The school system in North Rhine-Westphalia is built by school levels and divided by school forms. Three school levels exist:

  • Primary level, or elementary level consists of primary school (Grundschule / Primarstufe) which generally takes 4 years.
  • Secondary level I encompasses the school forms secondary basic school (Hauptschule), secondary school leading to intermediate qualification (Realschule), comprehensive school (Gesamtschule) from classes 5 to 10 and grammar school (Gymnasium) from classes 5 to 9.
  • Secondary level II encompasses the three years of upper-level grammar school (gymnasiale Oberstufe) of the grammar school or comprehensive school as well as the vocational college with its diverse branches of education.

Grammar schools and comprehensive schools are generally schools with secondary level II. For school children with special pedagogical needs, schools for children with learning difficulties exist, which each specialize in a different kind of support. Moreover, schools for sick school children exist, who are not able to attend classes in a school for longer than four weeks, due to an in-patient treatment at a hospital. Schools for children with special needs exist for certain school levels as well as for multiple school levels.

Further education colleges (consisting of evening secondary school leading to intermediate qualification, of evening grammar school and vocational training institutes to receive the general education for university entrance) are not administered to a certain school level.

Compulsory education

Compulsory education is regulated in Germany by the school acts of the federal states (bundeslaender). In North Rhine-Westphalia compulsory education applies to all children at school age who live here or are here on a longer stay. Compulsory education also applies to youths and young adults, who have a professional training or job here. Citizenship does not play a role in this.

Compulsory Education in primary level and in secondary level I is called full time compulsory education. It starts with school enrolment at the age of 5½ to 6½ years of age and lasts for ten school years. Once full time compulsory education ends, compulsory education in secondary level II starts. It is covered by visiting a part-time vocational training school or by visiting a general education school of the secondary level II (Gesamtschule, Gymnasium or Berufskolleg).

For youths without a vocational training apprenticeship, compulsory education ends when the last year of school ends in which they celebrate their 18th birthday. For young people who start a vocational training apprenticeship before their 21st birthday, compulsory education even lasts as long as their vocational training apprenticeship takes.

Elementary school (Primarstufe)

At the age of five or six, children experience their school enrolment. The parents enrol their child directly at the primary/elementary school of their choice. For every residence address, three elementary schools are assigned: one community elementary school, a Catholic and a Protestant elementary school. The parents can decide at which of these three school types they want to enrol their child. Up to fourth grade all children are taught together at the elementary school. Classes being taught in English start already in the second half of the first year elementary school.

Bonn‘s elementary schools are open all-day schools

All elementary schools in Bonn are all-day schools. This means, schools offer lunch and pedagogical care in the afternoon after classes. Sometimes, care even takes place outside. For lunch and care at full-day schools, parent‘s pay a fee that depends on the parent‘s income. Parents who hold a Bonn-Ausweis do not have to pay for lunch.

Changing to the secondary school (Secondary level I)

After elementary school, children change to a secondary school. This can be either a secondary basic school (s.c. sec. junior school / Hauptschule), secondary school leading to intermediate qualification (s.c. sec. modern school / Realschule), comprehensive school (Gesamtschule) or a grammar school (Gymnasium). Elementary school informs during the fouth grade about the different school types and their performance requirements as well as about the local school offerings. After this, the class teacher and the parents have a personal talk about  further education of the child. The elementary school states an advice in the report card of the second half of fourth grade about the specific school type that is suggested by the teachers. An enrolment form is also issued. Next to the advice of the school type of the three-branch school system, i.e. sec. basic school - Hauptschule), secondary school leading to intermediate qualification ( Realschule) or grammar school (Gymnasium) the comprehensive school (Gesamtschule) is also always named because children with very different skills can go to this school. If a child is advised for the third school form with qualifications, this is stated in a separate paragraph.

The parents enrol their child with the report card of the second half of the fourth grade and the enrolment form at the continuing school. The school director decides whether a child gets accepted.

Parents should get in touch early with the preferred school to get an appointment for a meeting to agree on the possible admittance of their child. The meetings start a lot earlier than when the half-term grade papers and the enrolment forms are given out.

The „days of the open door“(„Tage der offenen Tür“), to which all continuing schools in Bonn invite, can be used to get in contact as well.

What comes after secondary level I ?

At the end of the secondary level I, the path of education depends mostly on the degree that a school student received. However, the personal skills and interests also play an important role.

In general, after secondary level I there are the following opportunities:

  • a vocational training in the dual system that qualifies for a certain job (company or cross-industry training programme).
  • visiting a course of study at a college „Berufskolleg“ (full time). Colleges offer the possibility to make up or improve a school degree as well as the opportunity to gain professional knowledge and skills.
  • Visiting the last grades of grammar school, at either a grammar school, comprehensive school or a further education college „Berufskolleg“ in order to receive the school diploma, called Allgemeine Hochschulreife (Abitur) and possibly start studies at University.

Special pedagogical support

Some children need special support that a regular school can not provide. The reasons for this can be very diverse. It may be necessary to support speech of a child or the the ability to command language. Sometimes it is also the emotional, social, bodily or motor development of a child that speaks for the enrolment at a special support school. Here, a school with special pedagogical foci is meant. Special support schools exist with the foci „learning“, „speech“, „emotional and social development“, „hearing and communication“, „seeing“, „mental development“ as well as „bodily and motor development“. 

An alternative to enrolling in a special support school can be the common courses - gemeinsamer Unterricht (GU) - or the integrative learning groups (integrative Lerngruppe). In this case the child that needs special support enrols in a regular school and is taken care of by teachers and special pedagogues. In common courses, school students with special pedagogical support needs learn by the guidelines of the regular school for their support focus „same objective classes“ ("zielgleicher Unterricht"). In integrative learning groups, this is different: here, the class guidelines differ from the general school „differing objectives classes“ ("zieldifferenter Unterricht"). The common courses and the integrative learning groups are offered at some elementary schools, secondary modern schools and comprehensive schools in Bonn.

Advice center for foreign children and youths

For children and youths at the age of compulsory education, as well as their parents who do not speak German or only have little German language skills, the school department of the city of Bonn has a special advice center. Families who move to Bonn from abroad can get help from this department to find an appropriate space in school for their children.

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