In Switzerland, the cantons and communes are mainly responsible for childcare (programmes for children below 4 years of age). Childcare generally falls under the aegis of social and family policy, not education policy. In this context the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Social Affairs (Konferenz der kantonalen Sozialdirektorinnen und Sozialdirektoren, SODK) assumes a coordinating role for the cantons.
Child day-care facilities are subject to approval (Article 13 of the Swiss Federal Ordinance on the Placement of Children in Foster Care and for Adoption, FCAO - Verordnung über die Aufnahme von Pflegekindern). The cantons can lay down the specific terms of supervision in their own regulations. The cantons may also delegate supervision to their communes.
Day-care families have to be registered; in some cantons they must even be approved. The competent authority designates a suitable person to supervise day-care families (Article 12, FCAO). In most cantons these responsibilities are delegated to the communes.
Approaches and methods for quality assurance
The cantons or communes lay down regulations which the childcare institutions have to comply with. The requirements for child day-care facilities (Qualitätsvorgaben für Kindertagesstätten) include, for instance, group sizes, staff training, staff-to-child care ratios, the existence of an educational concept, or provisions on the institutions, safety, nutrition or hygiene. These requirements guarantee a minimum standard and regulate structural quality. The competent authority must inspect each child day-care facility as often as necessary, and not less than once every two years, to examine compliance with these requirements.
Fewer requirements are laid down for day-care families. Often only the staff-to-child care ratio (maximum number of children per day-care family) is regulated. Cantonal and communal regulations can however also stipulate that childminders have to complete a course and continuing professional development. These courses are generally provided by day-care family organisations. A suitable person designated by the competent authority visits and checks the day-care family at least once a year and isis also available to advise them.
The Swiss Childcare Association (kibesuisse) promotes the qualitative and quantitative expansion of childcare. It defines quality standards and recommendations, some of which go beyond the cantonal and communal regulations, and promotes their implementation by its members. Important guidelines concern, for instance, care in child day-care facilities (Kindertagesstätten) and in day-care families (Tagesfamilien). These guidelines also often serve as a basis when drafting or renewing cantonal and communal regulations.
In recent years, moreover various private initiatives have been launched which seek to further promote quality in child day-care facilities. An example is the QualiKita qualitiy label for child day-care facilities, an initiative launched in cooperation with the Jacobs Foundation in 2013. QualiKita deals with the process and orientation quality of child day-care facilities. This label set a national standard for the first time. In addition, the Orientierungsrahmen für frühkindliche Bildung, Betreuung und Erziehung (Orientation framework for early childhood education and care) has since 2012 served as a national reference document and a basis to further develop educational quality.
In 2011 the SODK adopted recommendations on childcare for the cantons (Empfehlungen). These aim to ensure that the cantons improve the quality, supply and framework conditions of childcare. In 2015 the SODK published a report on the status of the quality standards for child day-care facilities in the cantons (Bericht). An update of this report is currently under discussion.
Together with the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK), which undertakes key coordination tasks in the education sector for the cantons, the SODK also adopted a declaration on childcare in 2018 (Erklärung zur familienergänzenden Kinderbetreuung). In the next few years, the EDK and the SODK want to give priority to ensuring that the cantons and communes offer childcare that meets parents’ needs. In addition, they are working towards further developing the quality of childcare services. The objectives also include improving the statistical basis for childcare – to enable the cantons to adequately plan childcare – as well as continuing to cultivate intercantonal exchange.
Compulsory education (primary and lower secondary level)
The cantons are responsible for compulsory education. Where necessary, the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK) assumes a coordinating role for the cantons.
The cantons are responsible for the supervision of compulsory education. This is regulated by the cantonal school acts (Bildungsgesetze). There are school supervisory authorities at cantonal and communal level (canton: e.g. school inspectorate, school council, cantonal school supervisory authority; commune: e.g. school committee, school board). The cantonal school supervisory authorities supervise teachers in classroom teaching and check that the school administration is meeting its obligations vis-à-vis the school. They are also available to teachers and school administrations in an advisory capacity. The communal supervisory authorities deal more with the administrative and organisational supervision of schools. They can, however, depending on cantonal rules, also examine the work of the school administration and how well the school is fulfilling its tasks.
