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Compulsory schooling in the German-speaking region of Canton Bern

Key Information

General information

As a rule, compulsory schooling lasts for a period of eleven years. All children start kindergarten, the Basisstufe or the cycle élémentaire in August of the year in which they are or turn four years old on the 31st of July. After the period of compulsory schooling, students complete a two- to four-year programme of vocational education and training (VET) or attend an upper secondary school.

Schulsystem grafisch

Further information can be found in the section headed "Compulsory Schooling"

  • All children and adolescents have the right to attend kindergarten and school in their place of residence. The local municipality provides the infrastructure and gives teaching materials and school supplies to pupils at no cost.
  • Girls and boys are instructed together, and the same competence targets apply for both genders.
  • Public compulsory schooling is neutral with respect to religious denominations. The various religions are discussed in the lessons as a contribution towards general education and to foster respect and tolerance for people of different faiths and beliefs. A basic knowledge of Christian values and traditions is important for all pupils as it promotes a better understanding of our culture and society. Lessons therefore cover Christian holidays and customs. The freedom of religion of all the children and their parents is respected in this context.
  • In addition to the public compulsory school system, there are private schools in the canton. Parents who wish to send their child to a private school must first obtain authorization from the Department of Education and are responsible for paying the private school’s fees themselves.
  • Children who have an impairment can attend the regular public school or a special education school (Sonderschule) appropriate to their needs. Parents can obtain information about appropriate schooling and forms of support that are available (including for children under the age of four) from their local office of the canton’s educational counselling service (kantonale Erziehungsberatung):

School year and school holidays

The school year begins in mid-August and ends in early July. Students attend 38 or 39 weeks of instruction each year. School holidays are spread over the year.

  • Autumn holiday in September/October: three weeks
  • Winter holiday in December/January: two weeks
  • Sports holiday: one week
  • Spring holiday in April: two weeks
  • Summer holiday in July/August: five weeks

Parents can obtain the exact dates of school holidays and of public holidays (bank holidays) from the municipality. Usually, school websites also post the dates of holidays.


Instruction takes place Monday through Friday. Each lesson is 45 minutes in duration. Pupils attend at least four lessons in the morning; morning instruction starts and ends at the same time for all school levels ("block" times). In the afternoon, the length of instruction varies (two to four lessons). Students in some years of school may have one or more afternoons free each week. Teachers hand out the timetable for the following year.

Parents are responsible for making sure that their child attends school in accordance with the timetable. Parents will be informed in due time of any deviation from the timetable. Parents are responsible for their children outside of the hours of instruction and while the children are on their way to or from school.

See also the sections under "Absences and authorisations for planned absences" and "Parents and compulsory schooling"

“Day school” programme

The municipality offers a Tagesschule or “day school” programme for children who need supervision outside the hours of instruction, provided there is sufficient demand.

Day school can be made up of various modules:

  • Supervision before the start of the school day
  • Supervision during the midday period, with lunch provided
  • Supervision after instruction ends in the afternoon or on afternoons when there is no school

Parents choose the modules that meet their needs. Fees are charged for day school offerings. Fees are based on parent's income, assets and family size.

For detailed information about day school offerings see:
or ask your child's class teacher or the head of his or her school.

Parents can obtain information about other childcare options outside of the family (day-care facilities for children [Kitas], professional caregivers etc.) from the municipality or at


School learning takes place during the lessons. Homework assignments are intended as a means of preparing for or reviewing the children’s work in school. Their purpose is not to teach pupils content that could not be covered during the lessons, nor to supplement lessons by adding new material. Teachers tailor homework assignments according to students’ individual learning abilities and potentials.

Children should be able to do their homework without assistance from a parent or another adult.

The school must not exceed the following limits for assigned homework:

  • Years 1 and 2: 30 minutes per week
  • Years 3–6: from 30 to a maximum of 45 minutes per week
  • Years 7–9: 1 hour, 30 min. per week


The purpose of assessment is to encourage learning and growth; the aim is for the child to feel that assessments support his or her learning. The Lehrplan 21 competencies provide reference points for teachers when observing and assessing pupils.

