Read all you need to know about schools in Austria, including the different types of curricula, costs, and how to choose the right one for your child.
Fortunately for expat parents, there are thousands of schools in Austria to choose from. The Austrian education system offers many different types of schools that cater to the needs of different students. Many students attend state schools in Austria, as these receive a lot of government funding and are generally of good quality. That said, there are many different types of state schools, as well as other educational options in the country. To help you get to grips with it all, this guide includes the following information:
- The education system in Austria
- Primary schools in Austria
- Secondary schools in Austria
- International schools in Austria
- Private schools in Austria
- Special educational needs schools in Austria
- Choosing a school in Austria
- After-school care in Austria
- Useful resources
The education system in Austria
Schools in Austria are compulsory from ages six to 15. This covers primary, junior high, and secondary schools. In the 2017/2018 school year, there were a total of 1,132,367 students enrolled in schools in Austria. However, some 90% of students in Austria go to state schools; only 10% attend private schools. This is likely because state schools in Austria are free to attend as they receive funding from the government.
The quality of schooling in Austria is quite high and the country performs above the OECD average in science and maths. That said, its reading performance is slightly below the OECD average. Similarly, over 89% of 25 to 34-year-old Austrians have at least an upper secondary average. Because of this, Austria ranks just above the OECD average of 85%.
The Federal Ministry for Education, Arts, and Culture (Bundesministerium für Unterricht, Kunst, und Kultur) oversees the whole education system in Austria. As such, it is responsible for all public and private schools, as well as vocational colleges and universities. As a result, the ministry is also responsible for investing in schools. In 2017, Austria invested US$16,319 per student; far more than the OECD average of US$11,231. Nevertheless, the enrollment rates of schools in Austria is below average; only 79% of young Austrians go to school.
Notably, state schools in Austria use German as the language of instruction. They also require students to take a second language.
Primary schools in Austria
In Germany, primary schools are called Volksschule or Grundschule and are compulsory from ages six to 10. In Austria, primary schools are a four-year system and a child will enter primary school in the September following their sixth birthday. However, early entry is available if the child is ready. Both state and private primary schools are available in Austria.
State and public primary schools
Primary schooling in Austria is available at state schools or private institutions. There are 2,865 public primary schools in Austria, as well as 106 private schools receiving government assistance. Because of this, Austrian primary schools can cater to over 340,000 students each year.
The curriculum in state primary schools
In general, schools begin on the first or second Monday in September. The school year features two semesters with a one-week break between them, in February. There are also school holidays for Christmas (14 days), Easter (10 days), and Whitsun (4 days). Additionally, students get a longer summer holiday of around nine weeks between each year of instruction.
Legally, primary schools should not start before 08:00. However, schools can start classes at 07:00 if this is necessary. As such, primary schools normally run between 08:00 and 14:00. In addition, lessons are about 50 minutes each but can be shortened to 45 minutes. There should also be breaks of at least five minutes between each class. Of course, classes are only held on weekdays and students get Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays off.
In primary school, students begin to learn basic literacy and math skills. In addition, foreign language study begins in the third year.
Costs of public primary schools
All public primary schools in Austria are free. As such, parents may just need to pay for supplies such as notebooks and pens. There may also be fees for activities like field trips.
Applying to state primary schools
In Austria, if a child reaches six years of age before August 31, they have to attend school from September 1. To do this, parents must register the child at a primary school. Although this is usually an easy process, you will need to show kindergarten papers. In addition, parents must take the child with them to complete the registration process. This is because the school will need to see that the child is ready to attend school. Generally, a child will attend the closest state primary school to their home. However, other arrangements can be made if necessary.
Secondary schools in Austria
From the age of 10 to 15, Austrian kids must go to a junior high or secondary school (Hauptschule or Kooperative Mittelschule). However, in certain areas – like Vienna – children may first to go a “new middle school” (Neue Mittelschule) or German-style “Gymnasium” (allgemeinbildende höhere Schule). Similarly, from the age of 14, children can opt to go to a polytechnic (Polytechnische Schule) for vocational training and apprenticeships. As with primary schools, secondary schools in Austria can be either public or private.
State and public secondary schools
Austria has around 1,200 public secondary schools and 72 private secondary schools that receive government support. In addition, there are 270 public academic high schools (and 81 private) as well as 335 public and 158 private vocational institutions. In 2017/2018, there were 207, 898 secondary students in general secondary schools and 143, 544 in technical and vocational colleges.
The curriculum in state secondary schools
In Austria, secondary school is a four-year system. During this time, there is a strong focus on individual education and career guidance. This is because, in Austria, schools provide the initial training for work and a career. Nevertheless, the core secondary curriculum in Austria is much the same as it is in other countries. As such, students take classes in languages, maths, and science. As well as this, they take classes that allow them to pursue particular interests and training, such as musical, creative, sporting, and practical skills.
In terms of the structure of the school year, secondary schools operate very similarly to primary schools. Because of this, the school year runs from September to June. This operates as two semesters with various holidays, especially for religious days.
In secondary schools in Austria, standard assessments are given in the seventh and eighth years. In general, these involve different aspects, including class involvement, oral and written exams, and practical performance. As well as this, students generally have various tests each semester. Finally, at the end of their nine years of compulsory education, students sit a matriculation exam. This includes three written and three oral or four written and two oral tests. As long as they pass this, they will officially finish school and be ready for tertiary education.
Costs of public secondary schools
Like primary schools, public secondary schools in Austria are free. Parents do not need to pay any tuition fees. However, they may have to pay for supplies, extracurricular activities, and meals.
Applying to state secondary schools
The process of applying to state secondary schools in Austria differs depending on what type of school you want to go to. In general, you will choose a school in your area and apply directly to it.
