Compulsory school begins for children aged 6 and lasts for 9 years for all children living in Switzerland. They attend primary and later secondary school. Both are free and state-run; each local authority ensures that children may attend a school in their commune of residence.
All children are entitled to schooling, regardless of their residency status. As a rule, education authorities do not communicate information about children of undocumented migrants to migration authorities.
Assessment and Grades
Students’ performance is assessed regularly using grades, rankings and written reports. Grades are given on a scale of 1 to 6 (6 = very good; 5 = good; 4 = satisfactory; 3 and below = not satisfactory). In general, students receive an assessment report two times a year. As well as academic performance, students are assessed on their behaviour and attitude towards work and learning.
These assessment reports are key to students’ future: they determine if students can pass onto the next year or into the level of their choice. Schools have some liberty to set their own tests, but, following a decision by authorities (CIIP) in 2007, there will soon be common tests and assessments in the French-speaking cantons of Switzerland.
Students may be absent from school for specific reasons : illness, accident, family bereavement, doctor, dentist or other medical treatment. Parents must excuse and give a valid reason for any absence.
Parents should inform the school as soon as possible of any absence. In case of planned absences, parents should request permission from the school in writing in advance. In case of any long-term absence, the school will ask for a medical certificate.
If an absence is not excused, or if the reason is not valid, the school can sanction both the student and the parent.
In certain cantons, students may miss 5 half-days of school without providing a valid excuse. Schools should still be informed in advance. Contact the school to find out if this rule is valid in your area.
Swiss school holidays cover 12 or 13 weeks per year: dates vary between cantonal and communal authorities. In general long holidays fall during the summer, and 1 or 2 weeks taken in the winter, spring and autumn.
Parents should respect the dates of school holidays when planning family time off. Exceptions are only made in very rare circumstances for specific reasons.
Parent participation in school life
The law (Civil Code) in Switzerland states that parents must collaborate with schools. A spirit of partnership is generally encouraged in cantonal education laws. Recent legislation incites greater parental involvement in their child’s school life. In certain schools, parents are members of the board of directors, giving them an integral role in the school’s management.
In many communes, parents members of political parties may also sit on school commissions and so to participate in the strategic development of the school.
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