Parent-teacher meeting

The class teacher meets with the pupil and his or her parents once each year at every level of school. These parent-teacher meetings foster personal contacts between parents and teachers. At the meeting, the parents and teacher exchange opinions and information about the pupil’s performance at school and his or her learning progress and development. Parent-teacher meetings provide an opportunity for good performances and positive behaviour to be acknowledged in an appreciative way. However, they also provide an opportunity to address problematic situations directly and arrive at joint agreements on how to proceed. Additional meetings can be held at the parents’ or the school’s request.

Assessment report

Pupils in year 2 and years 4–9 receive a written assessment report at the end of the year. This report provides pupils with written feedback on their level of achievement in the various subjects. Starting from year 4, the assessment report also documents pupil performances with grades.

During the school year, grades are not the sole means available for documenting pupils' performance. Teachers also have the option of issuing a standard verbal assessment of work (e.g. "very good") or some other form of written verbal assessment.

The grading scale ranges from 6 to 1 (6=best grade, less than 4=learning targets were not met). Teachers can also assign "half" grades (e.g. 5.5 or 4.5).

See the website below for detailed information on assessment policies in multiple languages:

Absences and authorisations for planned absences

  • Parents tell the teachers why their child is absent from school: In the case of foreseeable absences, the teachers whose lessons are affected should be informed in advance. In the case of unforeseen absences, parents should inform the teachers as soon as possible due to safety concerns.
  • An absence for an acceptable reason is considered excused (authorised). The following are acceptable reasons: illness or accident on the part of the child, change of residence, medical or dental appointment, illness or death in the family.
  • The assessment report and the certificate of attendance show the number of lessons missed due to excused absences and due to unexcused absences, if any.
  • To obtain an authorisation for a planned absence, parents should submit a written request, stating the reason for the absence, to the head of the school about four weeks in advance. Authorisations for planned absences can be granted for acceptable reasons, such as the celebration of a high religious feast, an important family event, and attendance of a course on the child’s native language and culture (HSK) or a trial apprenticeship.
  • Parents are entitled to keep their child out of school for a maximum of five half-days per school year. The child can miss lessons on these half-days without giving a reason for the absence. Parents planning to use one of the free half-days should notify the class teacher of this about two days in advance.

Supplemental educational and recreational offerings

Compulsory instruction in schools is supplemented by optional school offerings. These consist of offerings in music, design or theatre, for example.

Optional instruction is also provided at no charge to parents.

Courses on the children’s native language and culture (Unterricht für Heimatliche Sprache und Kultur, HSK) offer children who are growing up with more than one language an opportunity to broaden their skills in their first language (language spoken by their mother or father) and their knowledge about the culture of origin of a parent/their parents. These courses are run by the embassies or consulates of the countries in question or sometimes by private associations. Fees may be charged for attendance.
For more information and an overview of offerings, see the website:

Most of the sports programmes and other recreational programmes for children and adolescents are organised by private clubs (Vereine) and rely heavily on volunteer work. Normally, parents must pay yearly club fees in order for a child to participate in an association’s offerings.

Children can learn to play an instrument or take singing lessons at the music schools. A broad range of classes in group instruction formats are available, particularly for younger children.
Fees are charged for these classes. For an overview of the approved music schools please see:

The municipality can also provide information about sports and other recreational offerings.


All students must undergo a medical examination in year 4 and in year 8. The examination is mandatory. The school doctor can examine the pupils at no charge. Alternatively, parents can have their child examined by their primary care doctor at their own expense.
The purpose of the mandatory school medical examination is the early detection of health disorders such as hearing, visual or speech impairments or postural or movement disorders. The school doctor will inform the parents if he or she identifies a need for further tests or treatment and will discuss the next steps with them.

All students must also have a free, annual dental check-up by the school dentist. Parents who elect to have a dentist of their choice perform the check-up will be reimbursed for costs by the municipality at the standard rate for school dental service care.

The school dentist will notify parents if treatment is necessary. The costs of such treatment will be borne by the parents. Children learn about proper dental care in school.

Parents should inform the class teacher if their child suffers from an illness or needs to take medication regularly.

Compulsory Schooling

Aims and structure

During their years in compulsory school, children and adolescents acquire and develop fundamental competencies and a cultural identity that allow them to engage in lifelong learning and find their place in society.

