Guide on International Schools in Germany
Last updated: 05 Jun 2020 / by Sam Williams
If you are moving to Germany with your family, schooling for your children is probably one of your top priorities. Ensuring your child gets a good education in another country can be a worry, but in Germany, you will discover there is a proper provision.
As well as the regular German state schools, there are also international schools that are perfect for the ex-pat community. A type of private facility, international schools are particularly skilled at supporting new arrivals and helping your child settle in quickly.
But what else do you need to know about international schools in Germany? Here are the essential facts.
A Quick Round-Up of German Education
The German education system is well-organized, high-quality and helps pupils to achieve a consistently good standard. An OECD study from 2018 scored Germany as 16th in the world for science, and 20th for mathematics and reading.
Your child must attend school between the ages of 6-15, whether that is at a state school or a private school (including international schools). Primary school finishes at age 10. At this point you must choose what type of secondary school you want your child to attend. This is partially based on teacher recommendations and academic performance, as well as your own personal preference.
Most schools start early, with a schedule that runs from 8am to 2pm. Lessons are conducted in German so if your child isn’t fluent, it may be difficult for them to learn.
While international schools are part of the overall German education system, they have many differences that set them apart. These differences mean it’s not easy to hop between an international school and a regular German state school, so it’s important to make the right choice at the start.
What is an International School?
International schools are not a concept that is unique to Germany. International schools are supporting the ex-pat community all around the world, with more than five million children attending.
You will typically find international schools in the main cities, rather than in rural areas.
They are designed to provide an internationally transferable education. This means if you leave Germany before your child has taken their exams, they can easily continue at another international school elsewhere.
Although international schools have qualities which suit children from ex-pat families, they’re also popular with native families too. This is because the learning can be more multi-cultural, is more likely to be recognized in other countries and offers something different than state schools.
Every international school in Germany has its own identity and provisions. However, in general, there are some key features which are common to most international schools:
They teach an international curriculum
- Lessons are in English, not German
- Admission is non-selective (usually)
- The same education can be continued at another international school
- The pupils are multilingual and multinational
- Schools hold international accreditation
Apart from a few exceptions in the largest German cities, international schools are private. They are not typically part of the German state system and you will need to pay fees if you want your child to attend.
English is the primary language, but your child will also can learn German. International schools are very culturally diverse and there is usually extra support for children who cannot speak either German or English. Other common languages include French, Italian and Spanish.
Although international schools are not part of the state system, they are still subject to the same regulation. German Basic Law provides the right to set up an independent school, but teachers must be properly trained and the state must provide approval.
Unlike state schools, International schools offer a complete educational pathway, beginning at kindergarten and going right through to the end of secondary school. It is possible to find separate primary and secondary international schools, but these are few and far between.
There are bodies in Germany and globally that offer accreditation and affiliation for international schools. This includes the Association of German International Schools (AGIS), the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) and the Council of International Schools (CIS).
International schools in Germany typically offer a choice of three different curriculums:
- International Baccalaureate (IB) – programs available are Primary Years, Middle Years and IB Diploma
- UK-based IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education)
- US-based AP (High School Diploma and Advanced Placement)
These are the three main curriculums available, but at some other schools you may be able to find something different. For example, method schools follow a different curriculum entirely, a few international schools follow the German curriculum (Arbitur) and other national schools follow the curriculum of their home country.
This is a very popular curriculum worldwide, with more than 5100 schools in 157 countries offering IB programs. The benefit of studying this is that you can switch between schools – or even countries – without disturbing your learning.
There are three subsets of the IB program:
PYP (Primary Years Program) – available to children aged 3-11 years. Subjects include math, language, social studies, art, science and physical education.
MYP (Middle Years Program) – available to children aged 11-16 years. It builds on the PYP and expands knowledge, adding literature and design to the core six subjects.
- IB Diploma – this is a pre-university course that includes six subjects, a study on philosophical theory of knowledge, a 4000-word essay plus 150 hours of community work, which contributes to service, action and creativity.
Many settings offer the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) to complement the above programs. This is for the early years and is also a global curriculum.
The IGCSE closely mirrors the GCSE courses in the UK with a two-year program that begins in Year 10. Exam boards across the UK administer IGCSEs and a pass is equivalent to a standard GCSE.
Some subjects are compulsory, such as English and math, but students can choose the extra qualifications they want to study for (such as art or history).
IGCSE grades range from 1 (the lowest mark) to 9 (the highest mark) and a pass can lead to A-levels or eligibility for the IB Diploma.
High School Diploma and Advanced Placement
The High School Diploma mirrors the US education system and is a lengthy program that begins in Year 8 and finishes in Year 12. To pass, you will need to sit examinations at the end as well as submitting coursework throughout. The subjects you will study include math, humanities, science, the arts and English literature. It’s possible to add extra subjects as a specialty.
If you pass your High School Diploma you can move on to the Advanced Placement where you’ll be able to specialize. Passing the Diploma means you will be able to attend university.
Different Types of International Schools
Although we have been talking about international schools collectively, there are several different types. All conform to the principles of international schools but have distinct features which some families may prefer.
The main types of international schools are:
IB (International Baccalaureate)
There are approximately 84 international schools in Germany following the IB program. The exact method of teaching will vary between schools, but lessons are usually in English, with occasional teaching in German.
