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Education for all

Five bloggers, five countries, one dialogue

Not so sunny outlook for Germany’s school switchers

Picture: Kathrin Biegner

The elementary school Simon attended until 4th grade

We’ve got warm weather and sunny skies right now in Germany. Most kids here are now going to open air pools, looking forward to six weeks of summer holidays. But some are also afraid of the end of the school year. Their grades aren’t good enough to go on to the next class level or to stay at their school. I talked with one of my mom’s friends, Gaby, about such worries.

Her son Simon is in ninth grade at a Gymnasium (German high school) in Rhineland-Palatinate. In Germany, there are different educational systems because every state’s parliament decides about educational politics (Jürgen commented on this here). In Rhineland-Palatinate, there are three options kids have after finishing fourth grade at a Grundschule (elementary school):

  • Realschule Plus: 5th to 10th grade
  • Gymnasium: 5th to 12.5th grade, ends with what’s called an Abitur (a certificate allowing students to go to university)
  • Gesamtschule: combines the other two kinds of schools into one

After Simon had finished fourth grade, he went to a Gymnasium. His grades have become worse over the years, though.

“His Latin teacher said that he has to make up more than one year of lessons,” Gaby told us sadly.

In other subjects, Simon’s grades are also too bad to go on to grade 10 at his school after summer break. So, what to do? Simon’s mother doesn’t know where to turn in this situation. She would prefer to send her son to a Gesamtschule which has a very good reputation. But Gesamtschulen don’t have to take all pupils who apply.

“Last year I registered Simon already. He was put on a waiting list. But in the end, there were no free spots,” Gaby said. She had already bought all of the school books.

Picture: Kathrin Biegner

A German Gymnasium (high school)

Should she now register him for a Realschule Plus? Or should he repeat his class level on the Gymnasium he’s attending now? Gaby doesn’t consider the second option workable because Simon would still struggle with Latin. And he wouldn’t be able to make up the missing lessons during summer break.

If Gaby and her husband decide for a Realschule Plus, they can register their son for ninth grade. Here, Simon wouldn’t need to take a second foreign language besides English. So his problems with Latin would be solved. But will this enable Simon to concentrate on the other subjects and to balance his other weaknesses so that he will have a good diploma after tenth grade?

Situations like this are very difficult for children and their parents. It is especially hard for kids to separate from their classmates they’ve known for years. In a new class at a new school, they will have to integrate into an existing class community. And besides these kinds of social difficulties, they have to study hard to be more successful at school. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that Simon will find a good place and will master the challenges awaiting him.


May 29, 2012 | 8:10 pm





  • Hi Kathrin,
    the way I see it, it’s not that bad either that he repeats one year or that he changes school. He is only ten! By this I mean the following. I changed schools four times from the ages of 5 to 13. This means I went to five different schools. The first time, ok, no big deal it was only kindergarten. The second time, I was 8 years old, finished 2nd grade in a private school and started 3rd grade in a public school (me and the family moved to the outskirts). The third time, I was 11, from public school to (very) religious private school. The fourth time, I was 13, changing to another (more free style) religious private school (though not so expensive as the previous one). I did feel like changing schools was different as I grew older, it was harder to get into the group. But I managed. It’s all about the support u have at home, I think, and the friends u could make. I still see my friends from the first school I went to when I was 5.
    I also know what repeating level means. I had a classmate in secondary school who was a year older. I believe it is more abt the social stigma of not fulfilling what you were supposed to. Truth is, some kids find it harder to keep up for a number of very good reasons, and if he is part of a nice group of classmates (the teacher could give a hand in this), he will find comfort in a short time.

  • Hi María,
    Thank you for your comment. One thing at the beginning: Simon isn’t 10 years old but 14 years old which is a very difficult age even without having to change schools.
    It’s interesting to hear that you’ve changed schools several times. And I think you’re right. That it’s also a lot about having the feeling not to fulfill expectations. Not only the kids feel that stigma – unfortunately, the parents also ask themselves whether they’ve supported their kids enough – and sometimes they feel unsure about what they should answer people in their families that expect all family members to succeed at school.

  • […] recent entry mentioned Simon, whose worries as a pupil made me think about something relating to education […]

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