Finding a good public school in Switzerland

Finding a good public school in Switzerland
Rear view of elementary school pupils running outside

Newcomers often ask if is there a ranking system for public schools in Switzerland that shows how schools compare to each other. Depending on where you come from, you might be surprised to hear that ranking lists for schools are virtually unheard of in Switzerland. Swiss parents would not consider to move to a certain area because of the quality of the school but would assume that the local school in question is of good quality. Interestingly, Swiss parents generally believe that their children receive a higher quality of education in public schools than they would in private schools (in Switzerland most parents, including well-off parents, would only consider sending their children to private schools if their children struggle in a public school).

Hester, a mum from the UK, welcomes the fact that there is no ranking system in the Swiss education system. She argues that ranking tables are incredibly unrepresentative of an actual school or its potential: ‘We get end of year results and ranking tables but so much of that depends on the cohort and the quality of the teacher in that final year etc. In my children’s school, there are only 15 children in a year – it’s been at the top of the county league table with a good year, and towards the bottom with a bad year. Same teacher, same topics, just different kids’.

In the absence of ranking lists, on what basis can parents make a school decision? As everywhere, socio-economic status greatly predicts school quality. Assuming that you do not intend to move to a down-market area in Switzerland, you can safely assume that schools in your area will be of good quality. In general it can be said that there is going to be very little difference in the quality of the education provided at the different schools. What will however vary is the additional services available at or near the school.
As Jim puts it: ‘it is normal for children to go home for a long lunch break and in smaller school areas you’ll have no choice but to have them home over lunch, in larger school areas there is normally an option for kids to stay in school over lunch time. Again in the evening, larger schools offer a service where kids can stay over and do home work etc… until someone is able to pick them up and so on. So I’d say the big decider for you should what your schedule is like – if you are working outside of the home or need to be away during the day, then having you kids go to a small local school may not work for you’.

Many expat parents are surprised to find that they are not able to express a preference for the school they wish their child to attend. In Switzerland, school places at elementary level are allocated by the respective local school authority. Usually, Kindergarten and primary school children are placed in a school within walking distance. Parents coming from the UK will look in vain for catchment area maps! At secondary and higher secondary level schools in more rural areas might be few and far between and children might have to travel by bus.

If you already have a certain location in mind, it might also be helpful to join one of the many Expat Facebook groups in Switzerland (International Mothers Living in Switzerland, English Speaking Mummies in Zug, Zurich Silver Coast Parents etc.) and ask for parents feedback. Keep in mind, that feedback might be highly dependent on personal experiences, such as a particular teacher, experiences with class mates etc. It is worth noting that while children are usually allocated to a school within walking distance, this might not necessarily be the closest school.

Another option is to get information directly from the municipality in question. Questions could be how big the schools as, where they feed into, what extra curricular options and lunch and after-school care options are available.

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