Fees for IB schools are on a sliding scale, varying between €14,000 and €21,000, very roughly. You cannot access state funding for these tuition fees. In addition to the basic tuition fees, you will also have to pay costs for equipment, registration, activities and transport.
Some schools offer a bursary or scholarship system to assist low-income families.
British International Schools
Several international schools in Germany provide the option of IGCSE together with the IB curriculum. In addition, there are selected schools that teach the English national curriculum, followed by the IB Diploma.
British international schools are distinct because the teaching methods, culture and standards are influenced by schools in the UK.
Tuition fees for these schools are typically on a sliding scale, rising with the child’s age. Bursaries and scholarships are available.
American International Schools
There are not as many American international schools in Germany as there were in the past as some have closed. This is because they were originally set up to support military families in the post-war program via the Department of Defense Education Activity.
It is still possible to find some international schools which provide the option of studying for the High School Diploma, as well as the more widely accepted IB qualification.
Unlike other types of international schools, the American institutions almost exclusively provide for children of US Department of Defense employees. A very limited number of places are offered to other international and German pupils every year.
International Schools for other nations
As well as Britain and American international schools, several other countries have also set up learning facilities for their ex-pats. France has the most, but there are also international schools for countries such as Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic.
Teaching is bilingual, in the pupils’ native language and German. Provisions can vary significantly but details are available on each of the school’s websites.
There are some religious schools in Germany, but many depend on the state for funding. Christian, Jewish and Islamic are the primary religious schools, but the provisions vary significantly from state to state.
Waldorfschule are based on the teachings of Rudolph Steiner. There are approximately 200 institutions in Germany.
In other countries, this type of school is known as Steiner, but it’s just another name for a Waldorfschule. Germans call Steiner schools Waldorfschule because the first one to open in Germany in 1919 was to use employees from the Waldorf-Astoria Company.
Globally, there are approximately 1100 Steiner schools and an additional 2000 early years settings. Each one is based on the Rudolph Steiner concept of anthroposophy. This combines artistic, practical and intellectual skills to learn in a more holistic manner. Non-traditional subjects such as mythology and gardening are typically included in the curriculum to stimulate pupils in a different way.
Montessori schools are based on the teachings of Dr Maria Montessori. Estimates suggest there are more than 22,000 Montessori schools worldwide, in over 100 countries.
Like Waldorfschule, Montessori schools believe a holistic approach is vital. Dr Montessori is considered to be one of the great innovators within education, and the schools in her name offer children great freedom of expression. Teachers encourage pupils to learn at their own pace, choose their own activities and incorporate all their senses into learning. Direct instruction is rare in a Montessori school.
There is some overlap between Waldorfschule and Montessori schools but each one has a slightly different philosophy. One Waldorfschule may offer something different from another Waldorfschulje, and the same with Montessori.
You are more likely to find the teachers speaking in German at a method school, but it is also possible to find English-speaking method schools too.
Pros and Cons of International Schools
International schools are very different to other types of settings in Germany and may not be right for everyone. There are pros and cons to attending an international school, such as:
- Small class sizes
Lessons taught in English or your native language
- Better support for learning
- Experienced at helping children to settle in quickly
- Diverse and multi-cultural
- Education which can be continued anywhere
- More extracurricular and planned activities
- There are tuition fees
- There can be waiting lists
- Less integration into German culture
- Friends are more likely to come and go, making it harder to form close bonds
Only you can decide whether an international school is right for you, but the above pros and cons may help.
How to Choose the Right International School for your Child
All international schools are very different, so even if you decide an international school is what you want, you will need to make sure you find the right one. There are many international schools in Germany so you have plenty of choices.
Consider factors such as:
- What curriculum do they follow?
Specialty. Does it excel in interest that matches what you’re looking for?
- Facilities. Does it have the latest technology and well-equipped classrooms, library and sporting facilities?
- How long do the teachers stay for? High turnover isn’t necessarily a warning sign, but it may be more unsettling for your child
- What extra-curricular activities do they offer?
- Does the culture of the school match your own ethos? Some may be more/less competitive than you want.
- How does the school communicate with parents?
- How much homework do they set?
- How is progress monitored and assessed?
- How do they ensure a smooth transition when a child leaves to go to another school?
- Does the school hold any accreditation (such as CIS)?
Although you can glean a lot of information from the website, visiting the school in person is essential to reach a final decision.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I have to pay for an international school?
Usually, yes. There are a very small select number of international schools that are part of the state system, but the vast majority are private. Some have a bursary or scholarship schemes to help with the costs.
Will my child be taught in German?
Most international schools teach in English but there are also lessons to ensure your child learns fluent German.
At what age can my child start into an international school?
Most international schools cover from kindergarten right the way through to post-16 education.
Will the school teach and include the culture of my home country?
While international schools are in Germany, there are many different types. Some have closer links with other countries and their teaching methods. If this is important to you, looking for an international school which is specifically for children from your country.
What nationalities attend an international school?
International schools are set up to accept children from any nationality. This includes ex-pats and usually local children too. It’s mainly the children of ex-pats who attend but most are open to everyone. Some schools have closer connections with a specific country, such as the UK, the US, or France, so it’s essential to check the details of your preferred school carefully.
Will the qualifications my child attains be acceptable in another country?
Check which curriculum the school is following. Qualifications such as IGCSE and IB are recognized internationally.