The Swiss international school system has been wrestled with by international families looking for the ideal niche for their children for decades. But such a nuanced system needs a knowledgeable escort – and here in the newest guidebook, we find one in Robin Hull. A guide to the Swiss educational system, published last year, offers an essential guide to the Swiss school system for parents of international families, particularly those from the UK and Ireland. The book will help those intending to settle in Switzerland long- term, planning the next steps for children already in the system or approaching it for the first time. This sets it apart from many similar guides, which instead focus on international schools in Switzerland and tend to cater to short term ex-pat families.
The book is divided into 14 sections, concluding with a couple of chapters of conclusions and analysis. Robin looks first at an overview of the system as a whole, from primary school through to further education – including information for students with special needs.
Next, Robin compares the education systems of Switzerland and the UK, illustrating the differences in school characteristics and curriculum and how students and their parents can navigate this. Alongside a more factual basis, he also tackles broader cultural contexts, such as the societal and linguistic nuances of the Swiss and the export of UK education and culture.
He then turns his attention to progression and goes on to outline a typical Swiss school education, covering vocational training, selection of the academic elite and the more liberal-arts “Matura”/“maturité”/“maturità”. Next, he explains how international students can get accepted into the elite Swiss schools and, once in, how they can go on to succeed.
Finally, he aims to cater to those struggling in the elite Swiss school system, explaining how and why this may happen and the alternative options available to families.
Robin also sheds valuable light on the later stages of the education system, exploring apprenticeships, the relative merits of the various Swiss examinations and qualifications, and a relatively bleak look at the Swiss university system. Once again, there is a direct comparison with UK higher education, in which he discusses the main differences between the two.
The book is comprehensive; there is a tremendous amount of material to cover, and Robin has a very detailed understanding of the system’s nuances. Moreover, he covers its full breadth and geographical variations, from the German-speaking parts of Switzerland and the Greater Zurich Area to the French-speaking cantons, Italian-speaking cantons and the Rumantsch areas of Graubünden. It’s a refreshing – if rather daunting – perspective that offers a much more comprehensive view of the diversity of the compulsory system.
Robin does acknowledge that complexity with a very clear breakdown of the Swiss educational structures and offers handy tables to make direct comparisons with the more familiar UK system. In particular, the initial overview chapter from primary school to university entrance and initial vocational training is an excellent introduction for families at the start of their planning.
The book also sets itself apart by catering to students with various needs and abilities – not just concentrating on the elite. For example, the book offers a chapter of helpful information for students with learning disabilities and special needs, advising on counselling in English and access to support.
Overall, the book offers a handy reference point for families at all stages of their educational journey. However, it is explicitly targeted at families from the UK, with a considerable amount of UK reference material. It, therefore, might not be suitable as a guide to families from elsewhere. In addition, there is some tendency to discuss the negative elements of each system, but this is balanced by discussion and helps to prepare families for the realities of educational life in Switzerland.
Where to buy
About Robin Hull
Born in Switzerland to an English father and an Italian-Swiss mother, Robin Hull has spent many years in education and has experience with both the British and Swiss education systems. He is an academic expert and practitioner who has published many essays and articles on education and English literature. He currently works as an examiner for the Swiss Business School, sits on several education boards, and is involved in various education-related associations both in Switzerland and abroad.
A guide to the Swiss educational system is his first book. Robin hopes to help international students and their families coming into the Swiss education system.