Admission requirements and choice of ECEC setting
Attendance of pre-school or the first learning cycle is mandatory. 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.
Pre-school or the first learning cycle are part of compulsory education. In compulsory education parents cannot choose which state school their child attends. Children have to attend the school serving the area where they live. The competent school authorities may grant exemptions if, for instance, local conditions make the route to school too long. Popular initiatives on the freedom to choose schools in various cantons have not been successful to date.
Group size and child/staff ratios
The cantons decide how to organise the first years of school (pre-school or the first learning cycle). In the two-year pre-school, children of different ages (usually four to five-year-olds) attend the same class. They remain in the same class and are taught by the same teacher. Two teachers may share a post in alternance.
In the first learning cycles called Grundstufe or Basisstufe operated by a few German-speaking cantons pre-school and the first years of primary school are combined. The mixed-age classes are taught by two teachers in “team teaching” (two teachers teach together at the same time) in close collaboration with other specialists (e.g. remedial education teacher).
The cantons lay down minimum, maximum and/or guideline levels for class sizes. The communes are responsible for dividing up classes depending on class sizes. In most cantons the maximum class size allowed in pre-school or the first learning cycle is between 22 and 24 children (Klassengrössen). This means, child/staff ratio is a maximum of 24 children for 1 teacher.
Annual, weekly and daily organisation
The school year starts in autumn ‒ between the middle of August and the middle of September depending on the canton. In most cantons the school year comprises a total of between 38 and 39 weeks of school weeks (Unterrichtsdauer).
The cantons and their communes are responsible for deciding on school holidays in compulsory education (Schulferien). The lengths and times of holidays therefore differ between the cantons (and sometimes even within a canton). There are school holidays in summer, autumn, at Christmas, in February and in spring. The cantons are responsible for dividing the school year. The school year is usually split into two semesters.
The cantons specify the number of lessons per week and decide on lesson duration (Unterrichtsdauer). In the first year of pre-school the number of lessons varies between 12 and 25 per week, while in the second year there are generally 20 to 25 lessons per week.
The communes or the schools are responsible for the class timetables. Block teaching (Blockzeiten) is a method of school organisation which combines lesson time into larger blocks. It makes it easier for working parents to organise childcare out-of-pre-school. Lessons are bundled together into full half-days. In “comprehensive” block teaching the pupils are taught on five mornings for at least three-and-a-half hours (i.e. four lessons). Depending on local conditions and needs different models of block teaching may be applied. The vast majority of cantons has introduced comprehensive block teaching for the first years of the pre-primary level (pre-school or the first learning cycle).