Next stop: Sek! Pathways in local secondary school

Those of you with children in the last two years of primary will look at the recent school report wondering about options for secondary education.

In Switzerland, there are usually four different ability levels in secondary school. Very able and mature students may move directly into Gymnasium. However, the majority of students will go to one of the three ability streams in lower secondary school.

Depending on the canton, the highest ability stream might be called Sek. A (Zurich), Sekundarstufe (Zug, Schwyz), or Leistungszug E (Basel Stadt). For the lower ability level, you will hear different names ranging from Sek. B (Zurich) , Realschule and – confusingly- level A
if you are in Basel Stadt. The third level is usually for special needs education. Some cantons, such as Luzern city offer only one ability stream apart from Gymi, but put children into different subject performance levels.

If you live in Kanton Zurich and your child’s grades are borderline, i.e. either below the 5.2 mark recommended to sit the Gymi entrance exam or the 4.5 required for Sek A, you might be concerned about your kids’s options.

So what options do the different ability streams offer?

Sek A, the stream with ‘ advanced requirements’, opens options for access to higher secondary education and a high school degree (Kurzzeitgymnasium or Mittelfachschule) or vocational training. Students attending Sek A should not just have good grades (a minimum average grade of 4.5), but also be self-organised, independent and motivated learners.

Sek. B is the stream with ‘basic requirements’ and is suitable for students with an average of 3.8-4.5. Students with good grades will be able to do basic vocational training and gain a professional diploma whereas very good students can complete a more demanding 4 year apprenticeship (e.g. informatics or banking) followed by a specialised high school diploma. Students of both streams jointly attend three different subject performance sets in French and Maths, ranging from basic to advanced.

Students may change ability streams up to three times a year (first year of Sek.) and twice in the second year. For example, if your son entered Sek B. and his grades pick up during the first two terms, he may be considered for Sek A after the end of the second term. With very good grades, he might then even be able to sit the entrance exam for Gymnasium after one or two years in Sek A.

The curriculum in the first two years of Sek A and Sek B is similar, the main difference is the pace and the depth of studies as well as the level of support provided by the teachers.

Here is what an Expat mum says:

“Whatever path your child enters, don’t worry! The strength of the Swiss system lies in its incredibly flexibility. Whatever path is chosen is not set in stone and there are many ways leading to Rome. Parents might be tempted to push their children into a higher ability stream. While this may work for some children, the better option might be to start on the appropriate level and then move to a more advanced level should performance allow it.
The streaming here can be intimidating to parents from a culture where a tertiary degree is the norm, but the Swiss system is surprisingly flexible. I have seen every combination over the years in my workplace: Langzeitgymi plus university degree, Kurzzeitgymi plus university degree, Berufsmatura directly after an apprenticeship, Berufsmatura after a few years of working after the apprenticeship, second apprenticeship, apprenticeship after the Matura, and people advancing in the company on the basis of their original apprenticeships. Although I see a lot of parents stress about the decision (particularly with the demanding Gymi entrance test and high flunk-out rate in Zürich), nothing is final at age 12′ (Susan, Zurich)

If you need more information, do not miss the next school seminar in Kilchberg/ZH:
‘What’s next? Pathways in local secondary’. Information and admission:

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