EXPLAINED: What every parent needs to know about the Swiss school system

If you’re an academic professional with a family in Switzerland, the range of options in education can seem bewildering.

EXPLAINED: What every parent needs to know about the Swiss school system
Pic: Getty/mediaphotos

Together with Robin Hull of Hull’s School, Zürich, we discuss the strengths and weaknesses of some of the curricula on offer to international parents. We also introduce his new book, that acts as a useful ‘road map’ to education in Switzerland.

As parents, we all want the best for our children, and central to their success is the right choice of school. In the previous two decades, an increasing number of parents have moved to Switzerland with their children. In response, many educational institutions have emerged to educate these students.

We also want to give our children access to the widest range of opportunities in regards to further education. Unfortunately, this is where Switzerland has not managed to catch up in terms of range and flexibility. Therefore, it’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the different curricula.

Purchase ‘A guide to the Swiss educational system’ today, and take control of your children’s future academic success

The Maturitätszeugnis is perhaps the broadest university entrance examination in Europe with mandatory advanced Algebra, three languages, all sciences, history, geography, music art and physical education. However, there is very little room for specialisation in the final two years, given the number of subjects that students have to take until the very end. While it may be an excellent route to studying in Switzerland, it may be less ideal for the rest of Europe and particularly the leading Russell Group universities of the UK.

The International Baccalaureate is one of the most high profile options for ‘international’ high school students. It has a widely recognized curriculum, with the mandatory Theory of Knowledge subject seen as an excellent preparation for tertiary students. The ‘IB’ is well recognized by European and English universities, but is seen as tougher on youngsters who are not natural ‘all-rounders’, especially when it comes to mathematical knowledge. Like the Maturitätszeugnis, it is considered to have impressive breadth, but less flexibility and depth than A-levels.

The IGCSE / A-levels may not have the local profile of the Maturitätszeugnis or the International Baccalaureate. However, it is a very strong tool for entry into UK Russell Group universities, who expect a high level of depth and specialisation, and is consistently accepted throughout Switzerland, Europe and the USA. Together with the IB, it is widely understood to be the world’s best established university entrance qualification.

Bewildered by the range of curricula on offer in Switzerland? Purchase ‘A guide to the Swiss educational system’ today to understand what’s on offer

While this is only the broadest of overviews, a new book, ‘A guide to the Swiss educational system’ by Robin Hull, is the first comprehensive, detailed guide to the school curricula available within Switzerland. It is ideal for those parents and students who want to understand where their schooling choices will take them.

Robin Hull is the Principal of Hull’s School in Zurich, Switzerland’s first English-language sixth form college offering IGCSE A-Levels. Under the guidance and experience of Hull, the school has become a centre of excellence in education, sending students to universities all over the world.

If you have children approaching their secondary schooling, it’s important that you take the time to understand how the choices you and your children make will dictate their academic future. ‘A guide to the Swiss educational system’ by Robin Hull is a powerful tool of intervention, to ensure that your children are placed on the right track for their future studies.

Purchase ‘A guide to the Swiss educational system’ today, and ensure that your child is primed for academic success

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5 things foreigners need to know before getting married in Switzerland

Thinking of tying the knot in Switzerland? From paperwork and taxes to venues and Swiss traditions, here are some things you should know about.

5 things foreigners need to know before getting married in Switzerland
  • Get legally married first 

In Switzerland the state only recognises civil weddings as legally binding.  That means that the wedding must be performed by a local civil authority, traditionally at the registry office.  These are intimate affairs with a small number of guests, lasting around 10-30 minutes. It’ll cost you around 300-400 CHF. 

Couples who want to have a religious ceremony or another symbolic ceremony are still required to have a civil ceremony first. You usually present the civil marriage certificate as proof to the priest or celebrant before your ‘official’ wedding ceremony begins. 

