State school system

Keystone / Peter Klaunzer

Every child in Switzerland must go to school up to and including grade nine (around the age of 15), after which students are funnelled into apprenticeships, specialised programmes or university tracks.

This content was published on February 19, 2019 - 11:05

The cantons are in charge of education matters, meaning there are currently 26 different school systems. Moves are underway to harmonise schooling in Switzerland.


The minimum enrolment age for kindergarten is currently set by the cantons and is usually between the age of four and five. Kindergarten lasts until a child begins primary school (age six by a certain cut-off date).

However, under a nationwide agreement, two years of kindergarten will become the norm across Switzerland and count as part of compulsory schooling. The minimum enrolment age (four years) and the cut-off date (July 31) will be harmonised in cantons which have adopted the agreement.

To register a child in school, contact educational authorities in your particular canton. You can find a list of them at the EducaExternal link education information website.

Primary school

Primary school generally begins at age six – this will also be harmonised among the cantons. It is compulsory and free. Cantons and municipalities are responsible for organising and funding primary schools.

As with kindergarten, you must register your child with the local educational authorities. You can find a list of them at the EducaExternal link website.

Lower secondary school

Secondary I is the stage after primary education. At the end of the primary level, a child must continue on to lower secondary schooling. This schooling is compulsory and free and marks the final stages of mandatory education. Children in these grades tend to be between 12 and 15. There is no nationwide exam at the end of ninth grade – the final year – so students receive no graduation certificate. 

Children are divided up based on performance, teacher recommendations and perhaps a test. Testing, behaviour and work attitudes are used to determine whether a child continues to the next grade level.

Lower secondary teaching provides basic, general education (such as maths, geography and two foreign languages). Students at this level are being groomed for vocational education and apprenticeships or for continuing education at an upper secondary school.

Here is more informationExternal link on what is taught at the lower secondary level.

Upper secondary education

At the age of around 15, pupils move to Secondary II level, which generally lasts three to four years. Upper secondary education is not mandatory and is divided into two groups: general education and vocational. About 20-30% of students go to a senior high school (commonly called “gymnasium” in German, “gymnase” or “lycée” in French and “liceo” in Italian). 

More than two-thirds are streamed into vocational training. This means the trainee spends most of his or her time working for an approved employer but attends a vocational school for one or two days a week, under Switzerland's famous "dual track" system. For information on the latter, please see the section on Apprenticeships.

Senior high schools are jointly regulated by cantonal and federal authorities but cantonal authorities often set admission requirements. In most cantons, an entrance exam is a critical component to determine whether a student can study at such a school.

At the end of their senior high school studies, students must do a type of thesis as well as pass a series of examinations that, if successfully completed, result in a matura - high school leaving certificate - that allows admission to cantonal universities and Federal Institutes of Technology. Certain tests may still apply for university admission if, for instance, a French-speaker wishes to study medicine in a German-speaking region.

For more on senior high schools, including how adults can earn a matura certificate, please see the EducaExternal link site.

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