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EXPLAINED: What are the rules for homeschooling children in Switzerland?

Homeschooling is not completely banned in Switzerland, but it is heavily regulated. Here’s what you need to know.

Children work through their studies at home
Homeschooling is not banned nationwide in Switzerland, but it is heavily regulated - while some cantons outlaw it completely. Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

The debate surrounding homeschooling in Switzerland – as with elsewhere in Europe – has been particularly fraught in recent years. 

Due to geographical problems accessing schools or the special needs of a child – as well as other practical and ideological differences –  parents have sometimes seen homeschooling as an alternative. 

One reason provided by foreign parents is a desire to teach their child in their own language. 

For parents from other parts of the world, particularly English-speaking countries, they are used to rules for home schooling children which are relatively relaxed. 

It can then be surprising when people arrive in Switzerland to find that home school can be either outright banned, or heavily restricted. 

This may be less of a practical problem in Switzerland in comparison to the United States or Australia, where distances are small, but for some parents it may be an ideological issue where they would prefer to homeschool their children rather than have this done at an educational institution. 

As with pretty much everything in Switzerland, if and how you can homeschool your kids will depend on the rules in place in your canton. 

Keep in mind that this guide refers to children who are being sent to school at home on a permanent basis, not children who are being taught at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

What are the rules at a federal level? 

Education for children is compulsory in Switzerland. 

However, the federal government leaves it up to the cantons to regulate the manner in which schooling is carried out – including homeschooling. 

A court case from 2019 sought to assert a right to homeschooling under the Swiss constitution, but this was dismissed. 

The Swiss Federal Court handed down a ruling which upheld the rights of cantons to restrict or even ban homeschooling. 

The court effectively said Swiss residents do not have a constitutional right to homeschool their children, allowing cantons the legislative power to decide upon whether or not it should be restricted. 

The case concerned a mother who wanted to homeschool her child in the city of Basel, where homeschooling is only permitted if the parent can show that school attendance is impossible. 

The Swiss constitution guarantees a right to privacy and family life, but the court said that this did not extend to homeschooling. 

What are the cantonal rules? 

Homeschooling is permitted to some degree in 16 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons. 

It is completely banned in Ticino, while in others such as St Gallen and Zurich although it is allowed, getting permission to homeschool is seen as “virtually impossible”.

While getting up-to-date figures is difficult due to data privacy issues, around 140 children are homeschooled in Zurich, Switzerland’s most populous canton. 

In Lucerne, Valais, Freibourg, Zug and Schwyz there is a requirement that parents who homeschool are accredited as teachers, while Bern and Aargau allow homeschooling teachers to operate without an accreditation.

In Basel City, parents must show that school attendance is impossible – which is particularly different in the tiny canton (at least with a geographical argument). 

In the above case, the mother’s argument that the authorities were not doing enough for her gifted son was unsuccessful in court. 

According to Swissinfo, in 2019 no children were being homeschooled in Basel. 

Homeschooling is more popular in the French-speaking part of the country. 

Of the 1,000 children who are homeschooled in Switzerland, approximately 600 of them are in the canton of Vaud. 

Vaud and neighbour Neuchâtel are considered to be one of the most permissive of homeschooling in Switzerland. In these cantons, you only need to alert the authorities if you plan on homeschooling your children – although there have been recent signs this will be further restricted in future. 

Why is homeschooling banned?

Although in many English-speaking cultures homeschooling is common place, it is frequently restricted or banned throughout Europe.

While it is constitutionally guaranteed in Italy and Ireland, other countries like Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden ban the practice. 

Common justifications for banning homeschooling include a need to ensure children receive the same moral and ideological foundation, a desire to ensure school attendance, a lack of social skills among homeschooled children and concerns about the standard of education.

Is this likely to change? 

There are some advocacy groups which have spent considerable resources and time pushing for more relaxed home schooling rules in Switzerland, some of which are run by internationals who want their children’s education to look a little more familiar to what they know. 

There are several federal and cantonal advocacy organisations for homeschooling which can be found online. 

However, given how slowly things happen in Switzerland – and the fact that the major advocates of homeschooling tend to be foreigners rather than Swiss – means that any widespread changes are unlikely anytime soon. 

