Secondary Education

German education for young teens and youths...

Lower Secondary Education

There are different types of educational programmes, depending on pupils' interests and abilities. In some federal states admission to the various types of secondary school may be subject to certain performance criteria or a decision by the education authority. The three types of educational programmes roughly fall into three school categories: Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymanasium.

At lower secondary school levels, pupils learn one foreign language (usually English) at the Hauptschule and may choose a second optional language in the Realschule (usually French). In the Gymnasium the teaching of two foreign languages is compulsory.


At Hauptschule pupils receive a basic general education from years 5 to 9 (age 10 to 15). These schools are for children that are planning to begin vocational training after years 9 or 10.  At the end of year 9 pupils receive a general leaving certificate (Hauptschulabschluss). Once they have received their school certificate they will go on to part-time vocational study.

In some states attendance for a tenth year is voluntary and grants pupils an additional qualification, the extended Hauptschulabschluss (qualifizierende Hauptschulabschluss). This is available in Bavaria, Hessen, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein and Thuringia.


Pupils normally attend from year 5 to year 10. The Realschule leaving certificate grants students access to training courses leading to vocational qualifications or to further schooling, such as the Abitur in Gymnasiums, which can lead to higher-education entrance.


Pupils receive a more in-depth general education between the 5th to 12th or 13th year of school, depending on the state, which leads to the Abitur examination for university entrance. The Abitur aims at achieving high levels in a number of different subjects. Success at the Abitur, the final examination, results in the higher-education entrance qualification (Zeugnis der Allgemeinen Hochschulreife).

  • Note: Berlin and Hamburg have recently merged all Haupt-, Real- and Gesamtschule to form Intergrierte Sekundarschule (Berlin) and Stadtteilschule (Hamburg). Students are no longer divided into different educational streams according to ability, however depending on their performance in secondary school they will graduate with one of three levels of diploma: the Hauptschulabschluss, the Realschulabschluss or the Abitur. Gymnasiums still exist separately in both states. More information on the education system in Berlin and Hamburg can be found on the local government websites (in German, with a limited English version)
  • Note: In addition to separate Haupt- and Realschulen Hessen offers schools which combine the two, including Mittelstufenschulen which offers both Haupt- and Realschule qualifications while having a more vocational focus in teaching
  • Note: North Rhein-Westphalia’s Sekundar Schulen combines all three levels of schooling, including Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium, from year 5 – 10. These schools then help facilitate students in finding a school for further education


Different states offer different combinations of the three schools. The KMK provides a chart which details the schools in each state which offer one, two or three of the educational programmes (Bildungsgänge).

  • For more detailed information on the different school types, visit the state website. KMK provide a list of contact details for each state’s education ministry

While these are the main types of schools across Germany, many states have schools which offer more than one educational programme. The most common of these is the Gesamtschule which normally combines the Hauptschule and Realschule over a period of 6 years.

Vocational Schooling

After year 9 or 10, pupils may choose to spend the next three years preparing for professional careers. Training is offered in the following kind of schools:

  • Full-time vocational school (Berufsfachschule)
  • Vocational extension school (Berufsaufbauschule)
  • Technical secondary school (Fachoberschule)
  • Upper level of the gymnasium with a vocational bias (Berufliches Gymnasium/ Fachgymnasium)
  • Technical school with advanced vocational training (Fachschule)

These schools operate under the Dual System (Duales System) of traditional classroom teaching and on-the-job training.

After full-time vocational schooling, in years 10 to 12 or 13 students receive the Vocational higher-education entrance qualification (Zeugnis der Fachgebundenen Hochschulreife).