Upper secondary level general education training courses include programmes at the baccalaureate schools and at upper secondary specialised schools (upper secondary specialised school programme and specialised baccalaureate programme). They do not lead directly to professional qualifications, but prepare for tertiary-level education programmes; The cantons are responsible for the baccalaureate schools and upper secondary specialised schools. They undertake supervision and funding. The cantons (in the main) or private operators run the schools.
The Swiss Conference of Upper Secondary School Offices (Schweizerische Mittelschulämterkonferenz [SMAK]) ensures an exchange of specialist information about baccalaureate schools and upper secondary specialised schools among the cantons. The heads of the cantonal upper secondary school offices are represented in the SMAK, which is a specialist conference within the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK) and advises it on issues of upper secondary level general education schools.
The Confederation and the cantons are jointly responsible for the national recognition of baccalaureates. The joint recognition authority is the Swiss baccalaureate examination commission (Schweizerische Maturitätskommission [SMK]). The SMK checks, inter alia, requests by the cantons for the recognition of qualifications which they award at cantonal or cantonally recognised baccalaureate schools. The legal basis is the Ordinance of the Confederation and the identical EDK regulation on the recognition of baccalaureates (MAV/MAR). The cantons regulate the organisation of the baccalaureate schools and of baccalaureate school programmes in cantonal education acts.
The baccalaureate certifies the general ability to study and thus, in principal, access to all areas of study. It is a common education goal of the Confederation and the cantons to ensure, even in the long term, admission to university without the need for any further examinations. Work has therefore started on developing the baccalaureate schools (Weiterentwicklung der gymnasialen Maturität). In 2016, for instance, the EDK adopted basic subject-specific competences for the general ability to study in the first language and mathematics, and issued recommendations to ensure, in the long term, the admission to higher education with the baccalaureate, without the need for any further examinations. The basic subject-specific study competences have been integrated into the framework curriculum. In 2019, the EDK and the Rectors’ Conference of the Swiss Universities agreed on a commitment to optimise the transition from baccalaureate schools to universities.
The Confederation and the cantons have also commissioned a working group to clarify the need to update the 1994 framework curriculum for baccalaureate schools and the 1995 baccalaureate recognition regulation (MAR)/baccalaureate recognition ordinance (MAV).
Upper secondary specialised schools
After the three-year training programme at an upper secondary specialised school (concluding with an upper secondary specialised school certificate), a specialised baccalaureate may be obtained in an additional training year. The recognition of upper secondary specialised schools and of the leaving certificates they issue is based on the Regulation on the Recognition of Certificates from Upper Secondary Specialised Schools and on various guidelines. In 2018 the Regulation was completely revised and the framework curriculum updated. Both documents were enacted in 2019.
The cantons are responsible for regulating the organisation of upper secondary specialised schools in cantonal education acts.
Types of Institution
More than one quarter of young people in a given school year complete a general education school at upper secondary level. Most of them opt for baccalaureate education (baccalaureate school: around 71,000 pupils; upper secondary specialised school and specialised baccalaureate: around 19,500 pupils (FSO 2019).
Baccalaureate schools prepare pupils for direct entry into a higher education institution, namely for a course of study at a university or university of teacher education. Entry into universities of applied sciences is dependent on additional requirements, namely one year’s professional experience, generally in a profession related to the field of study. Only baccalaureate schools, which are recognised by the Confederation and the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK) may award nationally recognised cantonal baccalaureates.
The baccalaureate rate – the proportion of individuals who have acquired a baccalaureate by the age of 25, as a percentage of the reference population of the same age – was around 21% in 2017. The baccalaureate rate varies by canton (lowest cantonal rate: just under 13%, highest: just under 34%). More women (25.7%) than men (17.6%) acquire a baccalaureate (FSO 2019).