Member comments

  1. I know several parents who have successfully homeschooled without any of the issues that Europeans governments use as reasons not to homeschool. Actually in every case of homeschooling I am familiar with, the children have excellent morals, are amazingly compassionate and very intelligent and successful adults now. Naturally my sample size may be too small to warrant as a scientific study. Nevertheless, I think the reasons for not permitting homeschooling are rooted more in making sure everyone is indoctrinated only in one consistent way of thinking (ie what the experts of our time think) rather than allowing children to naturally educate themselves with their intuitive curiosity which is quite amazing. This is why I love the Rudolf Steiner (Waldorf) school system as I think it combines both. A pity it can be expensive.

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

OPINION: If there’s one thing Switzerland gets right, it’s primary schools

When it comes to primary schools Switzerland has found a winning formula, writes Clare O'Dea although there are a few areas that could be improved upon.

OPINION: If there’s one thing Switzerland gets right, it’s primary schools

In a few weeks, my youngest child will finish primary school, marking the end of our 11-year connection with the local school, one of four German-language primary schools in Fribourg city. Looking back in a slightly rose-tinted way, this is my school report for the local public school system: mostly excellent with just a few points where it could do better. 

First of all, we as parents never faced any dilemma about where our children were going to attend school. No research was required, no application process, not a single anxious conversation. Because the children were registered in the commune, they were automatically granted places in the nearest school when they reached kindergarten age.

We knew that the allocated school would have the same standard of teaching and facilities as any other school in the canton, that the teachers would be paid the same and that we would get the same treatment as any other family. That is not a given in every country.

The fact that almost all children in Switzerland go to the local public school for their catchment area adds greatly to the sense of community here, and automatically connects the children of the locality to each other. 

The two kindergarten or école enfantine years offer a gentle introduction to school life. In our school, older children were nominated as ‘godparents’ to the newcomers. Education wise, the ethos in Swiss schools is not to jump into literacy as soon as possible but to spend those first two years working on pre-literacy skills. By the time reading and writing is taught, Swiss children quickly catch up with their peers who learned the alphabet as tiny tots. 

READ MORE: How much does it cost to raise a child in Switzerland?

The sheer variety and richness of the weekly school experience at no extra cost is impressive. For instance, Swiss schools have embraced the trend of outdoor teaching with younger children. In the early years my children spend one morning a week in the forest with their teachers in all weathers. Good for the soul and the senses. 

The other activities built into the curriculum are sports, music, swimming lessons, in our case once every three weeks, a monthly visit to the local library where all the children come home laden with books, and monthly ice-skating afternoons in winter. 

They also have specialised teachers for arts and crafts, including skills like woodwork, sewing, knitting, pottery, the works. The only possible downside to this is the mountains of objects brought home to keep forever.

In Fribourg, there is free transport to and from school and parents are discouraged from driving their children to primary school. Children from the age of five or six go to school independently on foot, by bicycle, by bus as if it were the most normal thing in the world, which it is to them.

Our school arranged a summer camp every three years so that all children got to experience it twice in their school career. They did the same thing with ski camps, with financial support and equipment offered to families on low incomes.

 

The school holds an annual autumn hike for the pupils and various events for the whole family to attend – a Christmas market, end-of-year party and other open days. The children always had something to look forward to. It takes a special commitment from the staff to make the school such an entertaining and positive place. 

VERDICT: How to save money when raising children in Switzerland

A wide range of free therapies are also offered in the school building, including speech therapy, help with dyslexia and dyscalculia and motor skills, for instance. Additional classes of German as a second language are also provided for those who needed it.

Of course the school is not paradise. Any large group of humans will have complications. Over the years, I knew of two families who moved their children out of the school to private schools because they were not happy and also a small number of children who were moved to special schools because the school couldn’t manage them. 

And inevitably, all good things come to an end. In general in Switzerland, the education system includes a streaming framework for children at the end of primary school to decide what type of class the children will join in secondary school. 

This selection system on Fribourg is based on continuous assessment, the teacher’s opinion and a special exam. It has its critics and causes stress to some families who feel there is a lot at stake. This is where reality intrudes on the idyll. How the transition goes depends a lot on the atmosphere created by the teacher and the parents’ attitude. 

Overall, our local primary school succeeded in creating a safe space for our children to grow, learn, gain independence and a sense of responsibility. As parents, we appreciated that our children spent their days in a loving supportive atmosphere. It’s what every child should have.

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