In Germany responsibility for the school system is primarily with the 16 federal states. This is why there are different education systems and plans, along with different types of school. The Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany (KMK) guarantees the conformity or comparability of the education programmes and the certificates awarded. In the 2014-5 academic year there were almost 11 million pupils attending 44,880 general-education and vocational schools, with 795,600 teachers giving instruction. Furthermore there are some 969,000 pupils enrolled at 6,620 private general-education and vocational schools. In general, school attendance is compulsory for all children from the age of six for a nine-year period. At the same time the promotion of early education at pre-school age and its interlocking with primary schooling is a high-priority issue in education policy. 10,000 all-day schools now have a firm place in the education system. It is expected that teaching in these schools will result in an increased level of equal opportunities, especially for children from educationally deprived backgrounds.
Attendance at state schools is free of charge. The school system is divided vertically into three levels: primary education and secondary education levels I and II. As a rule, all children attend a primary school, which lasts from Year 1 to 4 (in Berlin and Brandenburg 1 to 6). Subsequently there are three standard curricula: the secondary general school curriculum (Years 5 to 9 or 10), the intermediate school curriculum (Years 5 to 10, “Mittlere Reife” or middle school diploma) and the grammar school curriculum (Years 5 to 12 or 13, general higher education entrance diploma; or Abitur). These are taught either in separate types of school or in schools which combine two or – as in the case of comprehensive schools – three of the curricula and facilitate switching between the different types of school. The names of these types of school vary depending on the state; only grammar schools (Gymnasium) are known as such in all states. In 2014 432,700 pupils were awarded the higher education entrance diploma entitling them to study at a university or university of applied sciences. For children with special needs there are separate schools which, depending on the particular disability, provide adequate facilities to help them learn and develop. In line with the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, children with and without disability being taught together is intended to become the rule.
In 72 countries the 140 German schools abroad provide an excellent education to around 20,800 German and 61,000 non-German pupils. Most are run privately, but are supported by the Central Agency for German Schools Abroad (ZfA). Since 2008 the PASCH initiative, ZfA and Goethe-Institut have been working on forming an even bigger network of German students. Worldwide it links almost 2,000 schools, with more than 600,000 pupils learning German there.