4th grade. Gymnasium or Realschule?

Last Updated on September 24, 2023

What secondary school to choose – Gymnasium or Realschule? High school choice is not as obvious now as it used to be. Secondary education in Germany has changed significantly over the past 15 years.

I have so far examined the structure of education in half of the federal states (see the topics “Schools after the Grundschule”) and will continue to do so.

The main conclusion: the idea “if you want to go to a university, you need to fight to get into a gymnasium” in most Bundeslands no longer works. The strictest vertical is preserved in Bavaria and Saxony.

Read also a post about first year in Gymnasium
German Gymnasium. Grade 7
German Gymnasium school. Profile choice, marks and inclusion
Rheinland Pfalz education system
Secondary schools in Bavaria
Education system in Baden-Württemberg
Secondary school in Berlin – Brandenburg
Books for 3-4 grade (in German library)

I would like to give for those who are approaching the moment of choice, a few ideas for reflection. Everything very much depends on the nature of the child and your ability to adequately assess him.

1. Think about alternatives

As already mentioned, there are now more alternatives for obtaining a university entrant (Abitur).

Firstly, if you go to the Realschule, in a number of Bundeslands you can then enter the Berufsgymnasium. The workload in them is more distributed (in most cases this is plus one year), and besides, there is a significant professional training.
There is access to higher education also through professional schools (Berufsfachschule in different versions).

As a pro, you can note professional orientation (and even obtaining a specialty) and the opportunity to study at your own pace.

As a contra
the problems of the contingent (many children who will not learn),
unaccustomed to the academic language and work
and potential gaps in the knowledge base necessary for higher education.

According to statistics, those who did not come to universities through the gymnasium are more likely to drop out because of the complexity of the material. On the other hand, according to statistics from Hamburg, those who went through professional schools drop out of universities less often than those who came from ordinary gymnasiums.

Secondly, such a form as Gesamtschule (Gemeinschaftsschule, Oberschule) is actively developing. In some places, this form is the main one. In them, all children study in the same class, but receive a different courses and materials. With each next grade, the difference in the complexity of the materials increases. In such a school, one can hope that a child who was “asleep” before will suddenly wake up and choose a gymnasium level. But even if he doesn’t wake up, it will be possible to think about a professional school or Berufsgymnasium.

A pro – no pressure, individual approach

A contra – I do not really believe in an individual approach within the class, for this the teacher must be of a high level. In primary school, I did not see an individual approach at all, although there are eight pupils and two teachers on them (speech therapy school, the child is far ahead in mathematics – and it is even clear what to do (word problems), but they did nothing).

In addition, normal children are not too eager to work hard and voluntarily take on a more difficult task. These education fanatics end up in Gymnasium anyway. And I know a lot of children who slipped from good level to mediocre ones in secondary school, but there are only a few (literally one or two) who have “awakened” and who have become good level at the end of school.

But for those whose grades correspond to the Realschule, and the head, according to the parents, could cope with the Gymnasium, this is one of the possible options instead of trial lessons in the Gymnasium and the struggle for a place in it, which psychologically can be much worse for a child.

2. Faculty selection problem and interruption of studies

Leaving university is a common thing in Germany. About a third of students drop out of universities and colleges within the first two years of study. At physics and mathematics and engineering faculties, this number is even higher.

At least half of those who drop out completely change their professional field. And only a 13 procents continue their studies at universities in other specialties.

One can think about some abstract children, maybe socially disadvantaged or, conversely, too well-to-do lazy people.

In fact, I don’t know many students (8 people). But from this small amount:

one girl changed her profile and since then has been endlessly studying and completing her studies and cannot start a normal professional activity in any way (after 30 years old).

one boy from those where nothing foreshadowed (good abitur, parents are doctors of science), threw university in the second year and then changed his specialty (since he just started it, it is not known how it will end).

his sister dropped out in the first year and changed her specialty to another area and dual education (there was not enough practical activity, she saw no reason to study).

and another girl from a not so academic, but also quite educated family dropped out of the university and went to a technical school because it was “too difficult.”

In total, half – 4 out of 8 did not finish their studies at the chosen faculty to the end.

3. The problem of employment after university

But even if they finish their studies at the university, this is not the end. Of course there is a difference in branches and there are a happy stories, but many young and also not so young specialists, especially in science, are not happy at all.

On the one hand, statistics speak in favor of higher education: the percentage of unemployed among people with higher education is very low.

On the other hand, this figure does not show that every second new specialist cannot find a job within a year after graduation. And those people are not visible: who, having not found a job, begin a series of endless practices with a small salary or training / retraining, or are forced to go to graduate school. And, of course, it is not clear that many young specialists remain “young” after 30 years of age and hang on temporary contracts with half-time employment and low salaries. I have seen enough of these “young men” 35 years old, who are practically slaves for the organization for 1500-2000 euros, despite the higher education. Many of them are forced to retrain later, because after “slave” labor, they are not taken anywhere.

I hate to say it, but it is reality. Expats should take into account that the so-called vitamin B (= persönlicher Beziehungen / Bekanntschaften) in Germany is the main recruitment criterion. It is important who you know and not what you know and can. This is especially true for technical scientific fields and highly competitive fields, where there are a lot of specialists and few vacancies. As soon as the time comes to change the “slave” job / practice to a normal one, a specialist cannot find such a position without acquaintance.

The system is supported by the rule of fixed-term contracts in scientific fields, when researchers work exclusively on short contracts of 2-3 years. About the severity of the problem hier.

No wonder, that a half of academics have no partner and children. They can not plan their lives. Many are too unsure of their future.

The “lucky ones” receive a permanent contract at the place of “slave” labor, but have no chance of a normal career there. In German organizations, a rare foreigner gets to the head even of a small department, and not at all because they are all fools.

