How to start primary school in Bavaria

2014-09-16 07.20.52

This is the “how it works” entry – I’ll be posting a more personal account of the mini-aliens’ first days at school soon!

Key facts:

  • Children go to Kindergarten from age 3-6, this is not “school” and is not compulsory, nor is it free, but most attend.
  • At age 6 children start Grundschule (primary school). some start at 5 and some at 7 though – this is explained below
  • Before a child can be registered for school they have to be assessed for “school readiness” (the Schuluntersuchung to check whether children are Schulreife) – usually almost a year in advance of their expected start date. All children who will be of compulsory school age the following September have to take the test, whether or not they are expected to be ready.
  • Register for school the April before the child is due to start.
  • The school year runs from mid September to July.
  • School is free at the point of use and is compulsory for at least 9 years.
  • Children taking time off during school is very rarely possible, aside from due to illness.
  • There will be at least one meeting for parents before the new children start school
  • Parents must buy all their children’s stationary (exercise books, pens, pencils, paint, paintbrushes – everything). A list will be given out with very specific requirements, don’t guess in advance!
  • Children need a Schulranzen and a Schultüte for their first day – see the list of key words below (and the photos above).

A bit more information

Starting primary (elementary) school in Bavaria is a world away from starting reception in the UK.

Children go to Kindergarten until they are 6 (or almost 6, or in some cases just turned 7…) in Bavaria. there is no formal learning at Kindergarten, but that doesn’t mean the kids “just” play and don’t learn anything, at a good Kindergarten an awful lot of Montessori style learning goes on, and its a lot like reception year in a UK infant school – but without the phonics, and perhaps with more time outdoors, more trips, and a bit less emphasis on health and safety (3 year olds using real hammers and nails, a pen knife on the suggested kit list for the Vorschule trip for 5 year olds, and old tree dragged into the garden as something new to climb on, for example…).

From (roughly) the age of 6, until (roughly) the age of 10, children attend “Grundschule”, which is (roughly) equivalent to UK primary school, but crammed into 4 years of 3-5 hour long school days instead of 7 years of 6.5 hour long school days…

German states vary quite widely in terms of educational systems, and the exact age at which children start school reflects this. In Bayern the cut off date (“Der Stichtag”) is 30th September, whilst in other states the cut off date is June (as it used to be in Bavaria until 1997), July, August, or even December. By default children in Bavaria start school the September following their 6th birthday – or the September of their 6th birthday if they turn 6 during September, The children who start at age 6 (or a few days before) are “MussKinder” (because they must start school, unless they are granted the right to defer for a year – there is no home schooling in Germany, all children must attend school).

There are exceptions though – some children stay an extra year at Kindergarten (“zurückgestellt”) at the request of parents, with backing from Kindergarten and their family doctor, or because some of the professionals involved in the school enrolment process decide they are not ready for school (in the end the final say about whether a child starts school or not lies with the school principle, but children can not legally be held back for more than one year)..

The other exceptions are “Kann-Kinder” – these are children who are a few months too young to automatically start school, but whose parents judge them ready to start a little bit early.

Almost a year before their expected start date children are given a test called the Schuluntersuchung. This is meant to determine whether they are socially, emotionally and physically ready for school. The test involves simple physical tasks such as standing on one leg, hopping and clapping out a pattern. There area also tests of mental acumen – counting beads and working out how many remain if the assessor removes one, identifying colours, drawing a picture, drawing shapes, repeating back a short string of numbers, and identifying differences in patterns. Most importantly for children who may not have German as a first language, there are language assessments – using the correct article for common words, for example. The assessor is meant to be noting the child’s demeanour at the same time as whether their answers are correct. At this point the child’s yellow health book with evidence of vaccinations and the regular check ups children are entitled to (most importantly the “U9” check up which children have at their paediatrician or family doctor at age 5) has to be available. Eye tests and hearing tests are done prior to this part of the Schuluntersuchung.

Following the Schuluntersuchung, children can be referred for extra german lessons, speech therapy, occupational therapy or other interventions to help them get ready to start school, or can be held back a year at Kindergarten and start school a year late. Some parents with children who will be young for the year actively work to have their child held back, and this is fairly easily achieved with the backing of the Kindergarten staff and family doctor or paediatrician. This fact, in combination with the possibility to have children born between October and December start school early in some cases, means that there can be an age range of up to 18 months (or occasionally more) within a year 1 school class.

Assuming a child “passes” the Schuluntersuchung, and the parents want them to start school, they must be enrolled for school at an appointment the following April – a letter will go to the parent’s home address inviting them to the school to do this. The child must go with the parent to the appointment, and will be interviewed by the school head or a senior teacher. The parent fills in forms and shows the child’s birth certificate, whilst the child is interviewed alone.

Parents who are enrolled will then be invited to an information at some point before the end of the summer holidays, where information specific to the local school will be provided. Sometimes a stationery list is also given out – at other times the list will be sent by post or given to the children on their first day. Parents have to buy all their child’s stationary, and it has to be exactly as detailed on the list – buy the wrong pencil or exercise books and you’ll have to replace them with the correct ones.

Finally before starting school your child will need a special, ridiculously expensive, school rucksack (Schulranzen) and a Schultüte – don’t try to go without either of these or you will have a very unhappy child on their first day!

Schultüte and Schulranzen deserve their own entry.. coming soon, along with a more personal account of my children’s first days at Bavarian Grundschule!

Useful words:

Einschulung – enrolment; this usually takes place the April before starting school
Grundschule – primary school
Hausaufgaben – homework
Kann-Kinder – children who may start school the year before they are of compulsory school age, born between 1st October and 31st December
Kindergarten – attended by at least 80% of Bavarian children between the ages of 3 and 6
MussKinder – children who will be 6 by the end of September start school that September by default
Schreibwarenhändler – stationary shop
Schulbesuch – school attendance
schulfähig – physically, socially and emotionally capable of being successful at school
Schulpflicht – of compulsory school age
Schulranzen – school bag (not just any old school bag, but a unique artefact – buy a Schulranzen, not any old rucksack!)
Schulreife – school readiness
Schulreifeprüfung – school readiness test, also called Schuluntersuchung.
Schultüte – a huge cardboard cone, decorated, filled with toys, non-school stationary and sweets, and tied with ribbon – given to all children on their first day of Grundschule.
Schuluntersuchung – school readiness test, usually the September or October before starting school

Vorschule – the last year of Kindergarten, before starting Grundschule
zurückgestellt – postponed school start for a year

Useful links: A guide to education in Bavaria
A guide to starting Grundschule for parents (in German, and not Bavaria specific)


2 Responses to How to start primary school in Bavaria

  1. Nicky says:

    I like the explanation! 🙂


  2. Pingback: What is a Schultüte? | alieninbavaria

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