When applying, you will have to submit certain documents, such as a photo, passport copy, previous grades, and teacher recommendations. Normally, you will then need to do an in-person interview. There is often a waitlist for the more popular public secondary schools. As such, you should plan to apply very early to your chosen school.
On acceptance at a school, you will need to complete the enrollment process. At state schools, this is usually quite straightforward but involves a lot of paperwork.
International schools in Austria
For expats in Austria, international schools are a popular choice for education. This is because they offer high-quality education and a good environment for children’s development. However, they are also very expensive.
There are many British, French, and American international schools in Austria. Therefore, expat parents can have their kids follow the same kind of curriculum they would have at home. In addition, the qualifications would be the same as in these countries. For example, British schools may offer GCSEs or O and A Levels while American schools may offer AP classes and SATs. Of course, the International Baccalaureate is the gold standard for international school qualifications, so most offer this, too.
Costs of international schools
In Austria, state schools are free. Conversely, international schools are very expensive. In general, tuition fees for day schools start from €5,000 per year. However, this can easily go up to €40,000 a year. For an international boarding school, costs can be as much as €60,000.
As well as tuition fees, parents will have to pay a series of other costs. Some of these are laid out below:
- Admission – €5,000
- Application – €5,000
- Capital – €4,000
- Deposit – €500
Some elite schools may offer financial aid and scholarships, too. That said, this is not common at the primary and secondary levels in Austria.
Private schools in Austria
Despite the fact that there are over 600 private schools in Austria, only about 10% of students attend one. There are several different types of private schools, some of which are outlined below.
Because of Austria’s religious background, most private schools (50.54%) are denominational. Furthermore, most of these have direct links to the Roman Catholic Church. Notably, these schools have a strong reputation for discipline. Although these schools include a spiritual aspect in their curricula, they often issue standard qualifications such as the International Baccalaureate.
The Montessori education system is popular around the world. As such, Austria also has several private schools that follow these principles. Because the system discourages standardization and testing, children can follow a very creative style of learning that encourages independence. That said, these experiences still focus on real-life experiences.
In Austria, Waldorf private schools have public-law status. In practice, this means they are largely independent institutions run by a board. Although Waldorf schools follow a similar philosophy as Montessori schools, they tend to focus more on creativity, imagination, and fantasy. As such, these schools are providing a holistic education that includes intellectual and artistic pursuits.
Costs of private schools
The cost of private schools in Austria is similar to those of international schools. At the primary level, yearly fees begin from €5,000 a year. However, this can go up to over €25,000 a year for secondary school. In addition, boarding schools are more expensive, ranging from €30,000 to €50,000 per year. Parents will also have to pay one-off fees for admission, registration, and application, as well as activities and meals.
Special educational needs schools in Austria
In Austria, there are special schools for students with disabilities or specific educational needs. However, many state schools will integrate these students into their regular classes. As such, these classes are normally taught by teachers who are trained in inclusive education.
Of course, there are also schools that cater to those with special educational needs. There are ten types of schools and like regular schools, they cover the compulsory nine years of education. That said, each school offers specific curricula. For example, there are special schools for the deaf, the blind, the severely disabled, or those with learning difficulties.
Choosing a school in Austria
Clearly, there are a lot of choices when it comes to schools in Austria. The following sections will help you understand how to choose the right school for your child.
Pros and cons of state schools
The obvious benefit of state schools is that they are free. In addition, they are convenient because they are often close to your home. Of course, there are many other benefits, too. Firstly, children in state schools will often learn two or three languages. Secondly, these schools encourage a very individual and career-focused education.
Nevertheless, there are a few downsides to state schools, too. The main one is that educational quality can vary. Because of this, the particular school in your area might not offer the best education for your child. Similarly, some state schools don’t have as many resources as you might expect.
Pros and cons of private or international schools
Like anywhere else, there are many advantages to private and international schools in Austria. Firstly, they almost always offer a higher level of education than state schools. Secondly, children are exposed to a multicultural environment in these schools. In addition, private schools also have better facilities, equipment, and extra-curricular activities. Finally, students usually graduate with a globally-recognized qualification.
Conversely, the main drawback of private schools in Austria is the cost. They cost thousands of Euros, while state schools remain free to attend. Additionally, many children in these schools don’t integrate as tightly into the local community.
Things to consider
Of course, there are many things to consider when choosing a school. Below are a few things to think about when looking for schools in Austria:
- Cost: Can you afford a private school, or is a free state school appropriate?
- Curriculum: What type of education do you want for your child?
- Qualifications: Do you want international qualifications, or perhaps the same as those in your home country?
- Extra-curricular activities: Would you like your child to be able to take music, drama, art, and sports alongside their traditional studies?
- Length of stay: If you won’t be in the country for a long time, perhaps an international school will allow your child to easily transfer somewhere else?
- Location: Do you want a school close to your home, or can your child commute?
- Language: Can your child speak German, or would you prefer them to have instruction in another language?
After-school care in Austria
Austria offers a range of options for childcare. For instance, in Vienna, there are many after-school centers. These are available free of charge, although their offerings are not very robust. Nevertheless, they will usually provide qualified carers and snacks. Home-based after-school care is also available. However, these come at an additional cost. Additionally, many private and international schools in Austria offer after-school programs, although some may have fees.
- Austrian Government Migration Site on Education – a breakdown of Austria’s education system
- Bildungs System – a comprehensive page about the Austrian education system
- European Commission Eurydice – the European Commission site with information about the Austrian education system
- City of Vienna – a page about the Viennese school system
- City of Vienna – a page about childcare in Vienna