School education begins at the primary/elementary school (Grundschule) for grades 1-4. After grade 4, children may attend one of the following secondary schools, according to their academic ability:

  • Hauptschule (secondary level, providing basic general education) - grades 5-10
  • Realschule (secondary modern school, providing a more extensive general and technical education) - grades 5-10
  • Gymnasium (secondary or grammar school access to higher education) - grades 5-12/13
  • Gesamtschule or Sekundarschule (comprehensive schools - access to higher education) - grades 5-12/13
  • Fachoberschule (technical and vocational training colleges - access to Universities of Applied Sciences) - grades 11-12/13

At the Gymnasium, pupils may take the Abitur leaving examination, a prerequisite for admission to university. The Gesamtschule combines the three traditional secondary school types in one location, whereas the Sekundarschule combines Realschule and Gymnasium only. As a rule, German state schools used to be half-day schools. They are open to all and do not charge fees. However, full-day schooling is increasing, including open all-day primary schools. The number of pupils' day home places (fees charged) has decreased accordingly.

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