schools in Hamburg for English-speaking expat child

Hello. My husband and I are university professors and will be doing our sabbatical in Hamburg in 2020-21. My daughter will be in 6th grade. She does not yet speak German (but we are hoping to get her a tutor & have her do Rosetta Stone, etc. between now and then).

We are looking into school options. It looks like the international school will be too far of a commute (I will hopefully be located at UNESCO) and very $$$. I have sent inquiries to the Phorms School and the Helene Lange Gymnasium. Are there other schools we should look into, particularly those that offer bilingual instruction?

We are going to be visiting in early March over spring break and would like to set up informational meetings at various schools.

I would appreciate any advice!

I don't know the school scene in Hamburg, thus can only offer general advice:
- Private schools, and especially international ones, are pricey. €1000/month is more the norm than the exception, but costs do vary from school to school.
- The German authorities don't see it as their responsibility to provide publicly subsidized schooling in their home language to foreign kids.
- So-called "bilingual" public schools (like the Helene-Lange-Gymnasium you mentioned) are geared towards German kids who want to learn more English. They have more intensive English language lessons and at most half the subjects are taught in English (at higher ages, much less in 6th grade), with all others taught in German. This might not be an option for your daughter.
- But many public schools have special preparatory classes ("Förderklasse") to bring foreign kids up to German standards in language and other subjects and enable them (after a year or two) to enter normal public schools here. These classes are free of charge and fulfill the compulsory schooling requirement (up to grade 9), but quality varies (due to the attending kids, not the teachers!).

Kids do tend to learn languages a lot faster than us Adults.

Like you have discovered, International schools which have English language instruction are expensive. And like Beppi mentioned, although some public schools have a kind of dual English/German curriculum, it is usually more to see that kids are proficient in both languages. I doubt if they are appropriate for kids who don’t speak hardly any German.

As far as location, it might mean that you choose a place to live that is more convenient for your child to get to school than for you to get to work. But as incredible as it might sound to Americans, many kids even at that age or younger use public transportation to get to school. My tip is that it what makes a commute of any kind difficult is not the distance but how often one might have to change from one bus or train line to another and the walk involved on either end. It can be less complicated to go clear across town on a given U-Bahn or S-Bahn line than to go just a couple of kilometers where one needs to walk 5 blocks, take a bus, change to another bus or U-Bahn and then walk some more.

What I suggest to people coming with kids is to take every effort to get their German as good as possible before coming. German schools have to deal with a lot of people coming that don’t speak much German but I think they end up doing remedial things just to learn the language and basically lose a year academically. Despite the cost, it is often recommendable that they spend the first year at an International school and usually by the second year of a longer stay they should be able to switch to a public one. But if you are just staying a year as your post suggests then this doesn’t apply.  Some big companies or academic jobs will include paying for the cost of an International school. But this is something one needs to negotiate before taking a position and unfortunately some parents don’t think of this at the appropriate time.  This factor alone can mean some people with multiple school age kids delay such a move to give the kids more time to get basic German down.

Update: My daughter has been studying German and will have very basic German when we arrive. We are on the waiting list at Phorms (our ideal option), but there's no guarantee. We have heard from the secretaries or staff several different schools (Helene Lange, Brecht Schule, a Catholic school) that our daughter would need to be "fluent" in German and that they offer no language support.

The secretary from Brecht told us that we need to to go the school authority Hamburg first and that they will place her in a school they deem appropriate. The school authority told us that immigrants typically get placed in German classes for a year before going to a regular school. This will not work in our case; yes, we want our daughter to become fluent, but that's not the only goal. We are not typical immigrants who plan to be in Germany long term; we will only be there for a year. Also, my daughter is in gifted education in the USA. We would just like her to be treated like a guest student.

Basically, we are feeling like every school is shutting the door in our face and giving us the runaround. Friends here (who have lived in Germany) as well as German friends have told us that the schools system HAS to accept her. If that is the case, why is everyone (except Phorms) telling us she has to be fluent? (In the USA this would be illegal, so it's rather shocking and frustrating.)

For those of you who have kids in the school system, can you please give advice? Did the school authority place your child in a German prep class before they ever got to go to a regular school? If not, how did you get around this? Or did you just go this route?

How do we get our daughter into a regular school instead of getting put into a German prep program? I can't imagine we are the first non-German speaking expat family to experience this.

Yes, SOME school will eventually have to accept your daughter. But of course they are less than willing: A child that cannot follow classes (but has demanding parents) is a burden!
The correct way is through the school authority, which will place your daughter (most probably in a years-long preparatory class - why are you against those?), or you choose a private, international school (and pay the high fees).

The public school system is obliged to take her - somewhere. But they cannot offer a customized program just for her. You say she is in a gifted program. But I don’t know how to understand this? Some kids are especially bright and might get put in special advanced classes. Or this could mean a handicap and there are special schools in Germany to deal with kids with mental or physical limitations that are not able to attend a normal school. Such kids would probably get more specialized attention. But a school cannot create a whole program for a kid whose basic problem is the language. That’s what preparatory classes would be for. 

