The German School System
Moving to Stuttgart with school-age kids? Don’t worry, they will have plenty of great schooling options.
Since each Bundesland is responsible for the education within the state, there are regional differences across Germany. We will focus on Stuttgart and Baden-Württemberg in this article, although much of it applies nationwide.
The school year in Germany is long but broken up with several holidays of considerable length. The school calendars in the different states are deliberately set on a staggered schedule so as to avoid too many people traveling at the same time, particularly during the summer holidays.
The school year in Baden-Württemberg starts in mid-September and continues until near the end of July. There are five school breaks, in addition to the occasional state or national holiday.
1. Herbstferien, autumn vacation: one week
2. Weihnachtsferien, Christmas vacation: two weeks
3. Osterferien, Easter vacation: two weeks
4. Pfingstferien, Whitsun vacation: two weeks
5. Sommerferien, summer vacation: six weeks
It is important to be aware that German schools take truancy very seriously. It is possible to apply for an exemption to take your children out of school before the start of the holidays by submitting a request to the school’s principal. Attendance is otherwise compulsory. Parents who take their children out of school to travel during the school term can be issued fines of up to 1,000 Euro!
Kita: Daycare and Kindergarten
Kita is a shortened version of the word Kindertagesstätte, which refers to anywhere you bring your kids for care during the day. The three main possibilities for children 6 and under are the Krippe (nursery), Kindergarten (pre-school and kindergarten), and Tagesmütter (childminders). For parents who need it, it’s also possible to find daycare for older children for times outside the school day.
Babies and children up to 3 years of age may go to a Krippe. The idea of these nurseries is relatively new in Stuttgart, becoming more popular as more mothers return more quickly to the workplace. Nurseries may offer either half-day and all-day care and there are both public and private options. You can find information about Krippe in Stuttgart here.
The German idea of kindergarten is quite different from the American first year of primary school. It is a play-based approach to socializing and learning, far more similar to American pre-school or British nursery school. German children often attend kindergarten from ages 3 to 6, but attendance is voluntary. There are both public and private kindergartens which may run half-day, all-day or have options for both, and fees vary widely.
Many kindergartens follow a particular education approach, such as Montessori or Waldorf. Children have a lot of freedom to create their own play and games. Forest kindergartens called Waldkindergarten or Naturkindergarten are also well established in Baden-Württemberg. Children spend most of the day outdoors, only occasionally coming into a small building to make use of the facilities or shelter from particularly cold weather.
Literally “Day Mother,” a Tagesmütter (or the modern male equivalent, a Tagesvater) is a professional childminder who offers childcare for a small number of children, usually within their own home. Parents may opt for a Tagesmütter in various situations, including:
– if they want to give their child more of a family environment, with fewer children per adult.
– if they were unable to secure a spot for their child in the Krippe or Kindergarten.
– if they need only a reduced schedule of care, for example fewer hours in a day or only on certain days per week.
– if they need someone to mind their children after the regular school hours.
The Caritas Association Stuttgart offers a wealth of information here about finding and selecting a trustworthy Tagesmütter in Stuttgart.
The city of Stuttgart offers a variety of resources to help you find a place for your child, including a central registration as well as information on different centers.
For any given school year, each child must be registered no later than mid-February, although exceptions are possible for families who move to Stuttgart on short notice. You can use the city’s website to look up the various daycare and pre-school options in your area. It’s best to select as many as possible when you register, to increase your chances of getting a spot. The city of Stuttgart then offers available spots in April. Parents have until the end of the month to confirm so that their child can start in September. Children for whom no spot is yet available will be put on a waiting list.
The following webpages offer useful information and access to services in Stuttgart (in German).
There are two main stages of schooling in Germany. Elementary school, or Grundschule, lasts for four years. Students then attend one of three types of secondary school: Hauptschule, Realschule, or Gymnasium, which differ in length and curricula. There are also Gemeinschaftschulen which combine the three in one. Most schools are public, but there are private options as well.
Elementary schools in Stuttgart start at age 6 and run from Grades 1 to 4. Teachers have a lengthy training and high degree of pedagogy, so you can expect your child to receive a quality education. Some schools offer support for students learning German as a second language.
At the end of Grade 4, teachers give a recommendation for students to attend a Hauptschule, Realschule, or Gymnasium. This recommendation is based on the child’s academic achievement, aptitude in various areas, and their level of confidence and independence. In Baden-Württemberg, parents may choose to disregard the recommendation and place their child in the school of their choice.
Hauptschule lasts only five years, ending after Grade 9. The Hauptschulabschluss is the lowest diploma in Germany and generally leads to a combined apprenticeship and part-time enrollment in a vocational school. Academic subjects are taught at a slower pace and vocational courses are also offered.
Realschule lasts for six years, from Grades 5 to 10, and leads to a diploma called the Realschulabschluss or Mittlere Reife. It is intended to prepare students for technical and administrative careers, so most students go on to some kind of vocational schooling. The usual academic subjects are complemented by technical classes of various kinds. It is possible for students with high academic achievement at the Realschule to move up to a Gymnasium and go on to university.
Gymnasium is the most difficult secondary school option. Students study for eight years, from grades 5 to 12, in order to achieve a diploma called the Abitur. It is intended to prepare students for university study and thus has a wider range of academic classes to choose from within the subjects of maths, natural sciences, social sciences, geography, history, literature, languages, music, and art. In the final year of the program, students focus on five subjects by studying them for four hours each week: German, maths, a foreign language, and two others. Additional subjects are studied for two hours each week. All subjects are examined in writing at least every six months. The Arbitur consists of four written exams and at least one oral exam.
International School of Stuttgart
The International School of Stuttgart (ISS) is a non-profit institution that offers education to students ages 3 to 18. It is accredited by the International Baccalaureate (IB) World School and the Council of International Schools. It has two campuses, one in Degerloch and one in Sindelfingen, although only the Degerloch campus serves students beyond grade 10. The school year runs from the last week of August until the end of June.
The student and teacher populations of ISS are multicultural and multinational. Instruction is primarily in English, although German is also taught at all levels and additional foreign language courses are also offered. ISS has been acknowledged for its STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) initiative.
US Department of Defense Schools
There are five Department of Defense Dependents schools in Stuttgart: three elementary schools (at Panzer Kaserne and Robinson Barracks), one middle school (at Patch Barracks) and one high school (at Panzer Kaserne). The Stuttgart region is divided into three geographic areas to determine which elementary school students will attend, and buses shuttle students residing off base to and from school.
The school year starts in September and ends in mid-June with a two-week winter break in December and a one-week spring break in April. Incoming families can register their children for school at any time.
The schools are accredited by the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement and follow the standard Department of Defense Education Activity curriculum. The schools offer a variety of extracurricular programs in addition to programs for gifted students and those with special needs, with details available here.