Around half of the cantons – above all in the German-speaking part of Switzerland – have created a legal basis for external school evaluation and in some cases set up specialist units for external school evaluation. These specialist units may be independent from or integrated into the cantonal school supervisory authorities. The structure and function of these specialist units (e.g. school development, accountability, steering) differ depending on the canton. In the German-speaking part of Switzerland ARGEV, the association for external evaluation of schools (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Externe Evaluation von Schulen), ensures language-region cooperation and coordination in the field of external school evaluation.
Approaches and methods for quality assurance
Through standardised performance measurements (e.g. Stellwerk, Klassencockpit, Checks, épreuves communes, épreuves cantonales or épreuves de référence) pupils obtain an overview of their school strengths and weaknesses (Standardisierte Leistungstests). Teachers can also assess the performance level of their class in relation to that of other classes. In most cantons such tests must be carried out at one or more specific points in a child’s school career.
In most cantons the school administration carries out teacher evaluation, in some cases together with the school supervisory authorities. Assessment procedures often include sitting in on lessons and/or lesson observations followed by interviews with the teachers being assessed. Feedback from parents, pupils and colleagues is rarely included in the process. The assessment and observation instruments vary depending on the canton. Areas such as classroom management, lesson design, commitment to the teaching team or use of professional development opportunities may be assessed. Only in a minority of cantons does the teacher’s evaluation have an impact on their salary.
In some cantons, schools are subject to external evaluation. The function of the evaluations (e.g. school development, accountability, steering), procedures and areas to be evaluated are prescribed by the cantonal authorities and vary by canton. As a rule, these external evaluations lead to recommendations directed primarily at the school administrations and secondly at the local school authorities. The schools have several weeks or months in which to address the results and to develop appropriate measures. The school administrations play a key organisational role in this process. The measures developed in the school are examined by the cantonal school authorities. The schools have from several months up to several years to implement the measures, depending on the particular case.
In most cantons, internal evaluation is part of the mandate of the school administrations and/or internal quality management is mandatory. The schools usually have a great deal of freedom in this process: they can develop their own models or use existing quality models or certifications.
In 2011, the EDK introduced national education objectives. These describe the basic competences which pupils are expected to have achieved at a given point in the language of instruction (first national language), foreign languages, mathematics and natural sciences. They represent a core element of school education and cover basic abilities, skills and knowledge. The basic competences have been incorporated into the new language-region curricula and teaching materials. The basic competences are minimum requirements. Practically all pupils are expected to achieve them by a given time.
In 2016 and 2017, a nationwide review was carried out for the first time on behalf of the EDK to determine whether the national educational objectives (Nationale Bildungsziele) were being achieved. These first national surveys were the start of the harmonisation of the Swiss education system: as a result, national education objectives and language-region curricula are now in place today. However, the pupils who participated in the 2016 and 2017 surveys (representative samples from all cantons, not a full survey) had not yet been taught according to the new language-region curricula.
Pupils were tested on the language of instruction (reading comprehension and spelling) and the first foreign language (reading and listening comprehension) at the end of the primary level, as well as on mathematics at the end of compulsory education. A number of scientific institutions from all language regions were involved in the preparation, implementation and evaluation of the survey.
On average, 88% of pupils in Switzerland achieve the basic competences in the school language (reading). For spelling, the figure is 80% to 89%, depending on the language region. In the first foreign language (German, French or English), around 90% of children achieve the basic competences in listening comprehension by the end of primary school. For reading comprehension in the first foreign language, the percentage is 65% (French), 72% (German) and 86% (English). In mathematics, on the other hand, the differences between the cantons are considerable (43% to 83%). Fewer pupils achieve the basic competences. The Swiss average is 62%.
The results are an indicator of the performance of the education system as a whole and of the degree of harmonisation between the cantons. They flow into the Swiss education monitoring process and the cantonal quality development processes and thus serve the further development of the education system. The results are published. They do not allow the establishment of school rankings or the assessment of individual teachers or pupils.
The EDK decides on further reviews of the national education objectives.
The individual cantons can also publish their own education reports or education monitoring, or use data from education statistics or standardised performance measurements (e.g. Stellwerk, Klassencockpit, Checks, épreuves communes, épreuves cantonales or épreuves de référence) which review the cantonal quality objectives and targets (Standardisierte Leistungstests). In addition, there are numerous cantonal or regional evaluations, e.g. on the effectiveness of school pilot projects or school reforms.
