German primary school. Orientation. Must and can – school obligation

Last Updated on September 24, 2023

This is an introductory post to a group of posts about German primary school. Also here we will talk about when a child is obliged to go to first grade and whether he can stay at kindergarten for one year.

Navigation (#primary school). Links appear after publishing. If some topic is especially interesting for you – write to me, I will publish it faster.

Common impression

I must warn, that we live in Baden-Würrtemberg. In other Bundesländer it can be a little different.

My child had three primary teachers for primary school: grade 1-2, grade 3 and grade 3-4. Plus one young mathematician in 2nd grade. Often, even in the first grade, several teachers teach.
There was one male teacher, but in the primary school they are usually rare.

Classes of the same year work together: teachers try to teach at the same tempo, and if there is inexperienced teacher, then some of the tasks are shared. Textbooks are selected at a general teachers’ meeting. But many teachers use their own worksheets.

What makes me happy with a German primary school

  • high level of teacher training on average, and this is not so much about training in subjects as about psychological training. Teachers generally estimate children and their capabilities correctly. Of course, there is no ideal, and that young mathematician was dreadful. True, she only worked for the second year after the institute.
  • creative lessons.
  • elements of democratic management
  • financial independence of teachers. Teachers receive a certain amount, which they spend on textbooks, notebooks and other teaching materials. The rest of the amount is spent on equipment, and the teacher decides, after consulting with the children. This year, for example, the class wanted to stock up on popular science literature.
  • children have no fear of speaking. To do this, there is a “morning circle” where they share events and talk about the weekend. There are obligatory presentations in each class and numerous discussions.

What doesn’t make me happy with a German primary school

  • insufficient structur of materials. Moreover, it may be gut in the textbooks, but since teachers massively use worksheets, not textbooks, it diffuses somewhere. I feel that this is one of the main reasons why kids in high school need tutors. For example my son had a very good English teacher in 3-4 classes, but as he came to gymnasium, he needed a aditional lessons to structure his knowledge. He said: Yes we talked about it a little in the primary school but I don’t know any rule.
  • the materials are mostly stored at the school. If you need to remember some rule, you will not find it. And mom should search the Internet or have reference books at home. Perhaps the primary school is not considered something important in this sense.
  • parents find out about problems with childrens at the very last moment, if they themselves do not ask in advance. Compulsory and voluntary interviews are, of course, a good thing, but this is already a statement of fact in the end. Therefore, it is recommended to ask on occasion how things are going. And if there is no opportunity, schedule a conversation in the middle of the year.

School obligation

If attending kindergarten is not compulsory, then all children of a suitable age are required to attend school, regardless of citizenship, desire and health problems. School obligation is called Schulpflicht. The age at which a child must go to school is determined by the laws of the federal states (Bundesland).

As a general rule, children who will be 6 years old before June 30 (Stichtag) must go to school from the beginning of the school year. These children are called Musskind. But federal states can have own rules. There will also be Musskind in different federal states:

  • who will be 6 years old before September 30 (Bavaria, Brandenburg, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia)
  • before December 31 (Berlin)
  • July 31 (Thuringen)
  • August 31 (Rhineland-Palatinate)
  • Baden-Würrtemberg change from September 30 to June 30 in 3 steps. It means for 2021/2022 children, that will 6 years old, – before 31 Juli and for 2022/2023 – Juni 30. And I think it’s good: too many children, that were born in July – September, were not ready go to school. It means, they go to Vorschule or must repeat a year later.

At the request of the parents, children can also go to school at an earlier age, if they confirm, that they are ready. As a rule, this applies to children who will be 6 years old by December 31st. These children are called Kannkind.

Duration of school obligation

The length of school obligation also varies from state to state. In most cases it is 9 years, to which 2-3 years of professional school can be added.

Primary school (Grundschule) lasts in most states from grades 1 to 4. In Berlin and Brandenburg up to grade 6. In most cases, parents can only send their child to the primary school to which they belong in their place of residence. This rule does not apply to private schools. You can send your child to another school only if the school accepts him. In this case, an application is submitted indicating the reasons why the parents want to send the child to this particular school. The most common cause is the parent’s workplace.

Parents are required to submit their application to the school on time. The application deadline is determined by each federal state.
Children that must next year to school have to pass a medical examination by specialists from the medical office (Gesundheitsamt). Inspection is carried out in the kindergartens. Children who have not passed the examination are called to amt.

Stay another year at kindergarten (Zurückstellung)

Whether a child can stay at kindergarten for one more year is resolved in each land differently. In most cases, a child who is 6 years old must be sent to school. If he has any problems, for example, with speech, he is sent to a special school (Sonderschule). Rarely will anyone be happy with a special school, but speech therapy schools can really be very beneficial for a child. As an option, they are now trying to develop inclusion, but it is not always a good choice.

This is a theory, in practice there are very different options, depending on the stubbornness of the local school administration and local possibilities.

One of the best options, if there is one in school, is the pre-school – Vorschule. It is mainly for children whose birthday falls on the last couple of months before school. The school director does not need permission from the Amt to take the child to pre-school. This is purely his personal decision based on the conversation with parents.

For the children of foreigners, sometimes specialized pre-school classes with the study of German are made.

Unfortunately, pre-school classes are not available everywhere, or in the form in which they raise questions (for example, the class is in the Sonderschule). Then you can try asking to stay in the kindergarden for a year. I know cases when it succeeded, and cases when it did not succeed.

If you are moving with a school-age child who is older than German first-graders, but who has not yet gone to school, then you can demand first grade for him, regardless of age.

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