Basic Structure of the Educational System in the Federal Republic of Germany
Berufsqualifizierender Abschluss 11) Fachhochschulreife
Degree or examination after a first course of study
(Diplom, Magister, Staatsprüfung;
PÄDAGOGISCHE HOCHSCHULE 14)
Pre-school Educ. Primary Education Secondary level I Secondary level II Tertiary Education Further Ed.
Orientation phase 3)
Mittlerer Schulabschluss (Realschule leaving certificate) after 10 years,
First general education qualification (Hauptschule leaving certificate) after 9 years 6)
Qualification of vocational
Hochschulreife Allgemeine Hochschulreife
(Dual System of vocational
(various forms of continuing general, vocational and academic education)
SONDERKINDER- SONDERSCHULE 2) SONDERSCHULE 2)
GYMNASIALE OBERSTUFE2) 7)
in the different school types:
Published by: Secretariat of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the
Federal Republic of Germany, Documentation and Education Information Service, Lennéstr. 6, 53113 Bonn, Germany,
Tel.+49 (0)228 501-0. © KMK 2009
Diagram of the basic structure of the education system. The distribution of the school population in grade 8
as per 2007 taken as a national average is as follows: Hauptschule 20.6 per cent, Realschule 26.5 per cent,
Gymnasium 33.4 per cent, integrierte Gesamtschule 8.5 per cent, types of school with several courses of
education 6.4 per cent, special schools 3.8 per cent.
The ability of pupils to transfer between school types and the recognition of school-leaving qualifications is
basically guaranteed if the preconditions agreed between the Länder are fulfilled. The duration of full-time
compulsory education (compulsory general education) is nine years (10 years in four of the Länder) and the
subsequent period of part-time compulsory education (compulsory vocational education) is three years.
1 In some Länder special types of transition from pre-school to primary education (Vorklassen,
Schulkindergärten) exist. In Berlin and Brandenburg the primary school comprises six grades.
2 The disabled attend special forms of general-education and vocational school types (partially integrated
with non-handicapped pupils) depending on the type of disability in question. Designation of schools
varies according to the law of each Land.
3 Irrespective of school type, grades 5 and 6 constitute a phase of particular promotion, supervision and
orientation with regard to the pupil's future educational path and its particular direction
(Orientierungsstufe or Förderstufe).
4 The Hauptschule and Realschule courses of education are also offered at schools with several courses
of education, for which the names differ from one Land to another. The Mittelschule (Sachsen),
Regelschule (Thüringen), Erweiterte Realschule (Saarland), Sekundarschule (Bremen, Sachsen-
Anhalt), Integrierte Haupt- und Realschule (Hamburg), Verbundene oder Zusammengefasste Hauptund
Realschule (Berlin, Hessen, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Niedersachsen) Regionale Schule
(Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Rheinland-Pfalz), Oberschule (Brandenburg), Duale Oberschule
(Rheinland-Pfalz), Regionalschule (Schleswig-Holstein) and Gemeinschaftsschule (Schleswig-Holstein),
as well as comprehensive schools (Gesamtschulen) fall under this category.
5 The Gymnasium course of education is also offered at comprehensive schools (Gesamtschule). In the
cooperative comprehensive schools, the three courses of education (Hauptschule, Realschule and
Gymnasium) are brought under one educational and organisational umbrella; these form an educational
and organisational whole at the integrated Gesamtschule. The provision of comprehensive schools
(Gesamtschulen) varies in accordance with the respective educational laws of the Länder.
6 The general education qualifications that may be obtained after grades 9 and 10 carry particular
designations in some Länder. These certificates can also be obtained in evening classes and at
7 Admission to the Gymnasiale Oberstufe requires a formal entrance qualification which can be obtained
after grade 9 or 10. At present, in the majority of Länder the Allgemeine Hochschulreife can be obtained
after the successful completion of 13 consecutive school years (nine years at the Gymnasium). Yet in
almost all Länder the gradual conversion to eight years at the Gymnasium is currently under way, where
the Allgemeine Hochschulreife can be obtained after a 12-year course of education.
