Swiss public schools have a good reputation and its private boarding and international schools are exceptional. But while expat children will receive an excellent education, depending on the school, it can be expensive.
Public schools in Switzerland
Most residents attend public schools in Switzerland, including foreigners. They’re funded by taxes and attendance is free, as they are run at the level of cantons (states) – 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 I, secondary II 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 integrate in Swiss culture. Speaking an official language is an advantage, and younger children often adapt quickly.
Schools make some provisions for foreign language speakers, but that 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.
Bilingual schools in Switzerland
Several bilingual schools teach the Swiss curriculum and present their classes in both languages, but they can easily exceed 20,000 CHF a year.
Research carefully before making a choice – some schools have more local students and others cater to a more international student body. Schools with more international students have high turn-over rates, which is best suited to short-term residents.
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, personalized environment with smaller class sizes and state-of-the art facilities. Swiss private schools offer the Swiss curriculum, the International Baccalaureate or a foreign curriculum – which makes them an international school.
International schools in Switzerland
Some expats prefer sending their children to international schools in Switzerland, despite the 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.
Schools can charge 35,000 CHF a year, so expats may want to try and negotiate an education allowance into their employment contract.
Education and school advisory
new school frontiers
Education and School Advisory Christina Urech
Elisabethenstrasse 37, 3014 Berne, Switzerland
Mobile: +41 (0)79 306 34 90
Are you relocating to Switzerland and looking for the right school for your child? Or does the school you have selected for your child not meet your expectations? new school frontiers will look for the day care center or school that is just the right place for your child.
As a certified college instructor, an experienced school director abroad and the mother of two children herself, Christina Urech can advise and counsel you competently and impartially in questions related to education and schools.