Can I teach in Swiss schools with a foreign qualification?

This content was published on July 25, 2019 - 11:00
Qualification from around the globe? © Keystone / Christian Beutler

In response to our story on Switzerland’s teacher shortage, many readers wanted to know if foreigners could teach in Swiss local schools.  

As we reported in early July, Switzerland has a shortage of up to 10,000 teachers in its school system, due to older teachers retiring and an unexpected rise in pupil numbers.  

We’ve tried to answer the most popular questions, on a topic that is quite complex.  

I would like to know if there are possibilities for teachers from the United States/United Kingdom to teach in state schools in Switzerland. 

Yes, it is possible, but the road to get there may be long. Firstly, it should be said that the cantons are in charge of school educational matters in Switzerland and they, along with the local school authorities, are responsible for hiring teachers and making the ultimate decisions on qualifications and language skills. 

However, generally, to work as a teacher, your foreign teaching qualification should be recognised by The Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of EducationExternal link (EDK). The idea is to establish their equivalence with Swiss qualifications. Once it is recognised, you are entitled to work across Switzerland (but you will still need to be hired by the relevant authority).  

Examples of teaching diplomas considered: UK: Qualified Teacher Status QTS and Induction Period, US/Australia/Canada: Teaching Licence, Teachers Certificate or Brevet d'enseignement. There is an application process, which can last four months (European Union countries) or rather longer (third countries). You might need to take some extra courses at a University of Teacher EducationExternal link to have your qualification fully recognised. More info on the process hereExternal link.  

In most cases, extremely good language skills in German, French or Italian are required (depending on the language region in which you want to teach), which leads us on to the next question. 

Would the Swiss school system ever consider non-German speaking teachers (i.e. English)? 

The language requirementExternal link states that you need a C2 level in a national language to get your qualification approved to teach subjects like maths and science. However, for teachers at lower secondary level (12-15 years old) and baccalaureate schools (the schools after compulsory education that prepare pupils for university), which teach English as a foreign language so don’t have to necessarily teach in a national language, the requirement is to have a B2 level in a national language. As stated, its ultimately up to the cantons when hiring. 

An alternative: the many international and private schools, which often teach in English. They have their own job requirements. 

I am 60, can I still teach in a Swiss school? 

The retirement age Switzerland is 65 for men and 64 for women. Cantons decide if they make exceptions. 

What about teaching (English) in a vocational school? 

In Switzerland, around two-thirds of young people choose to do an apprenticeship after compulsory school finishes, mostly under the country’s renowned dual-track system.  

This means 1-2 days in a vocational school, studying trade theory, and the rest training in a company. A key difference: the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) recognises qualificationsExternal link to teach in these schools. There are also several categories of teachers, see this linkExternal link

SERI told that vocational school teachers had to fulfil three criteria to have their diploma accepted: 1. Technical training: if you want to teach English, you must have studied English in your home county (it is not enough to have taught English after studying, say, Maths). 2. Vocational pedagogy training: as your students will be apprentices not pupils. 3. Six months’ experience of the professional world in a non-teaching setting. Added to this are the national language requirements: C2 level for subjects like Maths, B2 for teaching foreign languages. 

Again, cantons do the hiring and will check qualifications. The law states that if you don’t have e.g. the vocational pedagogy training, you would have five years to achieve this after being hired. You can do this extra training at approved institutionsExternal link.  

A last word: not so many foreign teachers  

A look at the EDK statisticsExternal link show that there were 639 decisions to recognise foreign diplomas in 2018 (several decisions per person possible). In terms of submissions, there were 734 in that year. About two-thirds of approval requests come from Switzerland’s neighbours, with around a quarter from other European Union countries and 10% from countries further afield.  

Around 6% of the teachers in local Swiss schools are foreigners - half of whom are Germans – out of over 100,000 teachers, according to the Federal Statistical Office.External link The other 3% was split equally between French, Italians and “other countries”. 

Applying for jobs 

You can find school vacancies of all types in local newspapers, at cantonal education departmentsExternal link or under educajob.chExternal link. As outlined, you must apply directly to the local school authorities (not the school) or the canton. 

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More stories on schools and teaching, as well as from our education questions, answered series in our Educating Switzerland dossier.External link

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