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SCHOOLS

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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COVID-19 ALERT

What Covid-19 rules will be in place in Austrian schools?

After their long summer vacations, kids in Austria are almost ready to start their new school year. Will there be any Covid-19 restrictions?

What Covid-19 rules will be in place in Austrian schools?

Children and young students in Austria have been arguably one of the most affected groups during the Covid-19 pandemic, having been forced to study at home, wear masks in class and take mandatory PCR tests.

With the school year about to start in the country in September (September 5th in eastern Austria and on September 12th in the rest of the country), the federal government is yet to announce which specific measures, if any, will be in place for students.

READ ALSO: When do children go back to school in Austria?

The Ministry of Education says that there will be an “overall variant plan”, meaning that measures are likely to be put in place in case new coronavirus variants emerge that are deemed more dangerous. Still, the actual plan is “currently being prepared by the Ministry of Health with the involvement of all departments”.

The goal is to keep school rules the same as the ones that would apply in other public areas. The ministry said that the official plan with all the measures to be in force at the beginning of the school year should be announced next week.

No PCR tests on September 5th

It’s unlikely, though, that kids will be required to show negative PCR tests to go to school. At least those in the eastern states start classes in only two weeks. This is because large test laboratories such as Lead Horizon in Vienna won’t have time to prepare for mass testing, according to Austrian media reports.

It would still be possible for school children to take antigen tests before going back to classes, but there is currently no indication that this would be required of them.

READ ALSO: LATEST: The Covid rules across Austria from August 2022

Even in Western states, such as Salzburg, authorities have been against asking kids to test themselves before returning to school.

“If we don’t have to test anywhere, if we can, for example, go to an inn, to the Kirtag or the cinema, or even if one is allowed to go to work, then it is incomprehensible why we would start testing again only in the schools.” Salzburg’s Secretary for Education Daniela Gutschi (ÖVP) told broadcaster ORF.

What about face masks?

With masks, things get a bit more complicated. When he announced the government would drop the mask mandate in the country from June 1st, Health Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens) said Austria would “pause” the regulation.

He has been clear that it was likely that a mask mandate would be back in place by autumn, especially if coronavirus cases rose in the country.

Currently, people only need to wear masks inside health care establishments, such as hospitals and nursing homes, and on Viennese public transport. And, of course, if the person has tested positive for Covid-19.

READ ALSO: Austria to ‘pause’ Covid mask mandate from June 1st

Education Minister Martin Polaschek (ÖVP) had stated in early August that “if it is the case that masks have to be worn in public life, then the school sector will also join accordingly”. However, since there has been no indication that Austria will bring back a mask mandate in September, it’s not likely that Monday’s announcement will have it either.

What is more likely is that schools could take targeted measures. For example, imposing a mask mandate when there is a positive Covid-19 case in a specific class, as experts have mentioned.

How likely is it that schools will close?

This is perhaps the one thing that all parties and experts agree on: school closures like those that happened early in the pandemic are the absolute last resort.

Polaschek has already been clear, as has Rauch, that keeping schools open is the “highest priority”.

“School closures are the very, very last option. The Minister of Health has said quite clearly: that keeping schools open has a top priority. I see it the same way. I do not assume that we will close schools”, the education minister said.

Useful vocabulary

Masken – masks
Schulstart – school start
Schulschließungen – school closures
Bildungsminister – Education Minister
Gesundheitsminister – Health Minister

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