So you have relocated to Switzerland with your family and you are quite happy to give the local school system a go. There is only one problem: Both of you work.
So, you wonder, does the local school system cater for working parents?
The answer is: Not really!
Sadly, it would seem that the Swiss school system is still very much based on the premise of a stay-at-home mum.
Naila, a working mum from the UK agrees: ‘if you haven’t family or good friends, or the resources to have hired help, the way things are designed over here makes it very difficult for mums to work’
This starts with the fact that children come home for lunch EVERY DAY. Whether they are 4 or 14 years old, schools break for lunch for two hours during midday. Schools in Switzerland usually do not run a school canteen. This means that, depending on the canton, your children return home between 11.45-12.15 and then leave again between 1.15-1.30pm.
This is not so much of a problem if you either work locally, as many Swiss do, or your company adheres to Swiss working hours. However, chances are that you work further away for an international company.
If you live in Basel or Zurich, you will usually find good coverage for out-of-school-hours care, such as lunch-care and after-school care. In more rural areas, you might be lucky to find a lunch-club! Prices also vary considerable across Gemeinden (municipalities) with some lunch-care facilities charging as little as 12.80 CHF for two hours lunch club and others 24 CHF and above!
Whatever the coverage is in your area, you should be aware that facilities are not automatically in the same building as the school.
I learnt this the hard way when I registered my 4-year old daughter for lunch and after school care only to learn that she would have to cross the whole town to get there and back.
The lunch-club usually offers to escort children back and forth during the first 6 weeks of the term and after that the children have to fend for themselves. I resorted to recruiting an older school child that would walk the same way to escort my daughter. The girl was delighted to earn some pocket-money and the arrangement worked remarkably well.
However it took quite a bit of organizing skills to work out a solution and it is entirely up to you as a parent to find a way of safely getting your kindergartener to lunch care and back and forth again if your child goes to after-school care.
Why the local authority offers something as progressive as lunch and after-school care to support working parents (unheard of in most parts of Switzerland even 10 years ago!) but leaves it to the parents to figure out how to get the kids there, is one of the many mysteries of the Swiss way of life.
The next hurdle you will encounter are school times. School starting and finishing times, and lunch break times, will vary considerably by school, grade, class, and day of the week. The one common denominator across Switzerland is that children will have Wednesdays afternoons off (meaning that they will be back home as early as 11.45!).
As school times also vary by class and grade, if you have two or more children at school, it is quite possible that they all start and finish at different times every day.
So what are your options as working parents?
An increasing number of (mainly bigger) cities are offering day-schools called Tagesschule, providing day care between 8am and 6pm. So, before relocating, it is actually worthwhile doing some research in the area you are planning to move to. Be aware that there might be a waiting list!
If you prefer an all-in-one childcare arrangement but are on a tighter budget, a “Tagesmutter” (child minder) is a relatively inexpensive solution, where you pay for someone to look after your children during lunch or after school by the hour. Your kids are with the child-minder’s children and stay at her house.
A more expensive option (but cheaper than a professional nanny!) is to get an Aupair that is there to look after your kids at lunch-time and after school.
Finally, if you can afford it, bilingual and international schools are usually day-schools that also offer after-school care. Note that private schools have longer school holidays than public schools!