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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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Is Austria failing to provide care for special needs children in schools?

Teacher's unions have warned the Austrian federal government of the extreme labour shortage and special needs education sector budget caps.

Is Austria failing to provide care for special needs children in schools?

Union leader Paul Kimberger has highlighted the urgent need for support in special education within schools, emphasising the need for increased resources tailored to current conditions rather than being restricted by outdated regulations. 

In an interview with the Austrian newspaper Der Standard, Kimberger stated, “The schools urgently need help in the area of special educational support”. He demanded “an increase in special education resources adapted to real needs and not limited by a scurrilous legal cap that has nothing to do with reality.”

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

Why is there a budget issue?

The union leader explained that the school budget regulation is outdated.

Currently, the allocation of resources for children with special educational needs is based on a figure that is 31 years old. According to the 1992 “financial equalisation scheme” in Austria, additional resources are provided by the federal government for a maximum of 2.7 per cent of schoolchildren requiring special support due to physical or mental disabilities.

However, Statistics Austria reveals that in the school year 2021/22, 5.1 per cent of the 582,969 children enrolled in compulsory schools were students with special educational needs. 

According to the Der Standard report, the significant variation in distribution among federal states is also noteworthy and still unexplained.

READ ALSO: Fact check: Does the far-right in Austria really want to ban sweatpants in schools?

While Tyrol has only 2.8 per cent of special needs students, neighbouring Salzburg has 6.9 per cent, more than double the national average. Vienna and Upper Austria have 5.8 per cent of compulsory school children requiring special education. Burgenland (3.6 per cent) and Styria (4 per cent) have a much lower prevalence of such students. At the same time, Lower Austria (5.3 per cent) and Vorarlberg (5.5 per cent) also exceed the national average.

Because of the budget cap, children who need trained teachers have not received the proper care, Kimberger stated. “So we are missing almost 3,000 service positions to be able to teach and care for these children adequately”, he explained.

Considering the average annual cost of a teacher (€50,000), this would result in additional financial requirements in the hundreds of millions. 

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

The union representative criticised the withholding of investments from the education system for decades, specifically affecting the most vulnerable individuals in society, due to the bureaucratic negotiations on the “financial equalisation scheme” by the Minister of Finance and provincial governors.

What does the ministry say?

Minister of Education Martin Polaschek (ÖVP) declined to comment on the teachers’ union’s demands, Der Standard reported. Instead, the ministry said it awaits the results of a study commissioned by the  ÖVP and the Greens coalition on the allocation practice for special educational needs. 

The research consortium, consisting of 17 researchers from 13 Austrian universities and colleges of education and the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS), is expected to present the findings in the second half of the year.