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Old 11.10.2021, 00:16
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international or local school

Hello community! We plan to move to Zurich with our daughters aged 8 and 4. They were born in the UK and have been educated in state schools (academy).
At a stretch we might be able to afford to send both of them to international schools but it would be great if you could share your experiences, 1) is it worth the extra money put in (to send them into international schools), 2) how does international schools compare to the local ones, 3) if we'd like to set them up for success academically, what would be our best choice?
On the other hand, we'd also like them (and us) to integrate into local community so public school might be a better option anyway.
Any thoughts are appreciated!
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Old 11.10.2021, 00:20
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Re: international or local school

How long do you plan on staying in Switzerland?
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Old 11.10.2021, 00:37
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Re: international or local school

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How long do you plan on staying in Switzerland?
at least 2 years (until 11plus for daughter one), we may stay here until her GCSE.
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Old 11.10.2021, 00:48
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Re: international or local school

I'd put her in an international school if the stay here is only temporary.
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Old 11.10.2021, 02:06
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Re: international or local school

Hi Tongc,

Welcome to Switzerland! I would recommend for starters that you start your kids out in International School, if you have a choice to. There are plenty of International Schools in Zurich to choose from (Zurich International, Inter-Community School Zurich, etc.) but I can understand from a financial perspective this could be a bit of a stretch.

As I see you only plan on staying for two years (but to be honest, that's what we all say, but then we end up still being here 10 years later, this country grows on you), it wouldn't really be worth it to send your kids to a public school to "integrate" with Swiss culture. Swiss culture takes a while to get used to and it takes a while to get to know people and get into a routine, so as you plan on being here for a short period of time, not sure if it would be worth your while to do that.

If you were planning on staying longer than two years (which you just might), then I would recommend sending your kids to a local school to learn German well and perhaps make some Swiss friends as they are quite young. I briefly attended a Swiss local school, and from what I have noticed is that the teachers and faculty tend to be quite accommodating to those who don't speak German and they come up with solutions to best accommodate you. For example in some schools, they will give you one on one german lessons, which they may call "Deutsch als Zweitsprache". I can't say that this is the same for every school in every part of Switzerland, however from what I have noticed that the major cities (Zurich, Basel, Geneva), people tend to be used to those from around the world, so this wouldn't be their first rodeo when it comes to helping those who are not Swiss or speak the language well.

Even if you do decide to send your kids to local school and you only stay for two years, your kids will learn the language pretty well. I've noticed your kids are quite young, so this would be a perfect time for them to grasp a second language. As they are so young if the local school is not working out you can always swap them out to an international school if you wish, without much impact to their learning. It's not like you have teenagers who are about to head off to university, where the change in education could have some impact on them.

Continuing on the language topic, I can say that from my experience a lot of the International Schools in Switzerland (not all) are not amazing when it comes to language studies.. from either unqualified teachers who speak butchered German/French and lack of community involvement to really get you to speak and be about the language and not be "textbook" smart in the language, it's a disappointment for the money you pay. I have had classmates who have lived nearly their whole life in Switzerland and still barely speak the language. Yes, this also lies on the individual to use the language skills they learn in school, however, the quality and the depth that you learn the language at some of these schools is just abysmal. If you want your children to learn German and French well, send them to a public school. They will have friends to speak to in German and they will have a more comprehensive grasp on the language than they will ever get from an International school.

As I went through the international schooling for most of my educational career, I am not sure what it would be like from a local school perspective if your children stay put in local school up until they are University age (which, is a LONGG way away, and likely the last thing on your mind). I wouldn't worry about it right now, as they will be academically successful in both places regardless. However if you do end up sending them to local school and in 2 years decide you would like to stay here indefinitely, I would recommend revisiting your options when your eldest child hits the age of 12/13, as usually that is when Switzerland starts putting kids on these "tracks". Depending on your child's wishes and her educational performance through primary school, she can either go on a track where students are planning to go to University, or she could go on a track where kids tend to either do internships or go to vocational schools. That is a very, very simplified explanation of the three tracks that Switzerland has, I would recommend doing your own research in your own time about what each track entails and what it means for you. For international schools it's more straightforward. Most International Schools follow the International Baccalaureate, (IB), so you will have Primary Years Programme (PYP, which your girls would be in), Middle Years Programme (MYP, which runs from 6th grade to about 10th grade, Y7 to Y11 I believe on the UK grading system), and finally the DP program which runs from grade 11 to grade 12 (Y12-Y13). I am not sure of any schools that offer IGCSE in the Zurich area but it wouldn't hurt to research that! I know that Zurich International also offers the American Diploma Program to those who want to study in the US. Overall, the International School academic program tends to be more holistic and makes gives you many choices when it comes to studying abroad (which of course is a long ways away for your girls), or just ease of learning even if you leave Switzerland for another country where you can't go to public school, as many of the International Schools use universal educational tools that are recognized all over the world. I cannot say the same for Swiss school.