Under the Ordinance of the Confederation and the corresponding EDK regulation on the recognition of baccalaureates (MAV/MAR) education from primary school to baccalaureate lasts a total of at least 12 school years. At least the final four years of this period are to be structured in a course specifically designed as preparation for the baccalaureate.
- In most cantons, students enrol in a four-year baccalaureate programme from the last year of lower secondary education onwards.
- There is also the possibility of following a three-year baccalaureate programme (enrolment after lower secondary level). In this case, however, preparatory baccalaureate training must be completed in the last year of the lower secondary level.
- Various cantons in the German-speaking part of Switzerland also have, alongside baccalaureate schools with four-year programmes (short-cycle baccalaureate schools), six-year long-cycle baccalaureate schools in which pupils enrol directly after primary school in grade 7.
People who wish to catch up on the baccalaureate at a later stage have various options.
Upper secondary specialised schools
Upper secondary specialised schools must be recognised by the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK). The recognition is based on the Regulation on the Recognition of Certificates from Upper Secondary Specialised Schools and on various guidelines.
Upper secondary specialised schools offer preparation for vocational and professional education and training at tertiary level in specific occupational fields. They offer an alternative to the Federal Vocational Baccalaureate and to the baccalaureate by providing entirely school-based preparation for tertiary level professional education oriented towards a particular occupational field.
Upper secondary specialised school programme
The three-year upper secondary specialised school programme concludes with a nationally recognised upper secondary specialised school certificate and allows entry into specified courses at colleges of higher education.
Specialised baccalaureate programme
After the upper secondary specialised school programme an additional one-year programme, the specialised baccalaureate programme, may be completed. Students completing this additional one-year programme are awarded a nationally recognised specialised baccalaureate. This enables access to specific courses at universities of applied sciences and universities of teacher education. Since 2017 holders of a specialised baccalaureate can, after passing a supplementary examination (“Passerelle” aptitude test), also study at a university. Until now, this possibility existed only for holders of a Federal Vocational Baccalaureate.
Adults can catch up the upper secondary specialised school programme or the specialised baccalaureate programme.
In all 26 cantons there is at least one baccalaureate school (gymnasiale Maturitätsschule), in 22 cantons at least one upper secondary specialised school (FMS). The specialised baccalaureate programme (Verzeichnis der EDK-anerkannten Fachmaturitätszeugnisse) cannot be followed in every canton. The schools are mainly run by the cantons; there are also some private providers of baccalaureate schools und upper secondary specialised schools.
Admission Requirements and Choice of School
The cantons are responsible for regulating the admission requirements (Aufnahmebedingungen) for baccalaureate schools and upper secondary specialised schools. The decision is based on pupils’ performance at the end of compulsory education, and partly on admission examinations, admission interviews and/or recommendations from the school which the pupil is leaving.
In principle students are free to choose the school. The range of subjects offered by a baccalaureate school or the occupational fields proposed by an upper secondary specialised school influence the pupil’s choice of a particular school. The cantons usually allow pupils to attend a school outside their canton if they do not offer the desired specialisation.
Age Levels and Grouping of Pupils
Teaching is carried out in classes grouped by age and by specialist teachers. A classroom teacher accompanies pupils and is responsible for advising them and their parents or legal guardians and specialist teachers on school matters. The cantons are responsible for fixing class sizes (Klassengrössen). The cantons can set minimum pupil numbers for the provision of certain subjects.
Pupils usually begin their education in the school year in which they turn 15, and end it in the school year in which they turn 18 (specialised baccalaureate: 19).
Organisation of the School Year
The cantons are responsible for the organisation of the school year and for deciding holiday dates. The start date and duration of the school year (Dauer des Schuljahres) comply with those of compulsory education.
Organisation of the School Day and Week
The cantons specify the weekly teaching periods (Wochenstundenzahlen) – in some cases only framework guidelines – per subject and class and decide on lesson length (Unterrichtsdauer). The schools are responsible for structuring their class timetables. Teaching takes place on five days per week.