Sitting where it does, bang in the middle of Europe, it is unsurprising that Vienna has several international schools but it is unusual, in actively encouraging bilingual education through its Vienna Bilingual Schooling (VBS) programme.
Vienna’s past is peopled by some of the major players in European history, from the Habsburgs to Hitler and Strauss to Stalin but visitors seem more familiar with wienershnitzel, sachertorte, the Spanish Riding School, the palace of Schönbrunn and, possibly, Sigmund Freud and Gustav Klimt. For the tourists and the expats who come to work here, drawn by the United Nations or the international banks, there is the benefit of the knowledge that about 350,000 of the inhabitants speak English better than German, so ordering a cake in one of the many kaffehauser will not be a problem, even on day one.
What may be a problem, is finding somewhere to live, with around 25,000 new would-be residents pitching up each year. House prices have grown substantially over the last decade and rent controls discourage buy to let landlords. As a family, you might start your house-hunt in the Third district (Landstrasse), where the apartments are cheaper than in the swanky but touristy First and Second districts. The latter is home to Danube International School and favoured by diplomats as there are several embassies here. Also close to the centre is the Ninth (Alsergrund), an obvious choice if you want your child to go to the Lycée Francais de Vienne.
None of these are cheap but alternatively, a bit further out and provided the salary is still on the high side, you might try the Thirteenth district (Vienna’s answer to London’s Belgravia) or the Eighteenth, full of ritzy villas and the lovely Türkenschanzpark plus two of the international schools (Amadeus International School (a mecca for musicians) and Vienna Elementary/European School). One step or district further west is the Nineteenth (Dobling) which backs onto Vienna’s vineyards and is full of wine taverns to treat your tastebuds as well as the dually accredited American International School (established in the 1950's), but don’t be fooled, it may look more rural but the prices are anything but.
There are two more international schools (the International Christian School of Vienna and Vienna International School, which teaches a vast range of nationalities) on the east bank of the Danube, away from the centre, in the Twenty Second district (Donaustadt), which is a bit of a trek by car, from the west, but not much longer if you take the train.
All of the above schools except for the Lycée Francais de Vienne (DNB and French Baccalaureate) and Vienna European School (Austrian Matura) offer the IB Diploma as a graduating qualification but the International Christian School of Vienna and the American International School also provide the alternative of the US High School Diploma.
For more information on these schools, please go to each school’s individual entry on the GSGI database or The GSGI article 'Best schools in Vienna considered by expats'.
Reacting swiftly, compared to most global cities, Vienna is taking the demand, from Austrian parents, for their children to become fluent in English, seriously. There are ten German/English VBS schools in the city, four of them on the newer east side of the Danube and six in the older western area of the city.
The schools start with primaries and continue until the end of upper secondary. All teach the first two years of language and literacy in their native language and then switch to their second language for the following two years. The remainder of the curriculum is taught either in German or bilingually, with each class having a German-speaking teacher and a native English-speaking one. Before acceptance, there is an assessment of each child, as to its language skills and ability to cope in a second language, socially as well as academically.
There is also the other less immersive option of the Global Education Primary Schools (GEPS), which are normal German-speaking primaries, with one hour of the curriculum, daily, taught in English by a native speaker. These are also located in districts on both sides of the river.
Public schooling is separated into four years of primary (Volksschule) and eight years of secondary (Gymnasium). Students have the option of either academic or vocational training courses for the final four years. To make life easier for expats, there is no catchment area for each school, so you can send your child to any school that has a place and will accept them.
As for all expats, posted anywhere in the world, your decision as to whether to choose the public school system will almost certainly depend on the age of your child and how long you intend to stay. It is always easier for younger children to assimilate a different language and culture but you do have to consider the potential problems of transitioning at a later stage.
Older children (unless they have a German parent or the language is spoken at home) will face a more complicated set of problems moving into a school where not only the language but the curriculum is unknown to them. In addition, Austrian schools tend to have a more regimented approach than international or bilingual ones.
Vienna remains a cultured and cosmopolitan city, as you would expect from its heritage, and the international and bilingual schools do not let that image down. It may not hold as many balls or produce so many musical maestros as it did two centuries ago but it is still a wonderfully civilised place to go to school.