Lehrplan 21

Teachers plan their lessons on the basis of the curriculum (Lehrplan 21). The curriculum defines the aims of instruction in the form of competencies to be acquired.

Kindergarten, Basisstufe, cycle élémentaire

Parents will receive a request from the municipality to register their child for kindergarten, the Basisstufe or the cycle élémentaire.

Kindergarten offers children a space to live, play and gather experience. Its aim is to stimulate and promote development and learning to enable the individual children to develop to their full potential, taking into account individual needs, abilities, and pace of learning. Children in the first and second years of kindergarten are taught together in one class.

Children usually attend two years of kindergarten. In exceptional cases, based on progress, a child may begin the primary level one year earlier or one year later or may take two years to get through the year-1 material at the primary level.

For detailed information on kindergarten in multiple languages, see the website below:

In some municipalities, kindergarten children and the children in the first two years of primary school are taught together (mixed-age groups) for all or some of the time (Basisstufe or cycle élémentaire).

The Basisstufe and the cycle élémentaire combine kindergarten and the first two years of the primary level. There is a fluid transition from play activities to assignment-oriented learning in the Basisstufe and the cycle élémentaire. Instruction is based on children's stage of development and learning progress (not on age) and takes place in flexible, mixed-age learning groups.

Children normally attend four years of the Basisstufe or cycle élémentaire. Depending on a child's individual needs and learning path, this period can be shortened to three, or extended to five years.

See the websites below for detailed information on the Basisstufe or the cycle élémentaire:élémentaire-de

Special support

Skilled professionals provide additional support for children who need special assistance in individual areas (e.g. with language or motor skills development).

Additional support is also provided to children growing up with multiple languages who are unable to understand or speak the local language well when they enter kindergarten. Good German skills play a central role in enabling a child to do well at school later on. It is helpful for children to have the opportunity to learn the local language while playing with other children before starting kindergarten. Municipalities offer play and childcare programmes for children aged two or older, such as regular gatherings for mothers and/or fathers and their small children (Mütter- und Vätertreffs), play groups or day-care centres (Kitas).

Primary level (years 1–6)

In years 1 through 6, pupils acquire and develop basic competencies in the various subject areas, such as languages, mathematics and design. This entails assuming increasing degrees of independence and responsibility for their own learning and work. A cross-curricular approach is often used, which involves pupils working on the same topic in multiple subject areas.

Starting in year 3, pupils in the German-speaking region of the canton learn French as their first foreign language; in year 5 they start English as well.

Children who have difficulty meeting the learning targets in individual areas (e.g. language or mathematics) can receive instruction and have their work assessed on the basis of individualised learning targets or receive support from specially trained teachers.

Special classes and special instruction

For this purpose, a skilled professional or a specialised service evaluates the child's learning difficulties, with the parents' consent. This specialist or service makes an assessment as to whether support is needed in the form of special instruction. Special instruction takes place in the classroom during the hours of instruction or in groups outside of the classroom. In many municipalities, it is also possible for children with learning disabilities to attend a special education class (Besondere Klasse). Special education classes have fewer pupils than a regular class would and are taught by teachers specifically trained to support children with learning disabilities.

There is also a special programme for particularly intellectually gifted pupils. Evaluation by the educational counselling service is a prerequisite for taking part in this programme.
Cantonal educational counselling service (Kantonale Erziehungsberatungsstelle)

Move from primary level to lower secondary level

The procedure governing the move from the primary to lower secondary level is called the Übertrittsverfahren. For the purposes of this procedure, year 5 and the first semester of year 6 are considered the observation period.

Instruction at lower secondary school (years 7–9) differs depending on which requirements level or type of school a child attends. Children move from the primary level to the lower secondary level at the end of year 6.
The procedure for this move is intended to ensure that your child is assigned to the type of school and subject-specific requirements level most conducive to his or her learning and growth. Both a pupil’s performance at school and his or her personal competencies are of relevance for this assignment. Detailed information about the procedure for the move to the lower secondary level is provided by the school to all children in year 5 at the primary level and their parents.

See the sections headed "Lower secondary school" and "After compulsory schooling" as well.