Although this was a lengthy response, I hope this gave you a good insight and comparison to Local and International Schools. Please definitely tour both schools, ask plenty of questions, and of course do your own research on what you want to do as I don't know your specific situation. I think generally since your children are still very young they will be fine either way and it'll just come down to the financials, however if you really want your kids to truly integrate, send them to a local school or a Swiss private school, as in my opinion, they have a better way of immersing the kids into Swiss culture and not just keeping them in this "Expat" bubble which can be quite transitional and hard to have long lasting friends as their friends may move away after a year or two. All the best with your move and I hope you have a wonderful time in Switzerland!
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Old 11.10.2021, 08:09
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Re: international or local school

Age 4 and 6 - local school. Save your money. Plans change. You may stay 2 years and then go, you've lost nothing. If you find you want to stay longer you may regret putting them in international school.

If you decide to return to the UK for GCSE, then your older child may need to repeat a year, but will have gained from 5 years experience in an completely different environment from the UK.

At that age, you've also got the option of keeping them in the Swiss system. If you can lose the obsession that most British people have (I know we did) for our kids to go from school to university, then there are many advantages to Swiss schooling, apprenticeships not being the least of it. It's very flexible, although this is not always appreciated. It has its issues, but what system doesn't?

My kids came over age 4,6 and 10. They all went through the Swiss system. The oldest went to gymnasium, then university and is now settled with a Swiss wife and two kids. The middle one dropped out of high school, worked a year, then got an OU degree, and is now in her final year of an education degree, training to be a teacher. The youngest got to gym, dropped out to do an apprenticeship, and is now in her final year doing a degree in pharmaceutical engineering.

Their degrees cost about 800 francs per semester.

If you're concerned about their progress in any subject, it's cheaper to hire a tutor than send them to an international school. I'm not against such schools, I know kids who've been through them, and turned out fine.
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Old 11.10.2021, 08:23
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Re: international or local school

There are many threads on this topic, and varied opinions. In summary it comes down to a few basic issues.

1. How long you intend to stay. If you know this is a fixed term assignment, international school might be the better option as your children will return to their home country without falling behind in school. This is more relevant for your older child.

2. The cost of international school. No question this is expensive. If you can't manage it, then don't do it. If you send your children to local school, I would encourage you to find English lessons so they don't fall behind their peers back home.

3. Indefinite stay. Many people arrive here and just don't know how long they will stay. Given the ages of your children, my opinion is start off with local school. It's easier to transition to international school rather than the other way around. There is a lot to be said for kids making friends with kids in the neighbourhood.

Definitely do a "look see" visit before making any decisions. Good luck!
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Old 11.10.2021, 08:26
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Re: international or local school

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Hello community! We plan to move to Zurich with our daughters aged 8 and 4. They were born in the UK and have been educated in state schools (academy).
At a stretch we might be able to afford to send both of them to international schools but it would be great if you could share your experiences, 1) is it worth the extra money put in (to send them into international schools), 2) how does international schools compare to the local ones, 3) if we'd like to set them up for success academically, what would be our best choice?
On the other hand, we'd also like them (and us) to integrate into local community so public school might be a better option anyway.
Any thoughts are appreciated!
If you really only plan to stay 2 years then surely putting them in a local school will hinder their development due to having to cope with learning a new language, vs having 2 years of uninterrupted schooling in their native tongue and curriculum?

