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How do German schools work?

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
Hi there. My husband and I are planning to move to Germany next fall (likely Berlin). I lived in Germany as a kid and have simply always wanted to return. One of many things we need to figure out is where and how to send our son--who will be 5 next summer--to school. If you all could help me, I'd like to know:

1) What kind of alternative schools, such as Democratic, Waldorf, Montessori, Sudbury, etc there are in Germany. Are they affordable? Is there a bureaucratic process to going to a private school, such as clearing it with some authority?

2) How does the public school system work? Do you have a choice of schools or are you assigned based on location? What does it take to enroll (especially as foreigners) our son in school?

3) What else? Anything else I should know that could make this huge transition easier. Is there other information out there that could help me? If you have links, I can read German (with extensive use of a dictionary).


post #2 of 7
Children do not start school until they are 6 - even 7 years old in Germany.
That said, almost all children go to Kindergarten starting at age 3. Children who will be starting 1st grade the following year have priority on the Kindergarten waiting list, and their place is free.
You will have a choice of Kindergartens and schools but if you opt for Waldorf or Montessori there is likely to be a long waiting list, and I am not sure if you have to pay for those or not.
If you send your child to kindy that will make it easier to transition to school as he will be able to learn German in a more informal/playful atmosphere. My American friend put her 5yo in Kindergarten and he spoke German fluently within 3 months. Of course it was a bit hard for him the first couple of months as he couldn't really communicate with the other kids - but he still played with them anyway.
We did not actully send our kids to school when we lived in Germany, but I think that when you register with the Burgeramt when you move to a city, your child will be on a list and when it is time for them to be enrolled in school they will send you a letter. At least that is how it worked for us. We got special permission to homeschool but we still had to register with the neighborhood school. I believe we just filled out the form they sent us.
Hope that helps a bit.
post #3 of 7
Originally Posted by Plaid Leopard View Post
Children do not start school until they are 6 - even 7 years old in Germany.
That said, almost all children go to Kindergarten starting at age 3. Children who will be starting 1st grade the following year have priority on the Kindergarten waiting list, and their place is free.
Not to get too picky but I believe that Kindergarten is not free everywhere, it is a local decision however Kindergarden is very affordable starting from about 60 Euros a month for part-time (4.5 hours a day) not including food. Our city will NOT be offering free Kindergarden.

My local Waldorfkindergarden fees were based on the ones from our local 'Jugendamt'.

I have heard that school registration is through Kindergarten. (EDIT: probably not through the Kindergartens themselves but somehow easily transitioned for those attending Kindergarten.)

Public Kindergarten registration/waiting list is through the local 'Jugendamt' (where 2 could be selected) and private registration is directly through the Kindergarten. Most people in my town register when they are pregnant (about 3 years in advance).

You probably cannot even register for a public Kindergarten until you get to Germany.
post #4 of 7
Thread Starter 
Thank you both for your replies! It seems like there is so much stuff to get organized before we move and it really gets overwhelming.

With my limited German I've been trying to google Kindergartens in Berlin. I read somewhere that Kindergarten is not free, but I really do want my son to start Kindergarten when we get there. Otherwise I don't know how the poor kid would learn any German.

Some more questions this raised for me:
Can anyone tell me where I should start (online) in figuring out how this stuff works--like Jugendamt, Buergeramt, where we register our residency, and any other legal stuff you have to do in Germany that I don't know about? Should I start at berlin.de or are the government offices split up smaller than by city? Are we eligible for Kindergeld when we move there? Can anyone tell me what authority I should ask about whether we can apply for public schools before we move? I suppose I can ask the private schools themselves through email...
post #5 of 7
I know it is all overwhelming but if you haven't already I would start with the residence permit requirements if you/your husband does not have a German passport. If you or your husband will have a job there, the local HR person if there is one, can probably quickly give you the addresses of the other offices you need and help you with your permits.

I am not in Berlin and my town is smaller so there is only one Jugendamt. Looks like Berlin has many based on location.

post #6 of 7
As soon as you move to our home you should go to your local Buergeramt to register (Anmelden). You will also need to go to the Auslaenderamt to get your residence permit if you are not German national.
Once you are registered you can go to the Jugendamt to apply for Kindergeld. It is not income based, and if you are a legal resident of Germany you are eligible for it.
post #7 of 7
This is the website where you can search for preschools in the neighbourhood you're moving into - as soon as you know :

This is a leaflet in English:
Looks very comprehensive to me.

If the link does not work, click on "Elterninfo English" on this website, which tells you everything you never wanted to know about preschools/daycare in Berlin:

I gather that any child 3 and up is entitled to a half-day place, in the disctrict or a neighbouring district, with 30 minutes travel time on public transport considered a reasonable distance. Interestingly, I read Berlin is planning to scrap fees entirely by 2011. They may not be able to keep it up though, as Berlin is so broke. Even so, fees are so heavily subsidized it shouldn't be much of an issue. I'd expect most Waldorf and Montessori schools (schools on the Sudbury/democratic model are extremely rare in Germany, not sure whether there would be any in Berlin) to be run on the public model, ie subsidized/free by 2011. The exception to this would be preschools affiliated to international schools, which may be insanely expensive, but tuition for expatriates' children is usually covered by employers, so check with whoever is employing you or your husband in Germany if you're interested.

Though pre-school is universal, it is not mandatory (not even the K year, called "Vorschule", usually a pull-out program in preschool, though this is being considered too) and it is entirely up to you whether you go public, private, or not at all.

this is the schools' website:
Apparently there is no leaflet in english, sorry, but you do read some German you say - enjoy!
Your son will probably be eligible for 1st grade in elementary school in the fall of the year he turns six. From what I know of Berlin (I live in the South) it's usually a 1st/2nd split grade, with the option of remaining for three years in that class without its being considered "holding back". Unlike pre-school, by 1st grade brick-and-mortar school attendance is mandatory! From what I know, permission to homeschool is extremely hard to get if you are legally resident - I have heard of exceptions being made if the child would have been in school for less than a year or so until leaving again, but i wouldn't count on it.

Private schools (again with the exception of international schools) are heavily subsidized to be affordable (in theory) for everyone, so schools can't cherrypick by parental income. Again, you'll find a lot of Waldorf, some Montessori, and of course Catholic and some Protestant schools. Haven't heard of Sudbury schools in Berlin (there is one founded by the singer Nena in Hamburg, with bad reviews).

From what I understand, you have to register with the elementary you#re zoned for, then opt out if you want to go private.

I hope this'll keep you going for a while. I'm happy to help with any other questions you may have on Germany - just keep in mind I've never lived in Berlin...
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