July 14, 2019
Primary school lasts 6 years, from the 3rd to 8th year of schooling, 6 to 12 years old. Classes are from Monday to Friday from 8:00 to 12:15, with one afternoon per week during the first two years, then two or three afternoons a week. There is no class on Saturday.
There are no more than 25 students per class, often fewer.
Signing up your child: an application form will automatically be sent to all families with children of age to attend the first class of primary school. If you send your child to a private school, you will need to send a written note to let the canton know.
Your child will attend the primary school in your area. Swiss value their local community and children are expected to walk to school alone (see the Kindergarten section). However, if your child attends day care before or after school, you can ask for him or her to attend a school near the daycare.
A day in the life of a primary school student
The day starts at 8:00. Children study German, math and environmental studies with their homeroom teacher. There is no strict separation between the classes, allowing for flexibility in time management in the class. Once a week, the class will be split in two for small group or more individual work. Handicrafts (textiles, wood work, etc.), music and religion (not obligatory) are taught by specialised teachers in well-resourced, specialised classrooms.
Children start French in the third grade and English in the fifth grade.
Many primary classes are team taught by two home-room teachers. Each week, on one morning, the two teachers will be in class together allowing for small group or individual work. A special needs teacher will attend the class one other half day to give specialised support (gifted students, learning disabilities, behaviour issues, motor skills, etc.).
Throughout the year, the children will take part in a number of special activities often related to the time of year or traditions: sports day, a visit to Santiglaus on December 6th in the woods, a year end concert, carnival, the school outing which always includes a hike and cooking sausages on an open fire. Visits to museums, the zoo, historical tours of Basel, theatre, etc. are often part of the school activities.
German support is provided by the school, free of charge, if needed. Depending on your location and the level of support needed, there are different options. A child may attend a normal class and receive extra German lessons, individual or in a group. A few schools have special DAZ (German as a second language) classes. The children then focus on acquiring German, in small groups, and share some classes such as art or sport with the normal classes. As soon as they are proficient enough, the children will move into a mainstream class (with continued support). A big effort is made to ensure that the children attend the primary school close to their home so that they can walk to school and make friends in the neighbourhood.
All primary schools have a special needs centre. As described above, special needs teachers take part in all the classes once a week to give specialised support. If deemed necessary, they will recommend an evaluation by the school psychology department, in consultation with the parents.
There are many options for children who need special support whether because they are gifted kids, have dyslexia, behavioural issues or any other special need. As described in the Everyday Life section, a special needs teacher attends the classroom once a week. If needed, children may also receive support outside their classroom, individually or in small groups.
For children requiring more support, there are specialised, small size classes in certain schools across Basel.
If you know your child needs special support, do let the school administration know as soon as possible and make an appointment with the school psychological service. There are many options available and it is important that your child gets the support he or she needs.
There are, however, no nurses in the schools.
The contact information for the School Psychological Service is:
Telefon: +41 61 267 69 00
Question: I was told the level in math is high in Switzerland, but my first grader is still just learning numbers up to 20 and doing basic additions. Her cousin in the States is already doing fractions and learning to make and read graphs.
Answer: Arithmetic and understanding numbers are essential to have a strong basis in mathematics further on. Yes, they do spend a lot of time on the basics, but once the foundations are there, they move on very quickly.
As for fractions, they do not play such an important role in everyday life in Switzerland as they do in the US, no half cups or quarters here. So putting these off until later means the learning process will be much easier, but they will get there.
Question: Why is there so little school? My children seem to always be home.
Answer: In the Swiss way of thinking, school is for learning, not looking after children. No 8 year old can learn from 8:00 to 16:00 every day, so when they have finished with learning they go home to play, learn instruments, do sports, etc. However, Basel has realized that families need after school care and there are lots of alternatives for the time they are not in school.
As you get used to the system, you may even come to enjoy it. More time for play dates, visiting museums or the local farm, cooking or painting together. It was when I moved to another country that I realized how much I missed the free time with the kids.
Learning Objectives and Methods
Primary school gives the foundations for life-long learning, especially reading, writing and arithmetic. Just as important is the child’s relation to the natural and human made environments, as well as social competencies.
There are no independent subjects in primary school. Children will study language arts, reading, mathematics, environmental studies, the region and country, singing and music, drawing, textile and woodwork and sports. Leisure and play also play an important role. French starts in the 3rd grade, English in the 5th grade.
Children have homework, but not over bank holidays or during the holidays.
For students who regularly find it difficult to meet the learning objectives, or the opposite, for those who regularly far exceed the learning objectives, individual learning objectives may be set and reviewed each year.
Tests, grades and school reports
At the beginning of the 3rd and 6th grade, a standardized test will be given to all students. It will be graded externally using points, no grade will be given. The purpose of these tests is for the teacher to be better able to support the students individually and to adapt the class programme.
Learning progress reports are handed out and progress talks are held at the end of the first semester (between January and March). School reports will be handed out at the end of the school year. From the 5th grade, grades will be introduced.
During the primary school years, students will normally be promoted to the next class. In special circumstances, students may repeat or skip a class.
Lunch and After School
All families needing after school programmes should find a suitable solution in Basel. The number of schools and private institutions offering such programs is increasing rapidly, so do check the Basel education website, or go and discuss your needs with the school or education department.
There are two types of after school programs: programs within the school (rapidly increasing) and private institutions that have a contract with the education department of Basel. The after-school program is divided into 4 modules: early morning (7:00 to 8:00, including a healthy breakfast), lunch (12:00 to 14:00) and two afternoon modules (14:00 to 16:00 and 16:00 to 18:00), with homework support offered at specific times.
Attendance is flexible, but children must be signed up for a minimum of four modules. The cost depends on parents’ income. They can be found under: www.ed-bs.ch, in the right column ‘Kosten von Tagesstrukturen’
During the holidays, there is a wide offer of day camps across Basel.
Please contact Frau N. Macherel (Tel.: 061 267 90 04) for more information.
After the 6th year of primary school, students will move onto secondary school, Sekundarschule. There are three levels in middle school (A, E and P levels). A stands for ‘Allgemein Anforderung’, or standard level; E-level is the enhanced level, ‘Erweiterte Anforderung’, and P-level is the most advanced level, ‘Hohe Anforderung’. P used to stand for Pro-gymnasium, that is where the P comes from. All levels are taught in the same school. Depending on the school, the students may be in the same groups, depending on the subjects.
The level your child attends depends on his or her grades for both semesters in the last year of primary school. All subjects are taken into account but are weighted differently. German, mathematics and the combined subject geography/nature/history count triple, English and French each count 1.5 times, and music, art and sport count once.
The table below is a reproduction in English of the official table available here. The rules do change, so please check the latest official version online.
|German||grade x 3 =||…|
|Mathematics||grade x 3 =||…|
|Geography, nature and history||grade x 3 =||…|
|English||grade x 1.5 =||…|
|French||grade x 1.5 =||…|
|Music||grade x 1 =||…|
|Art||grade x 1 =||…|
|Sports||grade x 1 =||…|
If the student’s total is
- greater or equal to 78.75, then the student can attend the P-path
- between 67.5 and 78.5, the student will attend the E-path
- under 67.5, students attend the A-path
To be accepted in the E or P path, students need to show enough points in both the first and second semester. If a student’s total number of points varies between the two semesters, s/he will be accepted into the lower of the two paths. The Education Department has a table explaining the different possibilities (here). If a students and family do not agree with the school’s decision on which level the child should attend, the child can decide to take a placement test (German and Mathematics).