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Ten things you will notice as a parent with a child at school in Austria

Get a giant sweet filled cone ready and set your alarm for an early start if you are getting ready to send your child to school in Austria.

Kids with Schultute
Young students of an elementary school. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

Most kids have a great time on their first day of school

On the first day of school, all children are given a giant cone or Schultüte filled with sweets.

This considerably enhances the first day of school experience for most children. 

No uniforms

Children in Austria do not wear uniforms, pretty much any outfit goes at school, especially during Faschingsfest or carnival, when fancy dress is obligatory.

In a similarly informal vein, children address teachers by their first names and use the “du” form rather than the more formal “Sie”, at least at primary school. 

A woman dressed as Maria Theresia (Photo by SAMUEL KUBANI / AFP)

Austrian schools can be surprisingly traditional

On the other hand, Austrian schools are surprisingly traditional. Compulsory schooling started in Austria in 1774, under the reign of Maria Theresia, Austria’s first and only female head of state. Since then, many have tried to change the system, but  there have been few reforms.

In 1869 and 1962 new laws were passed which extended compulsory schooling to its current nine years and ended the control of the Catholic church. However many aspects of Austrian schooling are still the same. For example … 

Set your alarm clock

… school starts at the rather early time of 8am, which many parents find a struggle, particularly combined with a commute to work. 

School teaching often ends at around lunchtime or early afternoon. Many primary schools do offer after school options in the form of a Hort, while another option are Ganztagsschule (all day schools), offering learning support and structured activities throughout the afternoon. 

Your child’s teacher will be very important

In primary school, your child stays with the same teacher and classmates all the way through four years of school. How your child is taught and assessed largely depends on the teacher he or she is assigned. 

Ice skating and skiing trips at school?

As you would expect in an alpine state obsessed with winter sports, ice-skating and skiing feature on the sport curricula of many Austrian schools.

You can also expect your child to learn a lot of traditional Austrian folk songs, and even yodelling, as they become fully immersed in a new culture.

Your child will develop a love of Austrian cuisine

Apart from the sweet filled first day at school junk food and sodas in school are generally frowned upon, and school dinners often feature organic options and traditional Austrian dishes such as Kaiserschmarrn (fluffy pancakes) or Rindsuppe (beef stock soup). 

What comes comes after primary school or Volksschule?

After primary school (Volksschule), your child can continue on a vocational path at a Hauptschule or at a more academic secondary school, known as a Gymnasium.

Often these schools will specialise in particular subjects.

For example, Gymnasium schools concentrating more on mathematics and science are called Realgymnasium, and the business-oriented schools are known as Wirtschaftskundliches Realgymnasium

What about English?

Many schools in Vienna offer teaching in English. There are a number of state bilingual schools in which lessons are taught in both English and German.

GEPS (Global Education Primary School) schools have a strong focus on English, and normally feature one hour of English tuition with a native speaker each day.  

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‘Explore all options’: How can parents in Austria choose the right school?

Many foreign parents in Austria are divided between choosing state or international schools. We asked some to share their advice.

'Explore all options': How can parents in Austria choose the right school?

International schools have the advantage of being standardised worldwide, ensuring that a child who will only spend a few years in that country will receive an education that will allow them to continue studying elsewhere later. 

But they can also be expensive and limit the child’s contact with their new home. So the decision is definitely challenging.

For most parents, deciding whether to put their children in a public or private international school comes down to many factors. Among them are the cost, parents’ personal preference, and the school’s location, for example.

A very important thing to consider that may help parents decide is how long they plan to stay in Austria.  

In a recent The Local survey, parents who knew they’d be moving away in a couple of years opted for the standardised and high-quality teaching of international schools – even if they weren’t 100 percent satisfied with it. 

It was the best choice for Olivera Mocilovic, who is from Canada, as her 15-year-old son would’ve struggled to attend a regular school and pass the Matura (the end of high school exam) without German knowledge.

READ ALSO: What is Austria’s Matura exam and why do some want it abolished?

Her experience made her advise parents to make sure that their kids start learning German as soon as they plan to move to Austria.

If you intend to live permanently in Austria, many parents choose the Austrian public system. Jim Aladin, from Sweden, advises parents with long-term plans to stay in Austria to not go to international schools. Not only so they can integrate into their new country but for social reasons too.

“In international schools, if your children make friends, they might move out of the country after a few years”, he noted. 

‘Do a lot of research’

For Claudia, who initially put her kids in one of these schools because of language, the advice is: “Do a lot of research and don’t believe the brochures”.  Kelly Langford also recommended people speak with other parents before making their final choice.

READ ALSO: The verdict: Is it worth enrolling your kids in one of Vienna’s international schools?

Learn about what they are taught and how, and get to know the teachers, classrooms and other kids and parents. If having classes in English is a significant concern, besides the international schools, there are also several public schools in Vienna with a bilingual programme. 

“If you have a longer visibility of staying like a window of 4-5 years and if your kids are younger that means in primary school, you should explore bilingual schools option in Austria”, said Suvie Kaul, from India. 

For Janet Gruber, the bigger picture is more important: “I would always look at how the students learn and if it is relevant and up to date for their world”, she said.

Alexandra Cosentino, from the US, also had a more general tip for parents still in doubt: “Check all the schools carefully. Maintain and become involved in a relationship with your school”, she said.