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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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For members


What the new Pisa results reveal about schools in Austria

The results of the Pisa international examination of school pupils - the first one since the end of the coronavirus pandemic - are out and causing a furore in Austria.

What the new Pisa results reveal about schools in Austria

The latest Pisa study, conducted after the global disruptions triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, revealed a significant downturn in overall results across the OECD compared to previous assessments, as reported.

Austria witnessed a marked decrease in maths performance, while reading scores exhibited no statistically significant decline, and the science results remained relatively stable.

The Pisa 2022 survey encompassed around 690,000 15 and 16-year-old students worldwide, with over 6,200 participants from more than 300 Austrian schools.

Test results

Regarding mathematics, the OECD’s average score declined from 489 points in 2018 to 472. Traditionally, previous Pisa studies had shown fluctuations in math scores within a narrow range of about four points compared to earlier evaluations.

Though Austria’s drop in mathematics scores was lower than the OECD average, it still decreased by twelve points—from 499 to 487.  Education Minister Martin Polaschek expressed satisfaction, highlighting Austria’s relatively better resilience to the pandemic than many other countries. However, critics have pointed to the steep drop in math scores, and Austrian media has dissected the scores of students with different backgrounds.

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

Inequality in schools

In Austria, socio-economically advantaged students (the top 25 percent regarding socio-economic status) outperformed disadvantaged students (the bottom 25 percent) by 106 score points in mathematics. The Pisa study showed that this is larger than the average difference between the two groups (93 score points) across OECD countries.

Christiane Spiel an education expert told broadcaster ORF, it is “well known” that the background of children and young people in Austria plays a role in their educational success. “It is an ongoing research topic,” she said.

She added that the coronavirus pandemic and the school closures have widened the gap even further in Austria, as many families did not have a digital device at the start of the pandemic and struggled with distance learning. With some parents losing their jobs during the crisis, the hardship worsened.

READ ALSO: What are the best ways to learn German quickly in Vienna?

Even without the pandemic the divisions and educational inequality which privilege some and make it harder for socio-economically disadvantaged students continue affecting their school results. 

It gets more complex as the Pisa study showed that “immigrant students” – those whose parents were born in a country other than that where the student took the test –  had poorer results. In Mathematics, they scored 58 points lower than their peers with parents born in Austria. 

However, ORF pointed out that almost half of these students come from families with “particularly limited resources”, and three-quarters said German was not spoken at home.

READ ALSO: Four things foreigners in Austria need to know about the education system

Increase in immigrant students

The PISA exam also revealed a jump in the number of immigrant students, both first (born abroad) and second (born in Austria to parents born abroad) generation. In 2022, the share of immigrant students was 27 percent, while ten years before it had been 16 percent.

In 2022, 10 percent of 15-year-old students were first-generation immigrants, meaning they were born in another country/economy, and their families moved to Austria only recently.

Among these first-generation immigrant students, 28 percent arrived in Austria at or before age 5; 20 percent arrived after age 12 and after completing the elementary grades in another education system.

The Austrian school system

Austria also has a highly fragmented school system. Fairly early on, students and their parents need to decide which type of school they will enrol in. Some will move on to a more technical school, and others to schooling that eventually leads to university degrees. 

READ ALSO: Four things you should know before registering your child in a kindergarten in Vienna

According to Austria’s National Education Report, the probability of transferring to an AHS (more academic) school after elementary school increases if parents have an academic degree. Additionally, around two-thirds of the decision to attend an AHS can be explained by “non-performance-related” factors, particularly family background.

Despite exhibiting academic solid abilities, children from underprivileged educational backgrounds often opt for schools that might not fully support their potential. According to Spiel, children require a sense of accomplishment, independence, and social inclusion.

“The question is: how can we meet the basic needs of pupils?” she said.