Education in Germany is determined from state to state, so some variances are possible.
Children aged three to six have the option of attending kindergarten, however, it is not required and the costs are not covered by the state. After that school is compulsory for nine to ten years. From grades 1 through 4 children attend elementary school (Grundschule), where the subjects taught are the same for all. Then, after the 4th grade, they are separated according to their academic ability and the wishes of their families, and attend one of three different kinds of schools: Hauptschule, Realschule or Gymnasium.
The Hauptschule (grades 5-9 in most German states) teaches the same subjects as the Realschule and Gymnasium, but at a slower pace and with some vocational-oriented courses. It leads to part-time enrollment in a vocational school combined with apprenticeship training until the age of 18.
The Realschule (grades 5-10 in most states) leads to part-time vocational schools and higher vocational schools. It is now possible for students with high academic achievement at the Realschule to switch to a Gymnasium on graduation.
The Gymnasium (grades 5-13 in most states) leads to a degree called the Abitur and prepares students for university study or for a dual academic and vocational credential. The most common education tracks offered by the standard Gymnasium are classical language, modern language, and mathematics-natural science.
Grundschule teachers recommend their students to a particular school based on such things as academic achievement, self confidence and ability to work independently. However, in most states, parents have the final say as to which school their child attends following the fourth grade.
No matter what kind of school a student attends, he/she must complete at least nine years of education. If a student decides to switch out of Gymnasium, for example, they must enrol in a Realschule or Hauptschule until nine years have been completed to fulfil education requirements.