The German School System

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.

School Year

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.

Krippe: Nursery

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 Tages­mut­ter (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 Tages­mut­ter 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 Tages­mut­ter in Stuttgart.

Public Resources

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).

Overview of Kindertagesstätten

Step-by-step guide to registration

Infor­ma­tion about the cost of munic­i­pal centers


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.