For information in multiple languages on assessment in the compulsory school system and on the move to the upper secondary level, see the website below:

Lower secondary level (years 7–9)

Instruction at lower secondary level differs depending on which the requirements level or type of school a child attends.

Pupils attend classes in one of three requirements levels: the Realschule, Sekondarschule or special Sekundarschule requirements level (if the municipality offers this level). Sekundarschule requirements are more demanding than Realschule requirements. Each municipality is responsible for deciding whether pupils in Sekundarschule and Realschule classes are taught together for some of the time or entirely separately.

Support in the form of special instruction or special classes is available at the lower secondary level as well.

At this level, students expand the breadth and depth of their general education knowledge and skills. They also receive support and guidance in deciding on educational and career goals for their futures (Berufliche Orientierung). The students choose a future occupation based on their individual interests, strengths and school performance. The school supports this important process by addressing relevant topics in lessons. Together, parents, teachers and counsellors from the career guidance and information centre (BIZ) assist and advise the students as they make this choice.

Early on, the class teacher provides the students and their parents with information about the requirements and expectations associated with the process of choosing an occupation and searching for a VET position. It is important that parents encourage and support their children during this process.

See the sections headed "After compulsory schooling" and "Assessment" as well.

Children and adolescents new to Canton Bern

New arrivals can obtain information about attending kindergarten or school from their municipality (Gemeinde) or the school's website. Parents can also register children directly with the head of the relevant school. Children aged 4 to 15/16 are legally obliged to attend school as long as they are residing in Switzerland and intend to remain in the country for several months. It is possible for a new arrival to start kindergarten or school at any time during the school year.

After consulting with their parents and their previous teachers (or on the basis of assessment records presented), the head of the relevant school assigns new arrivals to the appropriate class (and, in the case of the lower secondary level, to the appropriate requirements level) on the basis of age and number of years of schooling completed. Initially, this assignment is provisional.

Starting from year 3, it may be advisable for children who do not understand the language of instruction to repeat the last year of school that they attended abroad to allow them more time to learn the language of instruction and close any gaps in educational content.

German as a second language

Children and adolescents who have little or no knowledge of the language of instruction receive additional support. The additional German lessons (DaZ) are free and take place in or outside of the classroom during the hours of instruction.

In cities and regional centres, children and adolescents who are starting with no knowledge of the language of instruction often receive ten to twenty weeks of intensive language training.

Newly arriving students between the ages of 13 and 17 who have no knowledge of the language of instruction and have not learned to read and write a language that uses a Roman alphabet or obtained a comparable school education are eligible to attend a Regional Intensive Course (Regionaler Intensivkurs PLUS, RIK+). This course prepares the students to enter a transition programme (Brückenangebote) at the upper secondary level (e.g. BPI) or move to one of the upper years of the lower secondary level.
For more information about RIK+, please see the website below:

Participation in offerings of sports clubs, day schools and a course on their native language and culture (Unterricht in heimatlicher Sprache und Kultur, HSK) can help children to reconcile themselves to the new language and surroundings and integrate themselves socially.

See the section under the heading "After compulsory schooling" as well.

After Compulsory Schooling

Training opportunities

The completion of a VET programme after the period of compulsory schooling has a major impact on future employment prospects. Job security and wage predictions for people who have not completed a VET programme or upper secondary school are very low. Opportunities for further education and advancement are lacking.

VET programmes (apprenticeship)

Most young people learn an occupation in a VET (vocational education and training) programme (apprenticeship) after finishing their compulsory schooling. In these programmes, young people receive practical training for two to four years in a host company while also attending a VET school (Berufsschule), where they also acquire occupation-specific knowledge and competencies and broaden their general education. The three parties, the apprentice, the host company (training provider) and the VET school, enter into an apprenticeship contract together. For some occupations, there are VET programmes that are entirely school-based (Handelsschule, Handelsmittelschule HMS, Technische Fachschulen TF).

The combination of in-company training and school-based education means that young people with a VET programme certificate generally have very good chances on the job market. In addition, there are wide variety of opportunities for further education open to them.

High achievers can acquire a Vocational Baccalaureate (Berufsmaturität) during or after the VET programme, making them eligible to study at a university of applied sciences (Fachhochschule FH).

