9 types of schools in Germany and why they exist
Published on May 31, 2023
The German school system allows for public and private schools. There are over 32,000 general education schools in Germany. A majority of them are public schools, but private schools make up over 10% of the total. These private schools still require state approval to ensure a quality education, and they offer various educational approaches that exist in parallel to the public system.
Private schools are open to everyone. Expats often consider private schools in Germany to ensure that their children get a degree or certification equivalent to what they might receive in their home country. Some expats also think it’s important for their children to receive instruction in English or in their first language. Below, we’ll summarize the different types of schools in Germany.
Over 11 million students attend general education and vocational schools in Germany, and just under 90% of them attend a state-funded public school. Education is essentially free in Germany. If you’re interested in learning more, we explain the details of the structure of primary, secondary and higher education in our guide to the German school system.
Private schools in Germany are called Privatschulen or Freie Schulen, because they’re “free” in the sense of having a private, non-state school authority. However, they require state approval and can have tuition fees to help cover costs.
While the total number of schools in Germany is decreasing, private schools are on the rise. There are currently just under 6,000 private primary, secondary and vocational schools across the country, and over one million students attend a private school. The most common private schools in Germany are religious schools and Montessori or Waldorf schools.
Montessori schools in Germany follow the principles of Montessori education, based on activities and natural curiosity instead of formulaic teaching.
The Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori developed her method of education in the early 20th century. German Montessori schools integrate elements such as freedom of choice, blocks of uninterrupted work, prepared learning environments and teachers with Montessori training. Montessori education is more common for elementary schools, but some secondary schools employ the method.
Alternative schools are private schools under government supervision organized in the Federal Association of Free Alternative Schools (BFAS). They typically follow concepts of reform pedagogy but are not associated with Montessori, religious or Waldorf schools.
Self-determination, self-organization and taking decisions democratically commonly play critical roles in the educational approach at these alternative schools.
The German pedagogue Peter Petersen conceived the Jenaplan teaching concept, named after the University of Jena. Jenaplan teaching is based on independent learning, cooperation and a sense of community beyond the classroom. This community aspect means that it involves the parents of students more heavily than some other concepts. Teaching can take place in courses, during free work by students or in some other interdisciplinary methodology. There are around a dozen Jenaplan schools in Germany.
Students attending boarding school live on the premises where they receive their formal education. There are over 250 boarding schools in Germany for most educational levels. These so-called Landschulheime base their educational approach on principles of reform pedagogy.
There are around 100 international schools in Germany, and many of them are English language-oriented or offer bilingual education in English and German. Depending on the school, students work towards the German Abitur to qualify for higher education, or get an International Baccalaureate (IB), International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) or US-equivalent High School Diploma and Advanced Placement (AP). A few international schools in Germany follow the national system of other countries, such as Switzerland, France or Japan.
Waldorf schools or Rudolf Steiner schools follow the spiritualist movement of anthroposophy and use a holistic educational style based on the philosophy of its founder, the esotericist Rudolf Steiner. His pedagogical ideas seek to foster individuality, freedom, creativity and imagination. Waldorf schools in Germany face both support and criticism.
Konfessionsschulen in Germany are religious or denominational schools and follow the principles of a particular faith, commonly with mandatory religious instruction. They are predominantly Christian, though Jewish and Islamic schools exist as well.
The German education system and school laws make schooling compulsory. Depending on the federal state or Bundesland, children must attend nine or ten years of school. Compulsory schooling regulates participation, registration and choice of school; it also outlaws homeschooling. School attendance can be enforced with fines, sentences and the help of the police.
There are public and private schools in Germany. Regulations and school laws forbid homeschooling and require approval for private or alternative schools to ensure equivalence in quality and certification.
The most common types of private schools are religious, Montessori, and Rudolf Steiner schools, though other schools focusing on reform pedagogics exist. International schools with an English-language education are the focus of expats who want their children to get qualifications different from the German Abitur.