Switzerland is also involved in international comparative studies (OECD studies and country comparisons such as for instance PISA or the OECD country-specific reviews on vocational and professional education and training). PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) measures the basic skills of 15-year-old pupils in the fields of reading, mathematics and natural sciences as well as interdisciplinary competences. The results of PISA allow for a general benchmarking of Switzerland at international level.
Fifteen-year-olds in Switzerland again achieved a very good result in mathematics in PISA 2018. As in 2015, they were significantly above the OECD average in natural sciences and, as in 2015, they were at the OECD average in reading.
Upper secondary level
The Cantons and the Confederation share responsibility for upper secondary level. Where necessary, the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK) assumes a coordinating role for the cantons.
The Institut für Externe Schulevaluation auf der Sekundarstufe II (Institute of external school evaluation at upper secondary level, IFES), an EDK institution, examines the quality management of upper secondary level schools in many cantons (both VET schools and general education upper secondary schools).
Upper secondary level: general education
The cantons are responsible for the supervision of upper secondary level general education schools. There is a supervisory authority for each school (e.g. supervisory committee). The Confederation and the cantons are jointly responsible for the recognition of baccalaureates throughout Switzerland. The joint body is the Schweizerische Maturitätskommission SMK (Swiss Baccalaureate Examination Commission). The cantons alone are responsible for the recognition of the upper secondary specialised school leaving certificates. The competent body is the EDK’s committee for the recognition of the leaving qualifications of upper secondary specialised schools (Kommission für die Anerkennung der Abschlüsse von Fachmittelschulen, AK FMS).
Upper secondary level: vocational education and training (VET)
All vocational and professional education and training (VET) providers (here primarily training companies, VET schools and inter-company courses) have to ensure quality development. The Confederation itself promotes quality development, sets quality standards and monitors compliance with them (Bundesgesetz über die Berufsbildung, Federal Act on Vocational and Professional Education and Training, Article 8 VPETA).
The cantons supervise vocational education and training (VET). Supervision is generally carried out by the cantonal VET offices. In the supervision of VET schools the cantons can employ a committee as a supervisory body.
Each of the around 240 recognised VET programmes (occupations) also has a national committee that deals with professional development and quality. Members of these committees for professional development and quality are representatives of the three VET alliance partners, the Confederation, the cantons and the competent professional organisation. They regularly examine the content and quality of training and align them with the requirements of the world of work.
Approaches and methods for quality assurance
A central element of quality assurance at upper secondary level are final examinations (general education schools) and qualification procedures (VET): each person must pass the relevant final examination/the relevant qualification procedure before being awarded the associated leaving certificate/qualification. Success rates in the final examinations and qualification procedures vary considerably between language regions, cantons and occupations (in the case of VET programmes). The average success rate is around 95 per cent for general education schools and around 90 per cent for VET qualification procedures. Some of those who fail obtain the qualification in the resit a year later.
In most cantons the school administration carries out teacher evaluation, in some cases together with the school supervisory authorities. Assessment procedures often include sitting in on lessons and/or lesson observations followed by interviews with the teachers being assessed. Feedback from pupils and colleagues is rarley included in the process. The assessment and observation instruments vary depending on the canton. Areas such as classroom management, lesson design, commitment to the teaching team or use of professional development opportunities may be assessed. Only in a minority of cantons does the teacher’s evaluation have an impact on their salary.
Depending on the canton external school evaluation may be voluntary or mandatory. The Institut für Externe Schulevaluation auf der Sekundarstufe II (Institute of external school evaluation at upper secondary level, IFES), reviews the quality management of schools (general education upper secondary schools and VET schools). It assesses how the schools examine and develop their own teaching quality. As a rule, this review takes place every six years. The resulting evaluation report serves the school and the canton as a basis for external accountability and for the further development of school and teaching quality.
Depending on the canton the implementation of internal evaluations or internal school quality management may be voluntary or mandatory. Schools may develop their own models or make use of existing quality models or certifications (including ISO standards 9000 ff., eduQua, Q2E, FQS formative quality evaluation system). The teachers and the school administration identify and review areas of their school and classroom practices relevant to quality and take appropriate action if needed.
