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What is the difference between a German public school and a private school?

The school system in Germany consists of public schools and private substitute or supplementary schools, which in most cases both offer equally high academic standards. Some German parents prefer to send their children to a private school because of their smaller classes, focused attention on the individual child and, in many cases, for a school’s specific religious or pedagogical orientation.

Expat families in particular often have more decisive reasons for the choice of a private school, such as:

  • Language: Most state schools in Germany only offer education in German. Be aware that the German state school system generally makes little or no concessions to non-German speakers, e.g. by providing intensive language courses. This can make the first few months quite an ordeal for non-German-speaking children. Due to language and other integration problems, enrolling a child in a German state school is recommended only if they are going to spend at least a year there.
  • School hours & boarding: Most German state schools only have school hours in the morning (with little or no activities in the afternoon). In some states, there are also compulsory Saturday morning classes. If you’re working, this might not be the perfect solution for your family life. Also, some people want to send their children to a boarding school, which are rare in the state school system.
  • Recognition abroad: In some cases, the German examinations might not be recognized in your home country (or the country where you plan to live after leaving Germany). If applicable, check whether the German Abitur (high school diploma) is recognised as a university entrance qualification in your home country.
  • Extracurricular activities: Be aware that most state schools offer little or no extracurricular activities (such as music, clubs and sports). If you want your child to take part in these activities at school (remember there are also other options), private school might be a better option.
  • Religion and other aspects: Most German state schools have compulsory religious education (although in some schools you can take your child out of these classes). Most international schools do not. Also, nearly all German state schools are co-educational. If you want your child to go to a single-sex school, you will probably have to look for a private school.

It is recommended to thoroughly research the school (both state and private) before making the final decision. Check the school’s records and if possible, speak to teachers and other expat parents who have been faced with the same challenge.

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