The Swiss education system covers the following areas of education:
Compulsory education sector
- Primary sector (including pre-school or the first learning cycle)
- Secondary sector: lower secondary level
Post-compulsory education sector
- Secondary sector: upper secondary level
- Tertiary sector
- Continuing education and training
For childcare facilities and services (child day-care facilities, day-care families und informal care services) please refer to the chapter on Early Childhood Education and Care.
Compulsory education sector
Compulsory school attendance
Under the Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation (Articles 19 and 62) the cantons ensure the provision of an adequate primary school education that is available to all children. Compulsory and non-denominational teaching is managed or supervised by the state. At state schools, lessons are free of charge.
Compulsory education lasts eleven years. The primary level – including two years of pre-school or the first two years of a first learning cycle – lasts eight years, and the lower secondary level three years. In the canton of Ticino, the lower secondary level (Scuola media) lasts four years.
For children and young people with special educational needs the cantons provide appropriate schooling up to the age of 20.
The primary level – including two years of pre-school or the first two years of a first learning cycle – lasts eight years. In a few cantons of German-speaking Switzerland, there is no obligation to send children to pre-school, or they only have to attend for one year.
Nevertheless, the vast majority of children in these cantons also attend pre-school for two years. In several German-speaking cantons, municipalities can choose to run a form of first learning cycle called Grundstufe or Basisstufe. In this organisational form, four to seven or eight year-old children are taught together in the same class. In the French-speaking part of Switzerland, the two pre-school years are usually included in what is called cycle 1 or cycle primaire 1, which lasts for four years. The canton of Ticino offers, in addition to the two compulsory years of pre-school, an initial, voluntary year for children from age three.
Children who have reached the eligible age by the specified cut-off date (this is usually 31 July) start the primary level (pre-school or the first learning cycle) at the beginning of the school year (autumn). Children are generally between four and five years old. Depending on the cantonal regulation, enrolment at an earlier or later date can be arranged at the parents’ request.
Transition from primary level to lower secondary level
Transition to a particular lower secondary level school type or ability group is generally based on performance assessments, teachers’ recommendations or admission examinations. In some cantons the assignment of pupils to a particular type of school or ability group takes place not at the start of, but during the lower secondary level.
Lower secondary level
Lower secondary level follows the primary level and last three years. A derogation is in place for the canton of Ticino, where the seven-year primary level is followed by the four-year Scuola media (lower secondary level). Pupils aged between 12 and 15 attend lessons at lower secondary level in classes grouped by age. Teaching is in classes grouped by ability following different models.
On completion of general compulsory education, usually when pupils turn 15, they make the transition to the upper secondary level.
Post-compulsory education sector
Secondary sector: upper secondary level
Upper secondary is divided into general education courses and vocational and professional training course.
The general education schools include the baccalaureate schools, which generally cover four years, and the three-year upper secondary specialised schools which prepare for tertiary-level education programmes.
The admission conditions for general education schools are laid down by the cantons.
With a baccalaureate, pupils can commence a degree course at a Federal Institute of Technology (FIT), a cantonal university or a university of teacher education without additional conditions. Starting a degree course at a university of applied sciences is usually dependent on additional conditions.
Upper secondary specialised schools prepare pupils for tertiary-level vocational and professional education and training at colleges of higher education in specific occupational fields (health, social work, educational science, communication/information, art/design).
After the three-year training programme at an upper secondary specialised school, and following an additional one-year programme, a specialised baccalaureate may be obtained. This allows entry to specific studies at universities of applied sciences in the studied occupational field. According to the chosen field of study, the enrolment to a university of applied sciences may require an admission procedure. Holders of a specialised baccalaureate must pass a supplementary examination (Passerellen-Prüfung) to qualify for admission to universities.
Vocational education and training (VET) is predominantly carried out in a dual system: practical training at a training company (practical professional training) is supplemented by theoretical lessons (vocational and general education subjects) in a VET school. For certain professions, a VET diploma can be obtained in a full-time school programme (e.g. in training workshops or in trade or IT schools).
VET lasts between two and four years depending on the course of training. The three-to-four year VET prepares students to exercise an occupation, and for tertiary level professional education courses, while the two-year VET provides preparation for work in an occupation with less demanding requirements.
Admission to VET does not involve any examinations. Training companies generally choose apprentices on the basis of their achievements at lower secondary level, application documents and an interview. Various training companies also require applicants to sit an aptitude test.
During or after the three-to-four year VET, the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate can also be acquired in the following five fields: technology, architecture, life sciences; nature, landscape and food; economy and services; design and art; health and social affairs.
