For some parents, equipping their child with another language is an important part of their life in Switzerland. For others, it's a pragmatic decision, as International School fees are beyond their reach. With firms becoming less relaxed about meeting school fees, more parents are looking into Swiss education options. Living Switzerland offer seminars and consultations for parents looking to explore their education choices here in Zug.
Children start Kindergarten around the age of 4. You may have seen impossibly-young-looking children making their way to school, fluorescent tabards around their necks. Self-reliance is a large part of the Swiss system (backed up, thankfully, by lots of zebra crossings). Unlike in the UK, your child will not be learning to read and write at all until rising 7. This is a consideration if you expect your stay in Switzerland to be brief. On the other hand, your child will be learning Swiss German, which is enough to be going on with...
It is compulsory for a child to attend Kindergarten in Zug from around the age of 5. If your child is 5 at the end of February, they must be in Kindergarten from August of that year. If your child is 5 by the end of May, and you only intend for them to do one Kindergarten year, they must start from that August as well.
Two years of Kindergarten (starting the year your child will turn 4) is recommended for non-German speakers. If your child is 3, speak to your local Gemeinde, as some have been known to take children with birthdays as late as May, dependent on spaces.
Compulsory hours vary by canton. In Zug, children must have at least four mornings of lessons lasting a minimum of three hours. Even in the first year of kindergarten - if you're in, you do all the hours - you cannot decide to just do a couple of mornings - you must do them all. If you are living in a different canton, compulsory hours may be different.
The first year in Primary is the year a child turns from 6 to 7, and runs through to Year 6 (rising 12 years of age). Parents in the UK, used to full time school starting from ages 4-5 and with 5 full school days may be in for a bit of a culture shock!
There is no school on Wednesday afternoons, and the timetable can include other afternoons off as well. Lunch break is nearly two hours long, and many children go home for this - although there is the option for a lunch club (Mittagstische). Class teachers often stay with pupils for several school years (a bonus if s/he has a good relationship with your child, although obviously the reverse could apply!)
It's been suggested the academic gap between the early-reading English schools and later-starting Swiss schools tends to close by the ages of 8-10, according to Margaret Oertig, author of Going Local: Your Guide to Swiss Schools.
This is arguably one of the trickiest parts of the system for non-Swiss parents. There are four options:
Gymnasium lower school
The Gymnasium lower school starts a pupil off on the road to the Matura course. This is aimed at able students who are above average in all subject areas.
The Sekundarschule prepares children for middle and vocational schools. The canton website (choose a web browser which translates) says this option requires abstract and flexible thinking.
The Realschule continues to deepen the work done in Primary school and aims at a basic level of requirement. Late bloomers do have the chance to change over to the Secundarschule, but grades must be very good.
The Werkschule is aimed at pupils with additional educational needs. Its aim is to develop self-confidence and in some cases work towards a vocational apprenticeship.
UK parents used to discussion about the merits of the 11-plus exam and Grammar schools might be worried by these distinctions. They are not done by exam, but after consultation with your child's teacher. However there remains a degree of flexibility, allowing late-bloomers to switch streams if teachers think they would be better off in a more challenging environment.