The education system in Zurich has a good reputation, and expats can rest assured that their children will experience a high standard of teaching during their time abroad.
There's a good range of schools in Zurich. State-funded schools are free of charge but usually teach in Swiss German, while some private and international schools teach in English but can be expensive. Regardless of the school expat children attend, they're guaranteed to get a quality education.
Public schools in Zurich
As is the case throughout Switzerland, public schools in Zurich offer free education to students between the ages of four and 15.
The language of instruction at public schools in Zurich is German, but there are also lessons in French and English. As such, these are only really a viable option for expat children who speak fluent German or those young enough to pick up the language. The standard of teaching at public schools in Zurich is, however, excellent and therefore worth considering for those who plan on settling down in Switzerland permanently.
It's also worth remembering that public schools in Zurich usually finish for the day in the early afternoon. So those who do go for this option should bear in mind the logistics of organising childcare if they are at work.
Private schools in Zurich
Private schools in Zurich, also sometimes referred to as bilingual schools, offer teaching in German and French or English. The standard of teaching at these schools is top class and there are plenty of opportunities for students to take part in various extra-curricular activities such as art, drama, music and sport.
While many of these schools follow the Swiss curriculum, there is a large number that offers students the option of studying for the International Baccalaureate (IB) or Cambridge IGCSE.
Private schools are an option worth considering if expat children speak two languages. The major advantage of private schools in Zurich is that they allow foreign students to improve their German and continue studying their home language, while also providing them with the opportunity to interact with local Swiss children and integrate into the local culture.
The fees charged vary between schools. Parents also need to budget for the cost of uniforms, stationery, school excursions and extra-curricular activities.
International schools in Zurich
International schools often present the best option for expat children in Zurich. While fees are high and space is limited, these schools offer students the chance to continue studying the curriculum of their home country without having to deal with the language barrier. The student population also tends to be made up mostly of expat children, who may find it easier to relate to one another.
Standards at international schools in Zurich are excellent, and students will have the chance to explore many extra-curricular pursuits as well. Fees are expensive, so it is wise to for expat parents to negotiate an allowance to cover school fees in their employment contract.
Expats hoping to send their children to one of the international schools in Zurich should be aware that space is limited and there's a lot of competition for places. They should apply as early as possible, and since many schools have waiting lists, it's best to apply to several in case their first choice is unavailable. Requirements differ between schools, so parents should refer to the individual school websites.
Special needs education in Zurich
Pupils with special educational needs will, as well as possible and within the regular classroom, have their needs met in Zurich. Mainstream schools in Zurich recognise that all children are different, whether it is their abilities, learning style, rate of development, preferences or beliefs. Swiss schools aim to support those children with special educational needs so that all children are able to integrate into and participate in society.
The Heilpädagogische Schule (HPS) is a school for differently abled children and adolescents with severe learning difficulties or psychological disabilities who cannot be in a mainstream classroom. The Schule für Körper- und Mehrfachbehinderte (SKB) is a school for pupils with physical and multiple disabilities, while the Schule für Sehbehinderte (SfS) is a school for pupils who are visually impaired or blind.
Tutoring in Zurich
Tutoring is a valuable tool to assist students, particularly expat children, in adapting to their new environment, language and curriculum. Even for children in international schools, tutoring is useful for gaining confidence, or for assistance in particular subjects such as maths, science or German. Good companies in Zurich include Tutorsplus and Tutor24.
►For more detailed info, see Education and Schools in Switzerland
"My children attend local Swiss schools, with which I’m quite satisfied. I like that my son is immersed in Swiss culture, has friends in the neighbourhood, and is learning German (both Swiss and High German!). Some expats complain that Swiss schools start academics too late (particularly reading and math) and focus too much on play-based learning. I don’t agree and I have been pleased with my son’s progress so far (he just started 2nd grade)."
For more about American expat Tanya's experiences in Zurich, read our interview with her.
Are you an expat living in Zurich?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Zurich. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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