Lower secondary level is part of compulsory education. It follows the primary level and lasts three years (grades 9 to 11) in all cantons. The exception is the canton of Ticino, for which there is a special provision under the Intercantonal Agreement on Harmonisation of Compulsory Education (HarmoS-Konkordat [HarmoS Agreement]) (four-year lower secondary level).
The Intercantonal Agreement on Harmonisation of Compulsory Education (HarmoS Agreement) has harmonised school structures in compulsory education. Information on this may be found in the comments on the primary level.
General information on compulsory education may be found in the comments on the Primary Education.
Lower secondary level fosters young people’s general growth and personal development, and encourages an interest in lifelong learning. It promotes personal responsibility and initiative and equips them to identify and solve problems, deal with conflict and work on their own or with other people. It prepares them for upper secondary level education. As pupils have to take an extremely important decision about their further education at the end of the lower secondary level, lessons covering career guidance and vocational preparation are particularly important. Appropriate measures are offered to help identify young people encountering difficulties in the transition to the upper secondary level as soon as possible and to provide them with support.
Teaching at lower secondary level is in classes grouped by ability following different models (see below). The vast majority of pupils attend state-run schools. Around 6% of pupils complete the lower secondary level at a non-subsidised private school (FSO 2019). Information on other organisational variations and alternative structures such as private schools, home schooling or measures during temporary school exclusion may be found in the chapter on the primary level.
Types of institution
Teaching at lower secondary level is in classes grouped by age and performance following different models. Depending on the canton a particular Schulmodell [model] may be followed throughout the canton or the canton may allow the communes to choose between different models.
The streamed model has different school types (two to four school types) which are separate from each other and have different performance requirements. Pupils are assigned to a particular school type on the basis of their performance levels.
The cooperative model has core classes with different performance requirements (e.g. general and advanced requirements). Pupils are assigned to a particular core class on the basis of their performance levels. Some subjects are taught in different performance level groups.
The integrated model has non-selective core classes. Pupils with different performance levels attend the same class. Some subjects are taught in different performance level groups.
The streamed model offers little permeability. The cooperative model and the integrated model in particular enable a higher degree of permeability. The streamed model is most common. In many cantons, however, the cooperative model and the integrated model are established as alternatives to the streamed model. The canton allows the communes to choose between the different models. A few cantons only operate the cooperative model, or the integrated model.
Pupils usually attend school in the place in which they live. Pupils from communes which do not have any lower secondary level schools attend regional education institutions or schools in other communes. The communes organise school transport if required. The cantons and/or communes pay the transport costs.
Admission requirements and choice of school
Performance at the end of the primary level, teacher recommendations (often including the opinion of parents or legal guardians), and sometimes a transition examination determine the school type or performance level group to which the pupil is assigned in lower secondary education. The pupil’s academic performance is taken into account, as is attitude to work, learning behaviour and social conduct. In some cantons this assignment of pupils takes place not at the start of, but during, the lower secondary level.
The Übertrittsverfahren [transition procedures] differ depending on the canton and model. Pupils can be included in the decision-making process. In the vast majority of cantons, the school supervisory authorities or school administration make the final decision. In some cantons, teachers/the teachers’ meeting alone are responsible for this decision.
As regards the choice of school the same rules apply as for the primary level.
Age levels and grouping of pupils/students
Pupils aged between 12 and 15 attend lessons at lower secondary level in classes grouped by age. Teaching is in classes grouped by performance level following different models (streamed, cooperative or integrated model).
Instruction is usually given by specialist teachers. A classroom teacher accompanies pupils over the school year or over a number of school years. The classroom teacher is responsible for advising pupils on school matters, contact with parents or legal guardians, and cooperation with other teaching staff.
The cantons lay down minimum, maximum and/or guideline levels for class sizes [Klassengrössen]. The communes are responsible for dividing up classes depending on class sizes.
Organisation of the school year
Information on the school year may be found in the comments on the primary level.
Organisation of the school day and week
In their curricula, the cantons specify the weekly teaching periods per subject and class (Stundentafeln) and decide on lesson length (Unterrichtsdauer). As a result, the annual teaching time and the weekly lesson times vary by canton. The schools are responsible for their class timetables. There are generally around 31 to 35 lessons per week (Unterrichtsdauer). The cantons and communes are responsible for regulating childcare such as Tagesschulen [day-care centres], Mittagstisch [supervised midday meals], and homework tutoring (Andere Tagesstruktur-Angebote). The use of these services is voluntary and usually subject to a fee.