8 The Berufsoberschule has so far only existed in a few Länder and offers school-leavers with the
Mittlerer Schulabschluss who have completed vocational training or five years’ working experience the
opportunity to obtain the Fachgebundene Hochschulreife. Pupils can obtain the Allgemeine
Hochschulreife by proving their proficiency in a second foreign language.
9 The Fachoberschule is a school type lasting for two years (grades 11 and 12) which admits pupils who
have completed the Mittlerer Schulabschluss and qualifies them to study at a Fachhochschule. Pupils
who have successfully completed the Mittlerer Schulabschluss and have been through initial vocational
training can also enter the Fachoberschule directly in grade 12. The Länder may also establish a
grade 13. After successful completion of grade 13, pupils can obtain the Fachgebundene Hochschulreife
and under certain conditions the Allgemeine Hochschulreife.
10 Berufsfachschulen are full-time vocational schools differing in terms of entrance requirements, duration
and leaving certificates. Basic vocational training can be obtained during one- or two-year courses at
Berufsfachschulen and a vocational qualification is available at the end of two- or three-year courses.
Under certain conditions the Fachhochschulreife can be acquired on completion of a course lasting a
minimum of two years.
11 Extension courses are offered to enable pupils to acquire qualifications equivalent to the Hauptschule
and Realschule leaving certificates.
12 Fachschulen cater for vocational continuing education (1-3 year duration) and as a rule require the
completion of relevant vocational training in a recognised occupation and subsequent employment. In
addition, the Fachhochschulreife can be acquired under certain conditions.
13 Including institutions of higher education offering courses in particular disciplines at university level (e.g.
theology, philosophy, medicine, administrative sciences, sport).
14 Pädagogische Hochschulen (only in Baden-Württemberg) offer training courses for teachers at various
types of schools. In specific cases, study courses leading to professions in the area of education and
pedagogy outside the school sector are offered as well.
15 The Berufsakademie is a tertiary sector institution in some Länder offering academic training at a
Studienakademie (study institution) combined with practical in-company professional training in keeping
with the principle of the dual system.
As at January 2009
Establishment of the so-called Zweiter Bildungsweg at which adults can attend evening classes to
obtain the general higher education entrance qualification.
General higher education entrance qualification. Entitles holder to admission to all subjects at all higher
education institutions and is usually obtained at upper →Gymnasium level (→Gymnasiale Oberstufe)
by passing the Abitur examination. The certificate of Allgemeine Hochschulreife incorporates
examination marks as well as continuous assessment of pupil's performance in the last two years of
upper →Gymnasium level (Qualifikationsphase).
The Bachelor’s degree as a first higher education degree provides basic qualification for a profession. It
can be obtained after a standard period of study (Regelstudienzeit) of at least three and at most four
years at universities and equivalent institutions of higher education, at colleges of art and music, and at
→Fachhochschulen. Together with the →Master's degree, the Bachelor's degree is part of a graduation
system of consecutive degrees (two-cycle degree system) which is to replace the traditional system of
higher education qualifications (→Diplom and →Magister). The Bachelor’s degree provides the same
rights as Diplom qualifications obtained at a Fachhochschule. The Bachelor’s degree may also be
obtained as a tertiary education qualification providing qualification for a profession at
Type of school at upper secondary level offering a three-year course of education which includes both
the general education subjects taught at upper →Gymnasium level (→Gymnasiale Oberstufe) and
career-oriented subjects, such as business and technology, but which also leads to the general higher
education entrance qualification.
Vocational school at upper secondary level generally providing part-time instruction in general and
vocational subjects to trainees receiving vocational education and training within the dual system.
The Diplom degree as a higher education qualification provides qualification for a profession. It may be
obtained either at universities and equivalent institutions of higher education (particularly in social or
economic sciences and in natural and engineering sciences), at colleges of art and music, and at
→Fachhochschulen (in all subjects, with the specification Fachhochschule or FH added to the degree
Qualification entitling holder to study particular subjects at a higher education institution. May be
obtained through certain courses of vocational education at upper secondary level.
