As a matter of principle, the right and the obligation to attend school applies to all children in Germany, regardless of their status. However, since the education system falls within the responsibility of the Federal States, there are some important distinctions in laws and practices.
For example, compulsory education ends at the age of 16 in several Federal States, therefore children in those states do not have the right to enter schools when they are 16 or 17 years old. Furthermore, it has frequently been criticised that parts of the education system are insufficiently prepared to address the specific needs of newly arrived children. While there are “best practice” examples in some regions for the integration of refugee children into the education system, obstacles remain in other places, such as lack of access to language and literacy courses or to regular schools.
In 2016, an association of various NGOs (regional refugee councils, Federal Association for Unaccompanied Refugee Minors, Youth without Borders) started a campaign called “School for all” (Schule für alle) to draw attention to the fact that children in many initial reception centres have only had very basic schooling and no access to the regular school system for the duration of their stay in these facilities (see Freedom of Movement: Obligation to Stay in Initial Reception Centres). Furthermore, the NGOs have criticised the fact that access to education services was severely limited for asylum seekers above the age of 16, many of whom have not finished school in their countries of origin and therefore need access to the school system in order to gain a degree.
These problems continue to exist today. Half of all federal states exempt asylum-seeking children from compulsory education until they have been assigned to a municipality (Bavaria, Hesse, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Platinate, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt). Thus, as long as they stay in initial reception centres, they will not have access to the regular school system. Some initial reception centres do provide educational offers, but they are not comparable to regular schools.
Problems with access to the education system have particularly been reported with regard to initial reception centres renamed as AnKER centres in Bavaria in 2018. The general policy foresees the provision inside the AnkER centres of both schooling for children aged 6-16 and professional school (Berufschule) for persons aged 16-21. The AnKER centre in Regensburg is one of the only facilities allowing children up to the age of 16 to go to regular schools. This was originally only made possible because the authorities did not manage to build the necessary facilities on time, but has stayed that way. However, persons aged 16-21 are provided education in containers in the centre, not at school.
The AnKER centre in Manching/Ingolstadt does not allow access to regular schools and classes are therefore provided within the facility. The classes mainly focus on German language, but also cover maths and other subjects. A certificate is provided upon completion of the course. However, asylum seekers do not undergo examinations at the end of the year since people stay for shorter periods. If an asylum seeker wishes to access regular schools, a test assessing his or her capacity to attend classes in regular schools is conducted, namely to assess German language level. This was done following successful litigation in March 2018, when Manching/Ingolstadt was a “transit centre”, which led authorities to grant access to regular schools for six children from Kosovo, after an Administrative Court had decided that children from these centres with sufficient German language skills had the right to attend the regular school system.
The problem of a lack of access to the education system in initial reception centres may have been mitigated to a certain extent by the legal clarification, introduced in 2019, according to which the general maximum time-limit for a stay in initial reception centres has been placed at six months for families with minor children. Because of this amendment, children should be allocated to decentralised accommodation after a few months (possibly earlier than the maximum six-months time-limit allows), which should in turn result in them having access to regular schools at their new place of residence.
Asylum seekers generally have access to vocational training. In order to start vocational training, they need an employment permit. However, the fact that asylum seeker's permission to stay (Aufenthaltsgestattung) are issued for a 6-month-period frequently renders the access to vocational training impossible. Training contracts usually have to be concluded for a duration of two or three years. Hence potential employers are often hesitant to offer vocational training to asylum seekers since there is a considerable risk that the training cannot be completed if the asylum application is rejected.
Studying at university is generally permitted for asylum seekers, but only possible with practical difficulties. The Federal States’ laws that regulate access to higher education do not impose any restrictions with regards to a foreigner’s residence status. Thus, asylum seekers with a permission to stay (Aufenthaltsgestattung) or tolerated stay (Duldung) legally have the same access to university as other foreigners. However, the higher education laws set requirements with regard to qualifications (university entrance qualification), knowledge of the German language and health insurance coverage, which are difficult to meet in practice for asylum seekers. Additionally, they are also not entitled to students’ financial aid when in possession of a permission to stay (Aufenthaltsgestattung).
 Section 32(2)(1) Employment Regulation.