Further information on initial VET:

Upper secondary schools

The upper secondary specialised schools (Fachmittelschule FMS) prepare students for professional education and training in the fields of health care or education/social work.

Students who are academically gifted and highly motivated can attend a Baccalaureate school (Gymnasium). Baccalaureate school education begins in year 9 and lasts four years. It is also possible for students to transfer in after year 9. Baccalaureate schools offer an in-depth general education with a range of emphases. Students with an academic baccalaureate diploma (Matura) are eligible to enter an institution of higher education (university or institute of technology) without sitting an entry exam or, upon completion of an internship, a university of applied sciences.

An information sheet in several languages is available for students newly arriving from another canton or another country who wish to continue their Baccalaureate education in Canton Bern.

See the website below for information on specialised upper secondary schools and Baccalaureate schools:

Transitional solutions

Students who complete year 9 without having found a pathway forward have the option of completing a 10th year of school, the vocational preparation year (Berufsvorbereitendes Schuljahr, BVS), which focuses on practical training and general education (Praxis und Allgemeinbildung, BPA):

Students who have not mastered the material taught in school or the language of instruction to the extent necessary to enable them to enter a VET programme in the occupation of their choice by the end of year 9 are eligible to complete the vocational preparation year (Berufsvorbereitendes Schuljahr, BVS) that focuses on practical training and integration (Praxis und Integration, BPI). This programme is designed for recent arrivals aged 25 or below who are motivated and ready to choose an occupation. Familiarity with the Roman alphabet and A1-level language skills are prerequisites for acceptance in the BPI programme: > Brückenangebote > Berufsvorbereitendes Schuljahr Praxis und Integration BPI

Parents are urged to find out about these and other transitional solutions from their child's class teacher or the regional career information centre as early as possible (Berufsinformationszentrum, BIZ):

Further information

There are other programmes available for students who have finished compulsory schooling in addition to those mentioned above.

For information on choosing an occupation and the locations of the regional career information centres (BIZ), see the website below:

Information about choosing an occupation in languages most widely spoken among immigrants:

Parents and Compulsory Schooling


Parents and schools are legally required to cooperate. Regular communication as well as mutual understanding, trust and respect are essential for this cooperation to succeed. Parents and teachers should work together as partners. The focus should always be on the child's well-being and learning success.

Sharing of information

The kindergarten or school keeps parents informed about significant occurrences and plans relating to instruction (events, school trips, etc.) or school administration (assignment to school or class, times of instruction, etc.). Information of this kind is provided in writing or at the evening meetings when teachers meet with parents as a group (Elternabenden) or on visiting days. Other kinds of information provided are also important, though, such as information about the understanding of learning and teaching at the school, about the teaching materials used, about educational concepts and assessment or about class rules.

If neither parent is able to take part at a meeting, they should contact the teacher who has issued the invitation to let him or her know they will not be attending and to ask how they can obtain the information anyway. See the section headed "Absences" as well.

Parents should inform the class teacher about any incident or event that may compromise the child’s development or ability to pay attention.

Parents who do not feel adequately informed about the school or their child’s learning progress or behaviour should ask the class teacher or the head of the school for more information.

Parent-teacher meeting

Private parent-teacher meetings play a central role in the cooperation between the school and parents. This meeting takes place once a year (see the section under "Assessment" as well). The meeting is scheduled in agreement with the parents.

Visiting lessons

Parents are entitled to visit their child's class during lessons at any time, though prior arrangement with the teacher is necessary.

Important decisions

All important decisions concerning a child’s educational path (e.g. the move from the primary to the lower secondary level or assignment to a special class) are discussed in detail with the child and his or her parents. Parents have the right to be informed, heard and advised by the teachers involved and by the head of the school and are entitled to inspect any records concerning their children. Final decisions concerning a student’s educational path are taken by the head of the school, who communicates them to the parents in writing, including an explanation for the decision. Parents who do not agree with such a decision have the option of submitting an appeal to the school inspectorate (Schulinspektorat) within 30 days of being notified of the decision. See also the section headed "Assessment"


It is important that parents understand what is being discussed at a parents’ evening and at private parent-teacher meetings. It is also important for parents to be able to express their concerns and ask questions. If their language skills are not sufficient for this purpose, parents can bring along another adult to interpret for them. Specifically for the private parent-teacher meetings, it is also possible for the school to arrange for the presence of an interpreter. The interpreters arranged by the school are impartial, have been trained to fulfil this function and have a legal obligation to maintain confidentiality.

