Education and Schools in Switzerland
Given its lack of natural resources, a lot of emphasis is placed on education in Switzerland. Swiss public schools have a good reputation and the country's private boarding and international schools are exceptional. But while expat children will receive an excellent education, it can be very expensive, depending on the school.
Public schools in Switzerland
Most residents attend public schools in Switzerland, including foreigners. They’re funded by taxes and attendance is free, but they’re managed at the level of cantons (states) – so there are regional differences.
Children can be taught in French, German, Italian or Romansch based on where they live, and have classes in a second official language and English.
There are four stages of schooling – kindergarten, primary, secondary (split into two phases), and tertiary education.
Primary school and Secondary I are compulsory everywhere, but the mandatory starting age and how long each stage takes differs.
Most children start two years of kindergarten at age four even if they legally don’t have to. Primary school usually lasts for six years, with lower secondary school lasting three.
The language gap means that public schools are best suited to expats looking to move to Switzerland for the long term and want to therefore fully integrate into Swiss culture and society. Speaking an official language is an advantage, and younger children often adapt the fastest. Schools make some provisions for foreign language speakers, but this can entail intensive language classes, and in some cases, repeating a year.
Working parents with younger students may find Swiss public school hours inconvenient. The day typically ends before 4pm and students go home for lunch at some schools. Others charge for supervised lunch hours and after-hours day care.
Private schools in Switzerland
Private schools in Switzerland usually come with high fees attached, but they're highly regarded. Exclusive Swiss boarding schools, in particular, have prestigious international reputations.
These institutions offer a stimulating, personalised environment with smaller class sizes and state-of-the-art facilities.
Swiss private schools offer the Swiss curriculum, the International Baccalaureate (IB) or a foreign curriculum. Those offering a foreign curriculum or the IB curriculum are classified as international schools.
Bilingual schools in Switzerland
Bilingual schools in Switzerland teach the Swiss curriculum, but lessons are presented in an equal amount of two languages such as German/English, French/English or German/French. The language combination will depend on the school’s location and is likely to include the language dominant in that particular region.
Research carefully before making a choice – some schools have mostly local students and others cater to a more international student body. Schools with more international students tend to have high turnover rates, which is best suited to short-term residents.
International schools in Switzerland
Some expats prefer sending their children to international schools in Switzerland despite the high quality of its public and private schools. That way, students only staying in the country for the short term get to continue their home country’s language and curriculum.
Most large cities have day schools or boarding schools, but options in rural areas may be limited. Competition for places is high and the most prestigious schools have long waiting lists. Expats should apply early and consider alternatives.
International schools often charge hefty fees, so expats may want to try and negotiate an education allowance into their employment contract.