School systems

The school systems in Austria, Germany and Switzerland are very different from the school systems in the UK.

Hilfsvokabeln– Helpful vocabulary

  • die Grundschule – primary school (Germany)
  • die Primarschule – primary school (Switzerland)
  • die Volksschule – primary school (Austria)
  • die Gesamtschule – comprehensive school (Germany only)
  • das Gymnasium – academic secondary school
  • die Hauptschule – general or lower secondary school
  • die Realschule – combined secondary school, more academic than die Hauptschule
  • die Mittlere Reife/der Schulabschluss – equivalent of GCSEs in some parts of Germany
  • der Abschluss – school leaving qualification
  • das Abitur – equivalent of A levels (Germany)
  • die Matura – equivalent of A levels (Austria and Switzerland)

Types of schools

Was für Schulen gibt es? – What kind of schools are there?

The Austrian, German and Swiss systems have some similarities to each other, but there are still some differences.

Question

Look at this chart showing the types of schools and the ages when children attend them, together with the name of the final exams that students from each country sit before they leave school.

A table comparing different types of schools, school ages and final exams in Austria, Germany and Switzerland

Now complete the following sentences using information from the chart above.

  • In German-speaking countries, children start school at the age of __________.
  • Primary school in Austria is called __________.
  • Primary school in Germany is called __________.
  • The equivalent of GCSEs in Germany is called __________.
  • The equivalent of A-levels in Germany is called __________, but in Austria and Switzerland it is called __________.
  • In German-speaking countries, children start school at the age of six – sechs Jahren in Germany and Austria, or at seven - sieben Jahren in Switzerland.
  • Primary school in Austria is called die Volksschule.
  • Primary school in Germany is called die Grundschule.
  • The equivalent of GCSEs in Germany is called die Mittlere Reife.
  • The equivalent of A-levels in Germany is called Abitur, but in Austria and Switzerland it is called Matura.

Did you know?

Children holding decorative cones in school
First day at the 'Grundschule'

Man wird mit sechs Jahren eingeschult.

German children start school at the age of six, although in German you are really saying 'with six years' – mit sechs Jahren.

This is a big event for all children, and in Germany their parents give them a cone full of sweets, gifts and stationery to celebrate their first day at school.

The cone is called eine Schultüte (literally: a school paper-bag) and is huge – often more than half a metre in length.

Parents often make them especially for their children, but they can also be bought ready-made from shops.

There is no school uniform in state schools in the German-speaking countries. Pupils of all ages can wear what they like.