Parental involvement

Parents who are willing and able to assist their child's teachers, class or school in small ways – such as accompanying classes on field trips, supporting them in projects, providing small translation services for the parents of another child – are requested to contact the teachers directly. Helping out in this way strengthens the relationship between parents and teachers, contributes to a positive climate at the school and supports the schools in their work.

Many schools have a parent council made up of one to two parent representatives for each class. These representatives are elected at the start of the school year by the parents of the children in each class. The parent representatives of a class work closely with the class teacher. Together, they promote contact between parents and teachers of the class and the exchange of opinions and information about educational issues and administrative matters. The parent representatives help resolve problems, support class events and projects and represent the concerns of the class' parents at the parent council. The parent council deals with issues affecting the entire school (or at least one level).

Parents can find out more about parental involvement in the kindergarten or in the school from the class teacher or the head of the school.

Difficult Situations at School

Perhaps a child feels uncomfortable in class or maybe the level of his or her performance has suddenly slipped. A child might be having trouble with other children, or his or her parents might disagree with a teacher’s decision. It is important that all the people involved have an opportunity to express their views and are willing to meet one another halfway. The aim is always to find a solution that is satisfactory to all parties and in the best interests of the pupil.

What to do if a difficult situation arises

If a problem does arise, one that concerns one's own child, the teacher or the class as a whole, the following procedure should be followed:

  1. The parents and the teacher establish contact with one another. They discuss the situation together and seek a way to resolve it. In most circumstances, this path leads to a satisfactory solution.
  2. If the parents and the teacher cannot agree on a solution and one or both sides deem it necessary, a meeting is held between the parents, the head of the school, and the teacher.
  3. It is also possible for specialised services to become involved, such as the school’s social work office or the cantonal educational counselling service.
  4. The cantonal school inspectorate (Schulinspektorat) can be involved as a last step.

Translation can be arranged if necessary.


Absences are times when a child misses instruction.

Career guidance counselling
Career guidance counsellors offer information and advice to help adolescents and adults choose the VET programme or advanced education programme that is right for them. They work at the regional career information centres (BIZ: Berufsinformationszentren).

Authorisations for planned absences
Authorisations for planned absences release a pupil from the obligation to attend lessons during a regular or longer-term absence. They should be scheduled in advance and must be requested in writing from the head of the school.

Educational counselling
The specialists from the educational counselling service advise families, children and adolescents in challenging situations and evaluate the reasons for learning difficulties. They work at the regional educational counselling service.

Department of Education
The Department of Education is the cantonal education authority. It defines the framework for compulsory schooling in the municipalities, and it issues the curricula.

Skilled professional
Skilled professionals are persons who have been specially trained to perform a certain function. Teachers are skilled professionals who specialise in teaching and learning. Other skilled professionals support the teachers and the parents in their responsibilities for the education and upbringing of their children: for instance, the specialists from the Educational counselling service, the school social workers and the career guidance counsellors.

The municipality is responsible for the organisation of compulsory schooling in the community. It provides the educational infrastructure: school buildings, furnishings and teaching materials. You can obtain information about offerings in the municipality from its website or the desk at the offices of the municipal administration.

Class teacher
The class teacher is responsible for the educational and organisational leadership of the class. He or she is the first person to contact for all questions and concerns relating to your child’s kindergarten and school attendance.

Head of the school
The head of the school is responsible for the overall administration of the school, including the direction of its educational programme. He or she assigns the children to the individual classes and is responsible for decisions pertaining to the students’ educational track.

School commission*
The school commission ensures that children attend kindergarten and school in accordance with cantonal legislation and the requirements of the municipality. It is also responsible for the strategic decisions regarding its school.

*In some municipalities the Schulkommission is called the Bildungskommission.

School inspectorate
The school inspectorate is the cantonal authority that supervises compulsory schooling.

School social work
The school social worker offers help and advice to children and adolescents experiencing social or personal problems. Teachers, heads of schools and parents may also consult with the school social work office.

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