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Swiss teacher shortage hits new school year

Swiss teachers are warning that there is a shortage of special needs’ staff, and high levels of dissatisfaction are convincing more and more to leave the profession.

Although there are more teachers being trained and foreign staff being employed, the overall teacher shortage remains, said Beat W. Zemp, president of the Swiss Teachers’ Union.

“One of the reasons is the fact that we have inclusive schools in Switzerland, which means that all children are in one class so we need two teachers: one responsible for teaching the class and the other to look after the extra needs of the special needs’ children,” Zemp told swissinfo.ch. This could be supporting a dyslexic child during geography class.

For example, in canton Zurich not all special need support jobs could be filled with qualified specialists; some have been taken by teachers without the proper qualifications.

Another reason for the shortage is that teachers’ training, which requires a Masters diploma, takes a long time, added Zemp.

When does the school year start?

August, but exactly when depends on the canton.

This year the earliest to start back was Canton Aargau on August 8 on and a few cantons start at the end of August, for example Ticino. Most cantons started back either in the third or fourth week of the month.


Pressures within the profession are also causing problems. The Union of French-speaking teachers (SER), in its communiqué to mark the beginning of the school year, said that teachers were becoming “exhausted” by the “immeasurable increase” in administrative tasks.

One in six new teachers are leaving after a year’s work, the SER added. Almost half of staff are tempted to look for another job after five years. The union has therefore commissioned a study into the burden and health issues facing teachers in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Results are expected in August 2017.

Zemp said that the two teachers’ unions, which between them have around 70,000 members, look regularly into teaching conditions. A Swiss Teachers’ Union survey from 2014 found low salaries, less teaching time and not enough resources to carry out reforms were among the main causes of teacher dissatisfaction.

Zemp said pressure from parents was also a factor for people leaving teaching. “There are some parents now who look very closely at what is happening in the schools and they come with their lawyers when talking to the teachers, and they might cause a lot of problems,” he explained.

Le Matin Dimanche reported on August 21 that the number of appeals against school decisions was on the rise. Canton Fribourg has even banned appeals against certain decisions from the start of the new school year to lower the administrative burden.

Apart from the administrative load, family obligations – 75% of the profession is female – are another reason people are reducing their work time or leaving and retraining in another profession, he added.

Foreign staff

Foreign-trained teachers have been stepping in to counter the shortage; since 2011 the Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education has recognized 700 foreign qualifications a year – for both teachers and special needs’ specialists.

Zemp said that many of the foreign teachers come from neighbouring Germany and Austria.

Just what the effect of the anti-immigration initiative, narrowly voted in by the population in February 2014, which aims to put quotas on European Union workers, will have on the profession is as yet unclear, Zemp said.

Are teachers in your country under too much pressure? Have your say. 

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