their choice of vocation. The Berufsschule pupils can cooperate in tasks of further vocational and continuing education.

The scope of training at the Berufsschule amounts to at least twelve hours a week. It consists of vocation-related and interdisciplinary lessons and covers vocational learning content and a practically-oriented extension of the previously acquired general education, in particular in the fields of German language, a foreign language, politics or economics, religion or ethics and sports. Further details are regulated by the Länder. Practically-oriented teaching at the Berufsschule usually covers eight hours a week. It is based on the framework curricula resolved by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder (Kultusministerkonferenz), which were agreed in accordance with the latest version of the process agreed between the Federation and the Länder "Joint protocol of results from 30 May 1972" (Gemeinsames Ergebnisprotokoll vom 30. Mai 1972). An increase in the scope of lessons through supplementary offers (e.g. Fachhochschulreife) for high-achieving pupils and additional remedial teaching for low-achieving pupils (e.g. language development) is possible.

The framework curricula of the Standing Conference for vocation-related teaching at the Berufsschule provide for seven lessons a week in the first year of training. Notwithstanding this, the scope of lessons in the vocation-related field can be eight weekly teaching hours if framework curricula are drawn up for Ausbildungsberufe (recognised occupations requiring formal training) that combine competences from more than one profession in the first year of training.

In order to be able to cater for specific local needs, the organisation of lessons in Berufsschulen is left up to the Länder and thus the schools. In principle, the way lessons are organised in the Berufsschule is chosen in close cooperation with the chambers or guilds and the companies within the catchment area. Flexible regulations hereby allow a number of different temporal organisational forms aimed at optimising the learning phases in the company and in school.

The Länder can enact regulations by statutory order concerning the crediting of periods of vocational education spent in school for dual vocational training (Art. 7 of the Berufsbildungsgesetz). In this respect, the Standing Conference has recommended that

  • the organisation of suitable education careers needs to achieve that learning periods spent in full-time vocational schools can be fully credited for the vocational training and
  • the extent of the crediting be made dependent on the scope of vocation-related teaching given within the school education and a consideration of the Rahmenlehrpläne (framework curricula) and Ausbildungsordnungen (training regulations) applicable to the vocational training.

Crediting only takes place upon a joint application by training company and student.

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

Admission to courses of vocational education at upper secondary level is based on leaving certificates and qualifications acquired at the end of lower secondary level. The admission requirements for the various types of schools and courses of education in the sector of vocational education are explained above.

Age Levels and Grouping of Pupils/Students

At the Berufsschule, classes in a specific or related anerkannter Ausbildungsberuf (recognised occupation requiring formal training) are given. For occupations with a small number of trainees (splinter occupations), the Länder are faced with special challenges in terms of school subjects and school organisation. If individual Länder are unable to ensure that instruction is differentiated according to subject, a range of instruction at vocational schools with a cross-border catchment area is to be set up on the basis of the school-law regulations for the Berufsschule pupils concerned from these Länder.

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

In courses at Berufsfachschulen that provide basic vocational training, teaching in both areas of learning together comprises at least 30 hours per week. In the courses at vocational schools leading to a qualification in a recognised occupation, instruction shall comprise at least 32 hours per week. At least 12 periods are compulsory in grade 11 of Fachoberschulen, together with practical on-the-job training while at least 30 weekly periods of general and specialist lessons are required in grade 12. At the Berufsoberschule teaching comprises around 30 hours per week.

As for vocational training in the duales System (dual system), where initial vocational training is carried out jointly in a company and in the Berufsschule, at least 12 weekly periods of teaching are required at the Berufsschule. This may be organised in a variety of ways with students either attending classes on a part-time basis with, as a rule, 12 weekly periods two days a week throughout their course or alternating between two days one week and one day the next. Teaching may also be received in coherent blocks (Blockunterricht).

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.