One is either fluent enough in German or gets put in preparatory classes that focuses on the language. But this approach is logical. Of course it is a difficult situation to try to integrate a kid who doesn’t speak the language but is only there for a year. This is exactly the kind of situation where an English taught international school can be the best option – if available and if one can afford it.

But would the situation be any different in the States? There one also has to speak English or get put into a program to see that they learn it. There might be other options for Spanish speakers in communities with large Hispanic populations but what would they do with a German speaking kid? They would not be able to offer them a German taught curriculum, the kid would have to speak English or learn it. Thus your judgement that what is being offered would be illegal in the States is mistaken. It’s actually pretty obvious rather than shocking but I can understand one’s frustration.

So, if you can’t afford or find an international school that fits then there are 2 basic options, preparatory classes or a regular class. But the local people will have to determine which is appropriate. To not let her into the normal class would not be some kind of discrimination but based on a judgement that she wouldn’t cope with it. What good is it to have her in over her head not understanding hardly anything? It would be sink or swim and a risk that she spends a year only being frustrated while having spent a year focused on language she will have at least learned German.  Anyway you look at it; any public school option will probably be best supplemented by a good tutor.

To clarify, we are NOT seeking a customized curriculum in English! My daughter has had kids in her class here in the US who do not speak English at all or are just learning it. They have come from all over the world (their parents are typically grad students, postdocs, or professors at the university). Most often, these ESL learners are from China, so needless to say, the teachers can't communicate with them in Chinese (or any other native language). They attend their regular neighborhood school and then receive ESL support in various ways (e.g., getting pulled out of classes for English instruction). These kids do NOT all get sent to a particular school with all the other immigrant kids. Hence, it is surprising to me that there appears to be little accommodation in Hamburg schools for language learners. We thought she would be able to attend a regular public school that has built-in language support for all students who aren't fluent in German. We are NOT asking for a separate curriculum in English.

Maybe I'm not understanding the preparatory classes (Förderklasse). Do all or most public schools offer these? Or do all the kids who are learning German get sent to the same school(s) for these prep classes? In other words, are the language learners segregated? I was getting the impression from various things that I've read that it's kind of a de facto segregation, where the language learners all get put into lower-quality schools. But maybe I'm misunderstanding how the Förderklasse works.

Gifted education in the USA refers to education for children who test very high in English language arts and/or math (usually top 2% or so). My point is that my daughter doesn't have any learning difficulties. She's very bright. She just doesn't speak advanced German yet.

"Thus your judgement that what is being offered would be illegal in the States is mistaken." No, it's not. It is absolutely, unequivocally illegal for public and charter schools in the USA to turn away children who aren't fluent in English. Of course, in reality there is plenty of segregation, largely due to the cost of housing (immigrant families usually can't afford to live in the better neighborhood with better schools). Nonetheless, non-discrimination is the law: https://www.greatschools.org/gk/article … l-parents/

"In 1974, the Supreme Court decided in Lau vs. Nichols that the public education system must provide English language instruction because failure to do this prohibits children from full participation, which violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If you or your children aren’t fluent in English because your native tongue is Spanish, Cantonese, Arabic, Cherokee, or one of the other 350 languages spoken in America’s melting pot, you have the right to ask for an interpreter and the right to have lessons and homework assignments translated into a language your child understands. Many states with a high percentage of non-English speakers (California is 29 percent, Texas is 18 percent) offer English as a Second Language and bilingual programs to assist immigrant children."

Also, see p. 52 here: "What is my school required to do for non-English speaking students? Schools must identify students whose dominant language is not English and evaluate their language skills and academic achievement using tests. Students must be provided with an educational program that allows them to learn English and make
progress in other subjects. And they must have equal access to school services like counseling and health services." https://www.aclupa.org/sites/default/fi … update.pdf

I think you are barking up the wrong tree here (and I didn’t fully read your long rant about how things work in the USA, which is another country and inconsequential here).
Fact is that in Germany, foreign kids receive additional support in special classes (Förderklasse), which are offered at some but not all schools, and are put into normal classes only when they are fit enough (language- or otherwise). This of course brings with it a certain amount of segregation (neighbouring classrooms, not separate schools), but only for the first months and with the possibility to cater much more for their special needs - after all, no school without such classes has teachers trained in German as a foreign language or with time to teach it on the side to a few children!
The system works well and thus is unlikely to change. So you go with it or  (if you dislike it) send your child to a private international school (with fees).
It’s your choice. I know what I would do.

Like Beppi mentions, you seem to have a misconception. There is no discrimination going on. The schools are exactly offering support for kids who don't speak the language correctly. But WHAT do you expect? Not every school might have the personnel for special language support programs. So if they cannot offer it at a particular school then they have to find a school that does. This is not a matter of sending kids to lesser quality school; no such thing in Germany because the financing for schools is not according to municipal zoning like in the States so that inner city schools are lousy while the rich kids in the suburbs have good ones. But of course location can play a part and mean that some schools have more kids from better off families than others, but the schools get similar resources. And sorry but your kid is a foreigner in Germany, so it sounds a bit elitist to suggest that she shouldn’t get grouped in with other non-German speaking kids; like on what basis?

