Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Family Support Centre

The Berlin School System

Photo: Familienbüro


Most children in Berlin start school at the age of six or seven. They either attend a primary school, which comprises Years 1 through 6, or a Gemeinschaftsschule (literally “community school”), in which children from Years 1 through 10 (or Years 1 through 13 if the school operates a sixth form), are instructed together in a mixed group. In Year 7, children usually go from primary school to an Integrierte Sekundarschule (integrated secondary school) or a Gymnasium (a secondary school with a sixth form). Under certain circumstances, it is possible to transition to a secondary school with a sixth form or to an integrated secondary school after completion of Year 4.

Compulsory education and registering your child for school

In general, when children turn six years old, they are required to go to school. That means they have to go to a public or state-approved private school. In general, this applies to children who have already turned six by August/September or will turn six by 30 September. The transition to primary school is an important milestone for children in Germany. On the Saturday after school has begun, Year 1 students are usually welcomed to school with a festive ceremony. Public school is tuition free whereas private schools usually charge tuition.

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The first step is to register your child at the catchment school in your residential area in early autumn (September/October) of the year prior to his or her entry. If you do not know your child’s catchment school, you can figure it out on the Berlin Senate Administration website. When you register your child for school, you can also apply for the school’s after-school programme. In the spring before your child starts school, the school doctor will perform a medical examination on your child as a prerequisite for attending the school.

Even if you want your child to attend a different school, you must initially register your child at your local catchment school. At the school you can submit a request to send your child to a different public primary or community school, and list the reasons for your request. You must submit the same request form even if you are planning on sending your child to a private school. The request can only be satisfied if there are spots available at the desired school. You can find the request form on the Berlin Senate Administration website.


Postponing school entry

Under certain circumstances, you can postpone your child’s start date at school by one year if your child’s developmental level would be better fostered by another year at a childcare centre. Please enquire about the specifics of the procedure on the Senate Administration website.


Transition to secondary school

After the first half-year of Year 6, all pupils apply for a spot at a secondary school. They can apply for three different schools, ranking their first, second and third choices. If, for example, there are more applicants than spots available, the secondary schools select the pupils based on the primary school’s recommendation for advancement (Förderprognose) and its own admissions criteria.

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Pupils can achieve a number of different degrees at an integrated secondary school: the Berufsbildungsreife (BBR), or qualification for professional education, after Year 9 or 10; the Mittleren Schulabschluss (MSA), or mid-level school degree, after Year 10; and the Erweiterte Berufsbildungsreife (EBBR), or advanced qualification for professional education, also after Year 10. If they have performed well in an MSA programme, integrated secondary school pupils may be able to transfer to a Gymnasium, which offers upper-level academics, i.e. a sixth form, in preparation for university studies. Several integrated secondary schools have their own upper-level academic programme; some cooperate or network with another school. The Abitur exam – a university entrance qualification roughly equivalent to British A-levels – can be taken after Year 13.

After 12 years of school, Gymnasium culminates in the university entrance qualification (Abitur). After Year 10, pupils take their MSA exams. Passing the MSA exam is – aside from other requirements – absolutely necessary for progressing to the upper academic level, or Gymnasium. You can find comprehensive information about the transition to secondary schools on the Berlin Senate Administration website.


School transfer to Berlin

The school year begins after summer holidays, usually in August or September. However, it is possible to change schools over the course of the school year. Even if you move to Berlin after the school registration period (September/October of the prior year), it is considered school transfer.

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Your local education authority (Schulamt), which is in charge of allocating spots at schools in your district, has information on transferring to a school in Berlin. All the paperwork you need for the transfer as well as a list of local education authorities can be found on the “Schulwechsel nach Berlin” (“Transferring to a school in Berlin”) page. 

Your local educational authority can help you find a spot for your child at a school. On the website of the Berlin Senate Department for Education, Youth and Family you will also find a school directory where you can filter schools according to certain criteria such as area and languages etc. 

Please get in touch with the school you wish to send your child to and enquire in advance whether it would be possible for your child to attend.


Children without German skills attending school

Children who are legally required to attend school but have only little or no knowledge of German still need to be registered with the district’s educational authority once they have moved to Berlin. Your child’s knowledge of German will be determined by the authority’s coordination offices for welcome classes. In addition, a medical exam by the school doctor will be scheduled. Your child’s age, language test results and medical exam will all factor into the educational authority’s decision about which school your child will attend and what year he or she will start in.

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After that, you can register your child at the school he or she has been assigned to.

Depending on your child’s age and German knowledge, he or she will be taught in a regular or a welcome class. The welcome classes teach the children the German skills necessary to prepare them for their transition to a regular class.

Alternately, your child can also attend an international private school as long as the school has free spots and is willing to admit your child. In general, parents have to pay tuition for their child to attend a private school.

For more information, read the flyer "New in Germany? Information and tips about the Berlin School system" which is available on the Berlin Senate Administration website.


After-school care

Most primary schools in Berlin have an after-school programme that cares for children after the end of the school day (which is normally between 12.00 and 14.00) and until 18.00 at the latest. 

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In order to receive after-school care for your child, you must obtain a childcare voucher from the youth welfare office. The office reviews the necessity of the care (regardless of working or study hours) and decides on the supplementary fee you must pay based on your income. After-school care is free for children in Years 1 and 2; those children are automatically entitled to attend the after-school club until 16.00. All children receive free school lunch until Year 6.

You can submit the request for additional support and care (Antrag auf ergänzende Förderung und Betreuung), which is available on the Berlin Senate Administration website, to your child’s school, either when you do the school registration or at a later point in time. The school then forwards the request to the youth welfare office. Please note that if you want your child to receive after-school care from the beginning of the school year, you must submit the request at least three months beforehand.


Free use of local public transport (Öffentlichen Personennahverkehrs, ÖVP)

Starting the 2019/20 school year, all pupils of Berlin schools may use the local public transport system for free. You can order the Schülerticket (literally “pupil ticket”) on the website of the BVG (Berlin’s public transport company).