University of applied sciences. Type of higher education institution established in the 1970s, which has
the particular function of providing application-oriented teaching and research, particularly in
engineering, business, administration, social services and design.
Qualification entitling holder to study at a →Fachhochschule. May usually be obtained after 12 years of
schooling at a Fachoberschule or - under certain conditions - at other vocational schools.
Compulsory school for all children of the age of six onwards. It comprises four grades, except in Berlin
and Brandenburg where it covers six grades.
The upper level of the →Gymnasium, which can however be established at other types of school such
as the Gesamtschule. It comprises grades 11-13 (or 10-12, 11-12, depending on the Land). Course of
general education concluded by the Abitur examination, which leads to the general higher education
entrance qualification (→Allgemeine Hochschulreife).
Type of school covering both lower and upper secondary level (grades 5-13 or 5-12) and providing an
in-depth general education aimed at the general higher education entrance qualification. At present, in
almost all Länder, there is a change from the nine-year to the eight-year Gymnasium in which the
→Allgemeine Hochschulreife is acquired after grade 12.
Type of school at lower secondary level providing a basic general education. Compulsory school,
unless pupil is attending a different type of secondary school, usually comprising grades 5-9.
Pre-school establishment for children aged between three and six as part of child and youth welfare
services – may be either publicly or privately maintained (not part of the school system).
Establishment of the so-called Zweiter Bildungsweg where adults attend full-time classes to obtain the
general higher education entrance qualification.
Kunsthochschule / Musikhochschule
The colleges of art / colleges of music teach the entire gamut of artistic subjects or only certain
branches of study, in some cases also the pertaining theoretical disciplines.
The Magister degree as a higher education qualification providing qualification for a profession may be
obtained at universities and equivalent institutions of higher education (particularly in arts subjects).
The Master’s degree as a further higher education degree provides an advanced qualification for a
profession and can be obtained after a standard period of study of one to two years at a university or
equivalent institution of higher education, at colleges of art and music, as well as at
→Fachhochschulen. Master’s study courses are differentiated by the profile types “more practiceoriented”
and “more research-oriented.” They require a first degree qualifying for entry into a
profession. Consecutive Master’s study courses build on a preceding Bachelor’s study course in terms
of content and are part of a graduation system of consecutive degrees (two-cycle degree system) that
is to replace the traditional system of higher education qualifications (→Diplom, →Magister). Nonconsecutive
Master’s study courses and Master’s courses providing further education correspond to the
requirements of consecutive Master’s study courses and lead to the same level of qualifications and the
same rights as consecutive Master’s study courses.
General education school leaving certificate obtained on completion of grade 10 at →Realschulen or,
under certain circumstances, at other lower secondary level school types. It can also be obtained at a
later stage during vocational training at upper secondary level. In some Länder called
Award of a doctoral degree on the basis of a doctoral thesis and either an oral examination or a
defence of the student's thesis. As a rule, the doctorate is embarked on after completing a first course
of study culminating in the →Magister, →Diplom or →Staatsprüfung, as well as after obtaining a
Master’s qualification, and the promotion serves as proof of ability to undertake in-depth academic
Type of school at lower secondary level, usually comprising grades 5-10. Provides pupils with a more
extensive general education and the opportunity to go on to courses of education at upper secondary
level that lead to vocational or higher education entrance qualifications.
Pre-school establishment for children with disabilities – also known as a Förderkindergarten.
Special school – school establishment for pupils whose development cannot be adequately assisted at
mainstream schools on account of disability. Also known as Förderschule, Schule für Behinderte or
State examination concluding a course of study in certain subjects (e.g. medical subjects, teaching,
law). Also refers to examination taken by law students and teaching students at the end of their
preparatory service (known as the Second State Examination). The examinations are administered by
examination committees staffed not only by professors from the institutions of higher education but also
by representatives of the state examination offices of the Länder.
Technische Hochschule / Technische Universität
Type of higher education institution equivalent in status to university. Focus traditionally lies in natural
science and engineering.
→Fachhochschule maintained by the Federation or a Land which trains civil servants in a particular
sector of public administration for careers in the so-called higher level of the civil service.