If you plan on staying here and investing in their future in Switzerland then sure, local schools make sense, but if not and your future does not lie in Switzerland then I struggle to see the point in putting them through that kind of confusing malarkey.
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Old 11.10.2021, 10:27
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Re: international or local school

As a supplement to all the very useful comments above, if you do decide to go 'local' then I would choose where I live based on the school. Our local school is really great and our daughter absolutely loves it. We have friends, however, who live in areas where the schools are not so great. (Especially, for expats)
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Old 11.10.2021, 10:40
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Re: international or local school

Iíve met students who went through the international school system and then went on to do the gymi and subsequently had huge problems with their German.

Itís not an easy decision.
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Old 11.10.2021, 10:47
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Re: international or local school

I would highly recommend local.
We started in International here when my son was 9, but due to the lack of language acquisition we ended up moving him when he was 13 to local (he was never getting beyond the colours and names of fruit stage in French, and he needs French to apply to the university he wants to study at). A very difficult decision at the time due to the streaming process in local schools, but luckily (and with a lot of hard work) he is in 11 and on his way to gymnase and his Swiss Matura. Best of all, in under a year, he was fluent in French and he has made a wonderful group of friends. The local school has been nothing but exemplary with him. The teachers are truly caring and very accessible should you need to speak to them.
It also really depends on the International school. We started off in a great school which closed down, and moved to another international school which was terrible.
If you are certain you will only be here for 2 years, it makes sense to go to International school from a curriculum point of view. But if there is a chance you would stay longer, I would go local.
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Old 11.10.2021, 10:48
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Re: international or local school

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If you really only plan to stay 2 years then surely putting them in a local school will hinder their development due to having to cope with learning a new language, vs having 2 years of uninterrupted schooling in their native tongue and curriculum?

If you plan on staying here and investing in their future in Switzerland then sure, local schools make sense, but if not and your future does not lie in Switzerland then I struggle to see the point in putting them through that kind of confusing malarkey.
I have to say I would agree with this point of view. Your 4 year old will be in Kindergarten where he/she may or may not (depending on language acquisition) have a pleasant time being socialised but learning almost nothing academically. On return to the UK at age 6-7 he/she would only just have begun the process of learning to read and write. I feel this is the age where there is the biggest difference in the Swiss/UK system. I tried to mitigate the gap by taking my children to a little English pre-school here to learn reading/writing in English. I can't say that it achieved that much and possibly contributed to confusion over the two different learning styles.

I know it sounds a bit negative, but for a two year placement you may well be happy enough with an expat group of friends and contacts. It can be a bit tricky to truly integrate, although I found the Kindergarten years were the ones when I had the most contact with my Swiss neighbours and made some firm friends. International Schools offer a lot of social contact and events, both for the children and the parents. These are also life broadening experiences for the whole family as you and your children will be exposed to people from many other countries and cultures. It would certainly be the easiest route in my opinion, although not a cheap one. Good luck on your move.
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Old 11.10.2021, 11:54
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Re: international or local school

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If you really only plan to stay 2 years then surely putting them in a local school will hinder their development due to having to cope with learning a new language, vs having 2 years of uninterrupted schooling in their native tongue and curriculum?
I totally disagree here. Learning a new language does not mean hindering the child's development. Au contraire, totally, especially at those ages.
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Old 11.10.2021, 12:00
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Re: international or local school

The development of my children socially and intellectually was not in the least hindered by having to learn another language.

If, after two years, they need to return to the UK, then educationally, of course they'll be behind their UK peers. But that can easily be compensated for.
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Old 11.10.2021, 12:36
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Re: international or local school

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I totally disagree here. Learning a new language does not mean hindering the child's development. Au contraire, totally, especially at those ages.
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The development of my children socially and intellectually was not in the least hindered by having to learn another language.

If, after two years, they need to return to the UK, then educationally, of course they'll be behind their UK peers. But that can easily be compensated for.
I don't think for one minute that learning another language would hinder a child's development, I would personally though consider carefully the method of acquisition of said language which I think could have a knock on effect. Total immersion may suit some children, but not all.

I had a very strong desire to return home when my oldest son was around 7. I contacted the primary school in the area where I wanted to live and they truly had no idea how to deal with his lack of reading/writing skills. That was some years ago and I imagine things will have changed dramatically since then. As long as the academic gap can easily be covered and the child is well able to deal with the impact of being out of kilter with their peer group, then all should be good. My son still remembers the humiliation of taking part in a treasure hunt in the UK on one of our trips and being laughed at by all the other kids because he couldn't read the clues. I can't say the experience has affected his life though!