As journalists have repeatedly shown, with an “unfortunate” surname, there is less chance of being called for an interview. For example, read hier

The situation is aggravated by the “female quota”. In this sense, women in technical specialties have more chances for both jobs and careers. A girl after a bachelor’s degree can easily land on the position of head of a department, bypassing good specialists who have worked there for years. But again, it is desirable for this girl to have the “correct” nationality to the west or north from Germany.

It is believed that having professional experience greatly increases the chances of finding a normal job after graduating from college, so some parents choose for their children the option “Realschule – Profession – University” rather than “Gymnasium – University”.

4. But actually what’s inside?

Conclusion from all of this: look at the child. We often try to shove the child with something that does not correspond to his inclinations, trying to realize ourselves or our ideas about the ideal through him. It always seemed to me that “early development”, the desire to load a child’s brain completely already in primary school is similar to doping for an athlete: first we jump above everyone else, and then we deflate like a ball, with consequences of varying severity.

Local teachers are very fond of using a caricature (I have already seen three times at meetings with different teachers), which depicts different animals (giraffe, elephant, crocodile and others) and a tree, and the signature says: “Now we pass the general exam so that everything is fair . The task is to climb a tree. ” We can train our little crocodile to climb this tree, but sooner or later he will have to learn how to jump to other trees on his own, or he will send us with the trees far away and climb to sleep in a nearby swamp.

Transition process and recommendation

The transition process to secondary school differs from Bundesland to Bundesland.

It is better to inquire not in the fourth grade, but already in the third: from December to February of the third grade visit open-door days in different schools.

Berlin-Brandenburg is distinguished by the fact that primary school there lasts until grade 6, and only clearly gifted children can go to some (not all) gymnasiums after grade 4.

As you can see, the second half of the third grade is decisive, and the first half of the fourth is clarifying and confirming the diagnosis, that is, you need to move and control the process right after the second grade.

The transition is preceded by a consultation with a class tutor, which is often considered mandatory for parents. If you have an experienced teacher, try to hear his / her arguments, even if they contradict your idea of the child. All teachers (those with experience) that I met were very accurate in assessing the child and his potential. Naturally, there are prejudiced teachers and just fools, but it will not hurt to try to look again, taking into account the “enemy” arguments.

As a rule, certain days are allocated for transition. Most often this is a very limited period, maybe even one single day in all schools in the district.

In some large cities, you need to choose several schools in order of preference and write a statement of a certain form listing your preferences, and the final choice will be made for you.

In the case of borderline grades, the gymnasiums may assign trial days / periods / tests.

  • If you are in Baden-Württemberg, you must receive a transfer recommendation (without this you will not proceed, and without talking with the teacher, the recommendation will not automatically be given either).
    But you choose the schools yourself – the recommendation just creates problems for you when you try to send your child to a higher school. The recommendation is issued on the basis of grades in mathematics and German: up to 2.5 points – Gymnasium, 2.5 – 3.0 points – Realschule. Recommendations must be issued by a certain date (early February). Possible admission exam or trial periods at higher schools.
  • In Bavaria, the recommendation is mandatory: the average score in mathematics + German + “science” – 2.33 points. But it is also possible to accept it, contrary to the recommendation, on the basis of a trial period.
  • Brandenburg: recommendation with a required average score of 2.33 (mathematics + German + foreign language). Acceptance is possible based on trial lessons.
  • Saxony: recommendation with an average score of 2.0 (mathematics + German + “science”, but not 4 or lower in selected subjects)
  • Thuringia: mandatory recommendation with a score of at least 2. Admission is possible on the basis of an exam in borderline cases.
  • Schleswig-Holstein: parents decide, but a child with a recommendation in a Haupschul cannot go to a gymnasium.
  • The rest: parents decide. Naturally, this decision is limited by the number of places in higher-level schools and, accordingly, by their internal requirements. For example, in Berlin, after the first half of the year, Förderprognosen is issued with average grades, according to which later you can get or not get into the right school, that is, in fact, this is not much different from a mandatory recommendation.

It is usually considered that 3 points in the main subject (mathematics, German) is a borderline case, which should be compensated for by other grades. More 3 than one is already a very dubious case for a Gymnasium, but they can also be accepted, if there are free places, on the basis of a trial period.

The situation with the mandatory recommendation is unstable, as due to the cancellation of the recommendation in most Länder, many parents send their children to higher schools and the general level of education falls. For example, up to a quarter of children with a recommendation in Hauptschule end up in Realschule, and in gymnasiums – 15-20 percent of “realists” or even children with a grade of 5 points.

The rectors of secondary schools believe that the adequacy of the mandatory recommendations was very high and they convincingly ask parents to take them into account, especially, as already mentioned, the abitur can be obtained not only in the Gymnasium. To fly out of the Gymnasium (which is done by about 10-15 percent of children, or more if the school is of a high level) is a rather difficult process for a child.

Therefore, the lands are trying to introduce certain ways to better sort the children, for example, some kind of additional test for translation. On the other hand, the number of Gesamtschule is increasing, where the problem of recommendations and sorting is removed.

About primary school in Germany – #primary school.

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2 thoughts on “4th grade. Gymnasium or Realschule?”

  1. Great Article, with very good insights.
    I have been living in Germany for 4 years and work in a multi national company. My daughter goes to class 4 in a bilingual school.
    Many points, I can relate with.

    • Hi nn. Glad if it was helpful. Bilingual schools are usually a good option. Most speak well of them. Their main disadvantage for foreigners is that German suffers if a third language is at home. When we wanted to send our eldest son to a bilingual school, we were told that only 30 percent would be German. He didn’t speak the language so well and we don’t speak German at home, so we went to a regular school.


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