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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education


6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

Last update: 27 March 2024

Secondary education breaks down into lower secondary level (Sekundarstufe I), which comprises the courses of education from grades 5/7 to 9/10 of school, and upper secondary level (Sekundarstufe II), which comprises all the courses of education that build on the foundations laid in the lower secondary level.

The function of all the courses of education at lower secondary level is to prepare pupils for courses of education at upper secondary level, at the end of which a vocational qualification or the right to access higher education is acquired. Accordingly, lower secondary education is predominantly of a general nature whereas upper secondary level includes the general course of education at the gymnasiale Oberstufe as well as vocational courses of education.

As a rule, lower secondary level is attended by pupils between 10/12 and 15/16 years of age and upper secondary level by pupils between 15/16 and 18/19 years of age. Both age groups are required to attend school: the former full-time, the latter, 15- to 19-year-olds, generally part-time for three years or until they have reached the age of 18, unless they are attending a full-time school.

Lower secondary level educational institutions do differ in terms of duration and school-leaving qualifications, but largely constitute an open system allowing transfer from one type of course to the other. The same qualifications can, as a rule, also be obtained subsequently in vocational education and training institutions as well as adult education institution or through an external examination (Nichtschülerprüfung, Schulfremdenprüfung).

General objectives

General objectives – lower secondary education

The organisation of lower secondary level schools and courses of education is based on the principle of basic general education, individual specialisation and encouraging pupils according to their abilities. The schools endeavour to achieve these goals by:

  • furthering the overall intellectual, emotional and physical development of pupils, teaching them to be independent, make decisions and bear their share of personal, social and political responsibility;
  • providing instruction based on the state of academic knowledge that takes the pupils' age-related conceptual faculties into account in its organisation and in the demands made on them and provides a basis for successful further education in the sense of lifelong learning;
  • gradually increasing the degree of specialisation in line with each pupil's abilities and inclinations;
  • maintaining an open system allowing transfer from one type of school to the other after an orientation stage.

General objectives – upper secondary education – general education schools

The courses of education provided at general education schools within the upper secondary level lead to a higher education entrance qualification.

The aim of learning and work within the upper level of the Gymnasium is to obtain the Allgemeine Hochschulreife, which entitles the holder to enter any study course at any institution of higher education and also enables them to commence a course of vocational education and training. The instruction at the gymnasiale Oberstufe provides an in-depth general education, general capacity for academic study and the propaedeutics of scientific work. Of particular importance are in-depth knowledge, skills and competences in the subjects German, foreign language and mathematics. In addition, the teaching of artistic, social science and scientific-technical subjects contributes significantly to the realisation of the goals of the gymnasiale Oberstufe. The instruction is organised along specialist, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary lines. It offers an introduction by example to academic issues, categories and methods, and provides an education which facilitates the development and strengthening of personality, the shaping of a socially responsible life, and participation in democratic society. Instruction at the gymnasiale Oberstufe includes appropriate information on higher education institutions, on vocational fields and on structures and requirements of higher education and of the professional and working world.

General objectives – upper secondary education – vocational schools and vocational training in the dual system

The courses of education provided at vocational schools within the upper secondary level lead to a vocational qualification for skilled work as qualified staff, e.g. in an anerkannter Ausbildungsberuf (recognised occupation requiring formal training) or in an occupation for which individuals can only qualify by attending school. Resolutions of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (Kultusministerkonferenz) ensure, moreover, that many professional qualification training courses can lead to the acquisition of a higher education entrance qualification.

The Berufliches Gymnasium provides 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). The Berufsfachschulen serve to provide an introduction to one or several occupations, provide part of the vocational training in one or several recognised occupations requiring formal training or lead to a vocational training qualification in a specific occupation. At the same time, they expand the level of general education previously acquired. In the Berufsoberschule, the knowledge, capabilities and skills acquired by pupils during their initial vocational training are taken as the basis for an extended general and in-depth subject-related theoretical education, which shall enable pupils to pursue a course in higher education. The three- to four-year courses of education for double qualification provide both vocational qualification (e.g. the assistant occupations or vocational qualifications in a number of recognised occupations requiring formal training) and a higher education entrance qualification. The Berufsoberschule provides two years of full-time education and leads to the Fachgebundene Hochschulreife (qualification entitling holder to study particular subjects at a higher education institution). Pupils can obtain the Allgemeine Hochschulreife by proving their proficiency in a second foreign language. The Fachoberschule requires a Mittlerer Schulabschluss and leads as a rule in a two-year course of study up to the Fachhochschulreife, i.e. the higher education entrance qualification for the Fachhochschule. It equips its pupils with general and specialised theoretical and practical knowledge and skills. The Länder may also establish a grade 13, after successful completion of which pupils can obtain the Fachgebundene Hochschulreife and, under certain conditions, the Allgemeine Hochschulreife.

Within the framework of vocational education and training within the duales System (dual system), the task of the Berufsschule is to teach practically-oriented and interdisciplinary competences with special consideration for the requirements of vocational education and training and at the same time to provide an educational programme that prepares pupils for vocational education and training or accompanies the professional activity. The Berufsschule can cooperate in tasks of further vocational and continuing education.

Specific legislative framework

Secondary schools providing general and vocational education

Based on the Education Acts and Compulsory Schooling Acts of the German Länder, ordinances  for schools providing general and vocational education in particular contain detailed regulations covering the content of the courses as well as the leaving certificates and entitlements obtainable on completion of lower and upper secondary education.

Vocational training

The legal provisions for in-company vocational training and in handicrafts are contained and supplemented in the Vocational Training Act (Berufsbildungsgesetz – BBiG) of 1969 and the Crafts and Trades Regulation Act (Gesetz zur Ordnung des Handwerks – HwO) of 1953, respectively. Among other issues, these two laws govern fundamental matters of the relationship between trainees and companies that provide training (e.g. contracts, certificates, pay), in other words the rights and obligations of trainees and trainers. They also govern the regulatory aspects of vocational training (e.g. the suitability of training providers and instructors, the terms of the training regulations known as Ausbildungsordnungen, the examination system and supervision of training) and the organisation of vocational training (e.g. the function of the various chambers of industry and commerce as the competent bodies and of their vocational training committees).

The Protection of Young Persons at Work Act (Jugendarbeitsschutzgesetz) lays down special provisions for the protection of young trainees.