Of course it is illegal for a public school system to turn away a kid. Same in Germany. But not all schools have resources for everything. Nobody is “turning your kid away” they are trying to place her in the best available program. And despite your Supreme Court ruling link, I can definitely say that each non-English speaking kid in an American school is NOT being given an interpreter and course material all in their native tongue. Maybe that’s how it ideally should be in theory but it has nothing to do with reality. Like I mentioned before, some areas in America have a large Hispanic population and might have the resources to offer Spanish speaking  teachers and material but any place offering additional  languages is an exception.

The irony in Germany is that while English is the most international language and many kids might even speak it well as a second language, probably few of the foreign kids speak it as their first language. If schools were able to offer instruction of any kind for foreign kids in their native languages in Germany then Arabic or Turkish would probably be more relevant than English.

So, I don’t know what city in the States you come from but I dare you to make a comparison. Ask if any schools there would offer an interpreter and class material in German for a German kid… I doubt I need to even wait for the answer.

I will just say one thing in response: I am not asking for customized lessons in English or an interpreter, just wondering why second language support (teaching German via pull-out classes) isn't readily available at *every* school. I'm not the first person to point out this persistent problem with the German school system. http://www.edumigrom.eu/sites/default/f … cation.pdf

There IS no problem here: Pooling of resources simply gives the best possible support for foreign kids!

The link is interesting but what part of it exactly supports your claim?! What I take away from it is there is no perfect approach to dealing with kids who don’t speak the local language. And every strategy has an ideal that will somewhere somehow fall short of perfection. But I don’t quite understand what you really expect and have little idea what you mean by “pull-out classes”. 

Bottom line is that immigrating has some challenges. Going for a year, if one doesn’t already speak the language is problematic at best. Maybe you should have researched the situation better before making such a decision because you seem to have some misguided expectations. You could have chosen to go to an English speaking country, prepared you child with intensive language classes much earlier or only agreed to a contract that would include the employer paying for an internationals school – or you could take a financial hit and pay yourself since it is only for a year. And I honestly don’t understand the problem with a kid being more focused on learning the language the first year even if they leave. Likely they might lose a year academically, but so what? The tradeoff is having a year abroad, learning a new language and culture… It’s not the same as simply losing a year and not getting anything out of it.

Here is information about different models of second language support: https://ed.psu.edu/pds/elementary/inter … mon-models

When in Rome, do as the Romans do - you won’t make any friends by insisting that they are doing things wrong and that it is better elsewhere!

larana :

Here is information about different models of second language support: https://ed.psu.edu/pds/elementary/inter … mon-models

Yeah, so they explain the concept of "pull out" which is comparable to what is being offered in Germany. The kids get taken out from the normal classes and get language focused instruction. And they are not getting sent to a separate school with just foreigners as far as I know.

larana :

Update: My daughter has been studying German and will have very basic German when we arrive. We are on the waiting list at Phorms (our ideal option), but there's no guarantee. We have heard from the secretaries or staff several different schools (Helene Lange, Brecht Schule, a Catholic school) that our daughter would need to be "fluent" in German and that they offer no language support.

The secretary from Brecht told us that we need to to go the school authority Hamburg first and that they will place her in a school they deem appropriate. The school authority told us that immigrants typically get placed in German classes for a year before going to a regular school. This will not work in our case; yes, we want our daughter to become fluent, but that's not the only goal. We are not typical immigrants who plan to be in Germany long term; we will only be there for a year. Also, my daughter is in gifted education in the USA. We would just like her to be treated like a guest student.

Basically, we are feeling like every school is shutting the door in our face and giving us the runaround. Friends here (who have lived in Germany) as well as German friends have told us that the schools system HAS to accept her. If that is the case, why is everyone (except Phorms) telling us she has to be fluent? (In the USA this would be illegal, so it's rather shocking and frustrating.)

For those of you who have kids in the school system, can you please give advice? Did the school authority place your child in a German prep class before they ever got to go to a regular school? If not, how did you get around this? Or did you just go this route?

How do we get our daughter into a regular school instead of getting put into a German prep program? I can't imagine we are the first non-German speaking expat family to experience this.

Hi Larana,

My son was 8 years old and was supposed to continue 2nd grade when we moved to Germany.  At the  time of our arrival, it was almost the middle of the school year.

We got an appointment with the school and introduced our son. They accepted to put him on the 2nd grade with the possibility that he might have to start 2nd grade all over again, in case the school feels he needs to. On top of the usual curriculum, they put him in a special class ("Förderunterricht" if I remember it right, which is more like a remedial class) to learn the German language. By the end of the school year, he was accepted to move up in the 3rd grade.

I am not sure though if there is a different policy for children whose residence is temporary. Generally speaking, my advice would be to have the school documents of your child translated (we didn't have to, but it might help you since you mentioned you have a gifted child). Make an appointment with two or three schools (Grundschule) prior to your arrival and meet them in person when you come over in spring, better yet with your child (if he/she is coming with anyways).

Hope this information helps. If you have any other questions related to my share, let me know or you may also send me a message.

Wish you luck!

Kind regards,
B

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