Education For Members

State by state: Why private school enrolment across Germany is growing

Rachel Stern
Rachel Stern - [email protected] • 7 Aug, 2019 Updated Wed 7 Aug 2019 17:09 CEST
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A politician stated this that many parents are turning away from Germany's public schools in favour of private ones. We look at all of the reasons private schools are growing throughout the country.


At the beginning of the week, Christian Democratic politician Carsten Linnemann caused a stir when he suggested children with inadequate knowledge of German should be held back from starting primary school.

SEE ALSO: 'Children who don't speak German shouldn't be allowed to start school'

He lamented on the poor performance of many public schools due to the mixed levels of learning.

Linnemann told the Rheinische Post that he sees many middle-income parents "who send their children to private schools because the level at state schools is falling".

It’s true that private school enrollment across Germany is growing, with increasing numbers in nearly every German state.

But the reasons for parents to enroll their children in such a school - ranging from religious run to experimental education schools like Montessori - varies state by state. 

14 percent of all schools

Within 25 years, the number of privately run schools has almost doubled from around 3,200 to just under 5,850 in Germany. According to the latest figures, they account for 14 percent of all schools. 

The growth largely comes from east Germany, where there were practically no private schools before the fall of the Berlin Wall, explained Nele McElvany, an education researcher from the University of Dortmund. 

In almost all federal states, the number of private students has been constant or rising most recently in the school year 2018/19, as a survey by the German Press Agency shows.

"We see continuous growth and increasing popularity," said Association of German Private Schools spokeswoman Beate Bahr. 

Whether private individuals, foundations or church organizations: anyone can set up a private school. 

But there are several conditions that need to be met. According to the VDP, they must be charitable and accessible to everyone, meet criteria and requirements and be approved by the state.

Children at a Waldorf School in Stuttgart, where the private schools focused on holistic education were founded 100 years ago. Photo: DPA

A mixed debate

Yet there remains a mixed reaction about sending children to private school - or if students should stick to state schools.

Private schools are “socially selective and contribute to a social divide,” according to a statement by Germany’s Education and Science Workers’ Union (GEW). 

Private schools in Germany include Waldorf, which was founded 100 years ago in Stuttgart, and Montessori, as well as those led through churches. 

All of these schools, however, must receive governmental approval in order to operate and have “a heterogeneous student body,” the VDP emphasized in a statement.

The GEW in North Rhine-Westphalia has criticized that the poor condition of many public schools has also contributed to the rising demand for private schools. 

Unlike in the USA or the UK, German Privatschulen receive most of their budget from the government, with each state putting a cap on how much they can charge parents.

In 2010, a court in Stuttgart ruled that its Privatschulen can't ask for more than €150 a year, although the differently categorized international schools, religious schools and boarding schools (Internat) often have much heftier fees.

SEE ALSO: What to know about the different types of schools as an expat parent in Germany

This graph by DPA shows the rise of private schools in Germany since 1992, with the blue line representing general schools and the red career preparation schools.

We take a look at the numbers of students enrolled in private schools in each of the 16 German states, and why those numbers are on the rise.

For a complete listing of private schools around Germany, visit or each state’s private school association.

State by state

North Rhine-Westphalia: Currently there are 163,100 students enrolled at private schools in Germany’s most populous state, a rise of 3 percent from 2017/2018. Private school students total a full 8.6 percent of the total population, although they make up 16.8 percent of Gymnasium (high school) students. For more information, visit the Private School Association of North Rhine-Westphalia

In Bavaria, almost 146,800 students attended one of the 625 private schools in the 2018/19 school year. This represents a comparatively high share of 11.7 per cent. The local teachers' association states that many parents seek to shield their children from the particularly performance-oriented system of public schools in Bavaria. 

But there is also “an unfortunate development of elitist reasons,” according to the state parents’ association. Parents likely expect better support and security from private institutions, they say. For additional information, visit the Association of Bavarian Private Schools.

In Hesse, the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs recorded a steady increase: almost 54,700 pupils attended a privately run school - a good 7 percent of the total student population. Many parents are particularly interested in the small classes and extensive supervision that private schools in the state offer. The Association of Hesse Private Schools has more information

In Baden-Württemberg, the number of private pupils has reached a peak. Around 106,800 pupils attended a general private school - 0.8 per cent more than in 2017/18. According to the southern state’s GEW, parents are particularly interested in sending their children to a church or religiously run school. Visit the Association of Private Schools of Baden-Württenberg for more information

In Rheinland-Pfalz, the rate of private pupils is moving in the direction of 8 percent (this list has more information about the schools), and a constant number of almost 8600 private pupils is reported in the small state of Saarland (a list of schools is available here). 

In Bremen, the number of private schools (14) has stayed consistent in the last years, with many of them Waldorf schools.

In Lower Saxony, the number of private pupils has remained constant over the past several years. The ministry of education in Schleswig-Holstein considers the alternative schools to be "a good addition to the public education system". Only five percent of the pupils learn at private schools. 

Hamburg also reports a "constant influx" of the number of private students, reported DPA. For a map where the schools are located throughout the Harbour City, visit the website Privateshulen in Hamburg

In Berlin, around 37,000 pupils attend private schools - a share of around 10 percent. This can be attributed largely to specialized schools for foreign students - for example, those with a bilingual curriculum.

In Brandenburg, the proportion has climbed from 8 percent to a good 11 percent within ten years.  According to the Ministry of Education, that could be due to the special concepts taught at these schools or simply the convenient distance to reach these schools. No data was available on the northeastern Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania, although Germany's least populous state has 77 private schools.

Private schools are also a trend in the east German states Saxony-Anhalt of Thuringia, where more than every tenth pupil learns at a private school, a number which is on the rise. Parents in these states who send their students to private schools tend to be well-off parenthood with a high level of education, says the local GEW. 

In Thuringia, the shift from public to private schools in the past 10 years has been particularly strong: In the 2008/2009 school year there were 888 state schools and 141 independent private school schools. In the school year 2018/2019 there were 819 state and 171 independent private schools, reported the Thüringer Allgemeine.

With reporting by DPA



Rachel Stern 2019/08/07 17:09

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[email protected] 2019/08/08 11:24
At least Saxony is missing here. And the second to last paragraph has "Private schools are also a trend in the east German states Saxony-Anhalt of Thuringia, ..." This is not correct.

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