The Federal Vocational Baccalaureate qualifies holders for admission, without the need for any further examination, to courses of study at the university of applied sciences which are related to the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate and vocational education and training (VET). Students opting for a field of study not related to the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate and VET must demonstrate evidence of at least one year’s working experience in a profession related to the field of study.
Students with a pass in a supplementary examination may be admitted to a university or a university of teacher education degree programme.
The tertiary level covers courses in the higher education sector and in the tertiary level professional education sector.
In the higher education sector, the two Federal Institutes of Technology (FIT) and the 10 cantonal universities, together with the universities of applied sciences (including universities of teacher education) offer more than 120 degree programmes in 11 subject areas.
There is a three-tier structure of study at the two Federal Institutes of Technology (FIT) and the cantonal universities, leading to Bachelor and Master degrees and the doctorate, and a two-tier structure of study at the universities of applied sciences (including universities of teacher education), leading to Bachelor and Master degrees.
Bachelor degree courses last three years, and Master degree courses last between one-and-a-half years and two years.
The tertiary level professional education sector covers the non-university sector of the tertiary level. Tertiary level professional education is acquired through a Federal Diploma of Higher Education or an Advanced Federal Diploma of Higher Education, or through a federally recognised course at a college of higher education.
Part-time preparatory courses are offered to prepare for the around 220 Federal Diplomas of Higher Education and 170 Advanced Federal Diplomas of Higher Education. Attendance of these courses, which are held by cantonal educational institutions, training centres, professional associations and private education providers, is voluntary. The Federal Diploma of Higher Education concludes with a Swiss Federal Certificate, while the Advanced Federal Diploma of Higher Education concludes with a Swiss Federal Diploma.
The colleges of higher education offer courses in eight areas. Training lasts a minimum two years full-time, or three years part-time, and concludes with a Swiss Federal Diploma.
Continuing education and training
Continuing education and training (CET) is primarily the responsibility of the individual. CET activities take place outside the formal, state-regulated education system.
Rights and duties of pupils
The involvement and participation of pupils take different shapes depending on the canton and the level of education. In the compulsory education sector this can, in class, include the intermediary role of a class representative or a class council. Within the school learners can organise themselves in councils which are heard by the school administration or can be involved in certain decisions.
In several cantons, pupils and their parents or legal guardians participate in discussions with the competent teachers about transfer to the next class and transition to the next level.
At upper secondary level learners are generally given a fair say. Pupil organisations tend to be more institutionalised at this level.
At tertiary level student organisations represent the interests of students in higher education policy, cultural and social matters. The student organisations are represented on organs and bodies of the relevant higher education institution.
Rights and duties of parents or legal guardians
Under the Swiss Civil Code (Article 302(2)) parents or legal guardians must ensure children receive, as far as possible, an appropriate general and vocational education in line with their abilities and inclinations. To this end they must cooperate with the school.
Regulation of the rights and duties of parents or legal guardians is not structured in the same way in all cantonal laws. Depending on the cantonal law, parents or legal guardians have the right to attend their child’s lessons and inform themselves about their child’s development at school. They may be heard on issues regarding enrolment, transfer to the next class, transition to the next level and the use of special educational measures.
Parents or legal guardians may be granted the right to form a parents’ council, a parents’ forum or a parents’ association. These can comment on important issues and decrees in the education sector vis-à-vis the competent authority. Only a few cantons have an institutionalised collaboration by parents or legal guardians that is anchored in law. Schools can develop their own forms of collaboration with parents or legal guardians.
At national, cantonal or regional level special offices or parent organisations work towards cooperation with the school.
As well as a duty to cooperate with the school, parents or legal guardians have the responsibility to ensure that their child attends school on a regular basis and obeys the school rules and instructions. Teachers must be informed about special circumstances which are of significance to the school routine. In some cantons parents or legal guardians are required to participate in organised parent-teacher discussions or interviews.
The compulsory school attendance requirement can be complied with by attending a public school, a private school or through private tuition. In almost all cantons school legislation regulates the attendance of private tuition during the period of compulsory education.
Private tuition is subject to approval and to state supervision. In order to meet the requirements for approval, in cantonal school legislation the following criteria may, among others, be laid down: the educational objectives are in accordance with those of the public schools, the curriculum meets cantonal rules and the teachers have the required teacher training.
If the private tuition does not meet the legal requirements, approval can be withdrawn and privately-taught pupils can be required to transfer into the state school system.
Depending on the cantonal legislation privately taught pupils are eligible for school services including the necessary tests (e.g. school health services, speech therapy etc.).
In the 2018/2019 academic year, around 2,100 children and young people were taught at home. Home schooling is generally more common at primary level (including pre-school) than at lower secondary level. More than three quarters of the children and young people taught at home live in just four cantons. In ten cantons no children at all are taught at home.