Secondary Education

After children complete their primary education (at 10 years of age, 12 in Berlin and Brandenburg), there are five options for secondary schooling:

Gymnasium (grammar school) until grade 12 or 13 (with Abitur as exit exam, qualifying for university); and
Fachoberschule admission after grade ten until grade twelve (with Fachhochschulreife (between Abitur and Realschulabschluss) as exit exam) it is also possible to leave after grade thirteen and get either the ″fachgebundene Abitur″ (if you haven′t learned a language besides English) or get the ″Abitur″ (with a second language on European level B1) ;

Realschule until grade ten (with Mittlere Reife (Realschulabschluss) as exit exam);
Mittelschule (the least academic, much like a modernized Volksschule elementary school) until grade nine (with Hauptschulabschluss and in some cases Mittlere Reife = Realschulabschuss as exit exam); in some federal states the Hauptschule does not exist and pupils are mainstreamed into a Mittelschule or Regionale Schule instead.
Gesamtschule (comprehensive school)

After passing through any of the above schools, pupils can start a career with an apprenticeship in the Berufsschule (vocational school). The Berufsschule is normally attended twice a week during a two, three, or three-and-a-half year apprenticeship; the other days are spent working at a company. This is intended to provide a knowledge of theory and practice. The company is obliged to accept the apprentice on its apprenticeship scheme. After this, the apprentice is registered on a list at the Industrie- und Handelskammer IHK (chamber of industry and commerce). During the apprenticeship, the apprentice is a part-time salaried employee of the company. After passing the Berufsschule and the exit exams of the IHK, a certificate is awarded and the young person is ready for a career up to a low management level. In some areas, the schemes teach certain skills that are a legal requirement (special positions in a bank, legal assistants).

Some special areas provide different paths. After attending any of the above schools and gaining a leaving certificate like Hauptschulabschluss, Mittlere Reife (or Realschulabschuss, from a Realschule) or Abitur from a Gymnasium or a Gesamtschule, school leavers can start a career with an apprenticeship at a Berufsschule (vocational school). Here the student is registered with certain bodies, e.g. associations such as the German Bar Association Deutsche Rechtsanwaltskammer GBA (board of directors). During the apprenticeship, the young person is a part-time salaried employee of the institution, bank, physician or attorney's office. After leaving the Berufsfachschule and passing the exit examinations set by the German Bar Association or other relevant associations, the apprentice receives a certificate and is ready for a career at all levels except in positions which require a specific higher degree, such as a doctorate. In some areas, the apprenticeship scheme teaches skills that are required by law, including certain positions in a bank or those as legal assistants. The 16 states have exclusive responsibility in the field of education and professional education. The federal parliament and the federal government can influence the educational system only by financial aid to the states. There are many different school systems, but in each state the starting point is always the Grundschule (elementary school) for a period of four years; or six years in the case of Berlin and Brandenburg.

Grades 5 and 6 form an orientation phase (Orientierungsstufe) during which students, their parents and teachers decide which of the above-mentioned paths the students should follow. In all states except Berlin and Brandenburg, this orientation phase is embedded into the program of the secondary schools. The decision for a secondary school influences the student's future, but during this phase changes can be made more easily. In practice this rarely comes to bear because teachers are afraid of sending pupils to more academic schools whereas parents are afraid of sending their children to less academic schools. In Berlin and Brandenburg, the orientation is embedded into that of the elementary schools. Teachers give a so-called educational (path) recommendation (Bildungs(gang)empfehlung) based on scholastic achievements in the main subjects (mathematics, German, natural sciences, foreign language) and classroom behavior with details and legal implications differing from state to state: in some German states, those wishing to apply for a Gymnasium or Realschule require such a recommendation stating that the student is likely to make a successful transition to that type of school; in other cases anybody may apply. In Berlin 30% - 35% of Gymnasium places are allocated by lottery. A student's performance at primary school is immaterial.

The eastern states Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia combine Hauptschule and Realschule as Sekundarschule, Mittelschule and Regelschule respectively. All German states have Gymnasium as one possibility for the more able children, and all states - except Saxony - have some Gesamtschulen, but in different forms. The states of Berlin and Hamburg have only two types of schools: comprehensive schools and Gymnasium.
Learning a foreign language is compulsory throughout Germany in secondary schools and English is one of the more popular choices. Students at certain Gymnasium are required to learn Latin as their first foreign language and choose a second foreign language. The list of available foreign languages as well as the hours of compulsory foreign language lessons differ from state to state, but the more common choices, besides Latin, are English, French, Spanish, ancient Greek. Many schools also offer voluntary study groups for the purpose of learning other languages. At which stage students begin learning a foreign language differs from state to state and is tailored according to the cultural and socio-economical dynamics of each state. In some states, foreign language education starts in the Grundschule (primary school). For example, in North Rhine-Westphalia, English starts in the third year of elementary school. Baden-Württemberg starts with English or French in the first year. The Saarland, which borders France, begins with French in the third year of primary school and French is taught in high school as the main foreign language.

It may cause problems in terms of education for families that plan to move from one German state to another as there are partially completely different curricula for nearly every subject.

Adults who did not achieve a Realschulabschluss or Abitur, or reached its equivalent, have the option of attending evening classes at an Abendgymnasium or Abendrealschule.