A compilation of the legal bases of the cantons regarding quality assurance and development at upper secondary level can be found here.
Upper secondary level: general education
The cantons are responsible for the supervision of upper secondary level general education schools. There is a supervisory authority for each school (e.g. supervisory committee). It provides advice and support to the school, assists the school administration and examines its activity and how well the school is fulfilling its tasks. Members of the supervisory authority attend lessons and may take part in final examinations in their capacity as experts.
Upper secondary level: vocational education and training (VET)
The cantons are responsible for the supervision of vocational education and training (VET). Supervision includes the quality of practical professional training (i.e. in the training company and in inter-company courses). The cantons must therefore approve each apprenticeship contract concluded between the training company and the apprentice. The cantonal inspectors of the various occupations and training advisors also control quality in the training companies by issuing or withdrawing training permits. The quality of school education (i.e. the teaching in the VET school) and examinations and other qualification procedures also come under the cantonal supervisory duty (Bundesgesetz über die Berufsbildung, Federal Act on Vocational and Professional Education and Training, Article 24 VPETA).
There also two quality assurance instruments available in the shape of the QualiCarte and QualüK, which primarily serve for self-evaluation (internal evaluation) and are used in many cantons. The QualiCarte offers training companies an instrument to assess the quality of in-company training; it is not tied to a particular occupation. Quality requirements are listed in the form of a checklist, and describe the main steps of in-company training. They are intended to help identify potential for optimisation. QualüK is a corresponding instrument for the assessment of inter-company courses. The use of QualiCarte and QualüK is voluntary.
At upper secondary level the framework curricula for the general education schools and the framework curricula and education plans for VET programmes are valuable quality assurance instruments (Lehrpläne).
The framework curriculum for the upper secondary specialised schools was updated in 2018 and implemented in 2019. The 1994 framework curriculum for baccalaureate schools is also to be amended. Work on this is already under way.
The education ordinance and education plan for each of the around 240 recognised VET programmes (occupations) are generally reviewed at least every five years by the corresponding committee for professional development and quality to ensure they are up-to-date and provide the required quality. If necessary, the committee applies for an amendment of the VET ordinances and the education plan.
The individual cantons can also review the cantonal quality objectives and targets in their own education reports or education monitoring, or using data from education statistics. In addition, there are numerous national, regional or cantonal evaluations: e.g. the introduction or reform of a course of education (such as EVAMAR) or the evaluation of the two-year VET programmes (Evaluation der zweijährigen beruflichen Grundbildung).
Upper secondary level: general education
The national recognition of the cantonal qualifications (baccalaureates and upper secondary specialised school leaving certificates) ensure qualitative minimum standards for the schools and their educational programmes. The Confederation and the cantons are jointly responsible for the national recognition of baccalaureates. The joint body is the Swiss Baccalaureate Examination Commission (Schweizerische Maturitätskommission SMK). The SMK checks requests by the cantons for the recognition of qualifications which they award at cantonal baccalaureate schools. It also regularly checks whether the conditions for recognition are still being met. The cantons alone are responsible for the recognition of the upper secondary specialised school leaving certificates. The competent body is the EDK’s committee for the recognition of the leaving qualifications of upper secondary specialised schools (Kommission für die Anerkennung der Abschlüsse von Fachmittelschulen, AK FMS).
Following a national evaluation of the baccalaureate in 2008 (EVAMAR II), the Confederation and the cantons set the goal of ensuring examination-free access to university for holders of the baccalaureate, a specific feature of the Swiss education system, even in the long term. As a result, in 2016 the EDK integrated basic subject-specific competences for the general ability to study in the first language and mathematics into the framework curriculum for baccalaureate schools, and adopted recommendations to ensure, in the long term, the admission to higher education with the baccalaureate without the need for any further examinations. In June 2019, together with swissuniversities (the Rectors’ Conference of the Swiss Universities), it agreed on a commitment to optimise the transition from the baccalaureate school to university.
A project to develop the baccalaureate is currently under way, launched jointly by the Confederation and the cantons. The aim is to update the 1994 framework curriculum for baccalaureate schools and the 1995 regulation on the recognition of baccalaureates (MAR)/baccalaureate recognition ordinance (MAV), which together form the basis for education at the baccalaureate schools.