  • Get in early with the paperwork

Assuming you meet the legal conditions required to get married (for instance – being at least 18-years-old) there are several steps, in this order, that you need to take:

  • Notify the civil register office (the local Gemeinde or Commune) of either partner of your intention to marry.  The office will then send you a marriage form to fill out
  • As a foreigner, you will also be asked to provide certain documents, which can vary slightly depending on your residential status in Switzerland and the country you’re from. Generally, you’re required to provide proof of:
  • Identity (your passport, original birth certificate)
  • Residential status (residency permit and/or notarised proof of address)
  • Marriage status (an affidavit or similar documentation from your home country stating you are free to marry) 

Keep in mind that these documents will have to be translated into one of Switzerland’s official languages. Here’s a look at what the process looks like:

  • You and your partner will attend a short interview at the registry office where you declare that you meet the obligations to be married
  • Your marriage application can take up to five weeks to be processed. After processing, you will receive a marriage license (around 200 CHF) which is valid for three months
  • If your civil wedding location is NOT in the same area as the civil authority which issued the marriage license, you’ll have to send the license to the civil authority in the area where you’re getting married

READ ALSO: Revealed: The Swiss canton with the best tax rates for families

  • Incredible locations for a small price 

It’s worth mentioning that these days, most civil authorities offer a list of external locations (beyond the registry office) where couples can get legally civilly married.

For instance, Canton Bern offers couples stunning locations like the Harder Kulm above Interlaken, Schloss Spiez, Schloss Schadau in Thun and the Grandhotel Giessbach on the Brienzersee. You could also get married somewhere a little quirkier: at the Zoo in Zurich, a boat in Canton Vaud or even a circus in Canton Glarus. 

Spiez Castle in Bern.

Spiez Castle in Bern. Photo by Chris Kaeppeli on Unsplash

Keep in mind that you do have to reserve in advance for external locations, with reservations generally opening about 12 months before the wedding. You may also have to be more flexible with your wedding date, as usually only one or two days per month are available for civil weddings-and it could be only on Thursdays (for example). 

Summer is the most popular season for weddings in Switzerland, so those months book out fast. That being said, this is an amazing budget option for couples who can’t afford to splurge on a luxurious local; the price can be as little as 100 or 200 CHF more than the wedding at the civil office. 

  • Think about your taxes

Depending on your income, the tax system for married couples in Switzerland could either work for you or against you.  

Married couples must file their taxes together. Because those in a higher income bracket pay more tax, couples who both earn a lot can be taxed significantly more than if they paid their taxes separately. 

This so-called ‘Marriage tax penalty’, lead some to believe that it makes more financial sense not to get married.

On the other hand, if one spouse earns a low income or no income, then this system may work in the couple’s favour, pushing them into a lower tax bracket. 

This is of course, dependent on other factors such as the canton and municipality you live in. 

READ ALSO: Does marriage make financial sense in Switzerland?

  • Modern Swiss traditions

One playful Swiss wedding tradition to be aware of is, that it is not uncommon for the bride and groom’s close friends and family to ‘decorate’ their apartment, garden or car for the wedding night.  The decorations are designed to be funny and annoying but harmless.

A few years ago, Swiss Radio Station FM1 Today compiled a list of some of their listeners wedding prank experiences. These included changing the doorbell ringer to the tune of popular Swiss love song ‘Ewigi Liebi’, filling the bathtub with toilet rolls or with a goldfish and filling the bedroom with balloons. 

Another common tradition is for family and friends to organise sketches, skits or songs as part of the wedding party celebrations. I got married in Switzerland last August.  My husband’s Swiss cousins changed the lyrics of some Swiss and German songs to perform our love story, while at the same time throwing chocolate at the crowd.  

As in any country around the world, each Swiss family also often has their own unique wedding traditions. For us, that meant receiving a Swiss cow bell engraved with our names and the wedding date on it.  During the wedding festivities, guests could ring the bell in exchange for a coin donation. Anytime we heard the bell, no matter what else was happening, we had to kiss.