Place guarantee to ECEC
There is in principle no legal guarantee to a place in a day-care centre-based facility or day-care family. The use of childcare services is voluntary and at the discretion of parents, who pay a share of the costs.
Only in one canton, Basel-Stadt, do parents have the right to be offered a public or private place in childcare within a reasonable time and under financially acceptable conditions. However, this is dependent on them being in gainful employment or training, or to a place being granted for social or remedial education reasons. Moreover, Basel-Stadt is the only canton so far in which it is obligatory for some children to start learning German before entering the pre-primary level. Therefore, children who speak hardly any German, or do not speak it at all, have to attend a German-speaking child day-care centre-based facility or day-care family on at least two half-days per week in the year before pre-school (as a rule, they are then between three and four years old).
According to a report from 2020, there are around 3 200 facilities in Switzerland, each with an average of a good 31 childcare places. This means that a total of around 100 000 childcare places are available. Assuming that a child occupies 0.5 childcare places on average, between 180,000 and 200,000 children are cared for in the facilities, depending on the occupancy rate (out of a total of approx. 440 000 children between 0 and 4 years in Switzerland).
In 2018, around 34% of children under 4 years of age were cared for in day-care centre-based facilities. There are regional differences in the distribution of these facilities. The number of available places per 1000 children aged 0-4 years is significantly lower in German-speaking Switzerland than in French-speaking Switzerland.
Only a few cantons survey the need for childcare places by means of regular needs analyses and/or central waiting lists. Where there are needs analyses, they show that in principle there are enough childcare places available to meet the demand. In some cantons, however, the demand for subsidised places exceeds the supply. There are also regional differences, so that in certain regions there is either an oversupply or a surplus of demand.
The number of childcare places has increased considerably in recent years. As the cantons and communes are responsible for childcare, they have taken appropriate measures.
The Confederation’s temporary subsidy programme, which was intended to promote the creation of additional places in day-care for children, was also instrumental in greatly expanding the number of places on offer. Between 2003 and January 2020 it supported the creation of around 63 000 new care places. The programme has been extended by four years to 2023.
Pre-school or first learning cycle
Attendance of pre-school or the first learning cycle is mandatory and free of charge. Children reaching the eligible age by the fixed qualifying date (this is usually 31 July) start the primary level at the beginning of the new school year (autumn). The children are usually between four and five years old. Parents may request, depending on cantonal legislation, that their child starts primary school earlier or later.
In the majority of cantons, however, later admission in pre-school is only possible if the child is not ready for pre-school, has a developmental delay or for other special reasons.
In the first year of pre-school or the first learning cycle, the number of weekly lessons varies between 12 and 25, depending on the canton. In the second year, between 20 and 25 weekly lessons are taught in the majority of cantons.
As a rule, children attend pre-school or the first learning cycle in the commune in which they live. If they cannot do this (e.g. if the route to school is too long), the communes organise transport facilities. The costs are paid by the commune and/or canton.
Childcare services are not part of the state-school system. Parents or legal guardians have to pay for childcare services in principle. Child day-care centre-based facilities and day-care families are funded chiefly through parental contributions; the public sector and in some French-speaking cantons as well the employers pay a share of funding.
Most cantons have rules governing parental fees which aim to ensure childcare services remain accessible for all parents or legal guardians. The rates may be fixed at cantonal or communal level. In principle the rates apply to subsidised or state child day-care centre-based facilities and day families that are organised in an association or network. They are staggered in line with parental income.
Private non-subsidised child day-care facilities fix their own charges. The cantons/communes rarely have fee regulations which apply to private child day-care facilities. As a rule the full price must be paid. However, an income-related payment system may be applied.
Pre-school or first learning cycle
Attendance of pre-school or the first learning cycle is mandatory and free of charge. The cantons and communes have to fund compulsory education at state schools including compulsory pre-school. Attendance at optional pre-school in the public sector is also free of charge.
Care services outside lesson time (including supervised midday meals and periods before and after lessons) normally have to be paid for.
If the child attends a private pre-school or a private first learning cycle (approx. 5% of all children, Federal Statistical Office 2021), the parents have to bear the costs. Private schools set their own school fees. A possible support of private schools falls within the responsibility of the cantons. The cantons may support private schools through public resources or pay contributions to the school fees. The contributions to private schools may be linked to certain conditions (e.g. activity in the interests of the canton, easing the burden on state schools, public need, compliance with quality requirements, heavy demand).