Education - Overview


Common features of the French and Swiss education systems

State schools in France and Switzerland are free. Children are normally admitted to the school in their catchment area, which is often the school closest to where they live.  

If you wish to send your child to a school other than the one corresponding to your commune or country of residence, you must apply for a "dérogation" (special dispensation).

Particular features of the two systems

Information by location:

In France, the education system is organised nationally, under the responsibility of the Ministry of National Education.
The communes run nursery and primary schools, whilst the collèges (lower secondary schools) are run by the General Councils of the Departments and the lycées (upper secondary schools) by the Regional Councils.
Schooling is compulsory for the ten years between the ages of 6 and 16.
The school year lasts 36 weeks and runs from the beginning of September to the end of June or early July. Children can attend school from the age of 3 or even 2, depending on the availability of places.

The school system consists of the following levels:

  • primary or elementary level (nursery and primary school)
  • secondary level: "first cycle"  or lower secondary (collège) and "second cycle" or upper secondary (lycée)
  • post-secondary level (universities, engineering and commercial schools, higher technical schools, etc.)

Children who do not have French as their mother tongue are admitted within the normal school structure.
However, in the framework of special measures for children who have recently arrived in France, classes designed to bring them up to scratch in French are provided at primary level.
At secondary level, the
Lycée / Collège International in Ferney-Voltaire provides classes in French as a foreign language and special maths lessons.
The international sections at the
Lycée / Collège International in Ferney-Voltaire are designed to facilitate the integration of foreign pupils into the French education system.

International schools

The Lycée / Collège International in Ferney-Voltaire, which is a free state school, offers pupils the option of following other national curriculum courses, in which case a financial contribution is required.

In Switzerland, owing to its federal system, the distribution of responsibilities for education and training between the different Federal, Cantonal and Communal authorities is relatively complex and depends on the level of education.  Schooling is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 15 and comprises of 9 school years. The school year lasts 38 weeks and runs from the end of August to the end of June.  In some cantons it is also compulsory to attend kindergarten for one or two years (from 4 to 6 years). In the cantons of Geneva and Vaud, schooling is compulsory between the ages of 4 and 15 including 11 school years.

The education system consists of several levels:

  • primary ("école primaire")
  • lower and upper secondary ("cycle d'orientation", secondary school)
  • post-secondary (schools of higher education ("hautes écoles"), universities, Federal polytechnic schools, higher technical schools, etc.)

Classes are taught in the language of the region concerned, i.e. French, German or Italian.
During the period of compulsory schooling, all pupils are taught at least 2 further languages.
In the French-speaking part of Switzerland, induction classes are available for children who do not have French as their mother tongue.

International schools

The Canton of Geneva has many private schools, including international schools which prepare pupils for national and international exams.
In Switzerland, international schools are private and fee-paying.

Updated on: 26/06/2019