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The Federal Ministry for Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF) regulates general education policy in Germany. However, educational policy is mostly decided at a state level, limiting the ministry's influence.
Compulsory schooling starts at the age of 6 and lasts for 12 or 13 years depending on the area of residence within Germany.
Although homeschooling is not allowed in Germany there have been a few cases in recent years of parents applying to their local authorities and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to be allowed to do so. Home schooling remains an area of uncertainty in Germany which looks set to change in the future, especially in the southern states.
All compulsory public sector schools are free of charge. Children first attend primary school (Grundschule) from the age of 6 to 10 and then lower secondary school from 10 to 15 or 16. Part-time compulsory education continues beyond that age up to 18 for those who are not enrolled in a full-time school.
Pupils attending general and vocational schools are entitled to financial assistance under the BaföG (law on financial assistance for students) from the tenth year provided they have no other income or financial means. The level of assistance is fixed on the basis of the pupil's personal resources and parental income.
Continuous assessment based on written examinations and oral contributions is universal practice at all levels.
Religious instruction is currently under debate. Religious instruction is the only school subject mentioned in the German constitution and only Bremen, Brandenburg and Berlin do not offer religious instruction as part of the regular curriculum. Children can attend the extra classes offered at the schools though. Children over the age of 14 can opt out of religious instruction.
In November 2006 compulsory ethics instruction was introduced in Berlin for children in Years 7 to 10 with exemptions only permitted for valid and justifiable reasons.
Germany has recently introduced a Recognition Act which acknowledges any professional and vocational qualifications that have been gained abroad. Although there is no organisation that deals with transferring qualifications, the Recognition in Germany portal has been set up to show expatriates where to go to get the recognition they need for their qualifications.