For a 2 year stint, I would personally go the easiest route for the children and do the language and cultural acquisition in their free time. Both of my children have been educated in the Swiss system and that was absolutely the right decision for them, but a slightly less comfortable route for me. Like NotAllThere's children they have done very well by it and I am very grateful that I didn't return to the UK.
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Old 11.10.2021, 12:46
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Re: international or local school

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The development of my children socially and intellectually was not in the least hindered by having to learn another language.

If, after two years, they need to return to the UK, then educationally, of course they'll be behind their UK peers. But that can easily be compensated for.
These two statements appear to contradict each-other. If children are educationally 1-2 years behind their peers, then their development has surely been hindered? Being behind your peers as a result of learning a new language would appear to be the very definition of hindered, at least in the short-term.

Learning a language obviously comes with significant associated overheads that mean you cannot communicate or be educated in that language until after you have learnt it. This takes time, usually many months if not a couple of years. Therefore I do not see how, objectively and logically speaking, that asking kids to learn a new language within 2 years, when they are potentially not even going to stay in Switzerland for longer than the time it takes to learn that language, cannot hinder their development.
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Old 11.10.2021, 13:10
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Re: international or local school

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I have to say I would agree with this point of view. Your 4 year old will be in Kindergarten where he/she may or may not (depending on language acquisition) have a pleasant time being socialised but learning almost nothing academically. On return to the UK at age 6-7 he/she would only just have begun the process of learning to read and write. I feel this is the age where there is the biggest difference in the Swiss/UK system. I tried to mitigate the gap by taking my children to a little English pre-school here to learn reading/writing in English. I can't say that it achieved that much and possibly contributed to confusion over the two different learning styles.
This is an important point. Kindergarten here is basically a waste of time from an academic point of view. You need to figure out how long you'll stay here as this will impact the decision. If it is only 2 years and you are focussed on academics only and returning to the UK, I would put the 4 y/o into a more academic route.

I'm planning to stay longer term, but also planning to send my youngest to French school as I don't want her to 'waste' 6 years of her life on nonsense in tagi/KG.
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Old 11.10.2021, 13:12
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Re: international or local school

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These two statements appear to contradict each-other. If children are educationally 1-2 years behind their peers, then their development has surely been hindered? Being behind your peers as a result of learning a new language would appear to be the very definition of hindered, at least in the short-term.
Yes and no. My daughter recently left Switzerland after 5 years to move to the UK. Her daughter was 2 when she arrived in Switzerland and attended a multi-lingual creche for 2 years before entering a school where French was the language of instruction.

The Swiss curriculum does not align with either UK or US curricula. This is neither good nor bad, just something to consider. The little one's spoken and written French is excellent, as is her reading in French. Her spoken and written English is a work-in-progress. This discrepancy means she needs intensive tutoring in reading and writing in English to move to grade-level skills in the UK. Not being able to read or write at grade level means she misses content area instruction, at least in the short term. She is in a private UK school with a large number of English second language students and extensive (and expensive) intervention services. I'm also a reading specialist, so I provide intensive tutoring as well (payments made in wine and English books). I expect it will take her at least a full year to "catch up" to her peers. She doesn't seem fussed by being "behind" as she is generally an adaptable, good-natured, happy child and her spoken English is good enough to interact socially.

She speaks and writes in French fluently, which is a wonderful thing. She will struggle to regain her footing in UK schools initially due to her early literacy learning experience in a language other than English. I think this is an important point as OPs youngest will be in the early stages of literacy learning at 4.


Is the trade-off worth it? Too early to say.

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Old 11.10.2021, 13:22
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Re: international or local school

"not in the least hindered by having to learn another language"
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Old 11.10.2021, 13:29
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Re: international or local school

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These two statements appear to contradict each-other. If children are educationally 1-2 years behind their peers, then their development has surely been hindered?
In other areas they will be ahead. Overall, not developmentally hindered.

My youngest was referred to a speech/language therapist because the teacher was concerned about her level of vocabulary. When the therapist took into account that she speaks English, the result was she was developmentally ahead of the other kids in that area.

There's certainly nothing to stop a parent teaching their children to read and write themselves if they're concerned about that. Or teaching them basic maths. Or arranging for that kind of tuition at a fraction of the cost of international school.
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