We are 2 english speaking parents, now also with Swiss nationality.
From my experiences and knowing many other children, be honest about your children’s abilities. I have 2 average children – definitely good enough for gymnasium but not brilliant. Neither of them would have been able to cope with school in 2 languages. Home for English, school in German. I have known several children who have not mastered any language properly and have had an enormous amount of stress. Gymnasium is a lot of work. It is not just intelligence, but stamina and forcing yourself to do subjects you may not like. There are more girls than boys that succeed in this system. By the Matura, they all speak at least 3 languages plus Swiss German, well.
Kindergarten is the best place to learn German and Swiss German. Just because your kids are not learning to read and write, DON’T think that your child will be falling behind. Kindergarten is extremely good for the children, they learn many life skills. I taught my children to read in English, to have the grounding in English before going totally into the german.
Swiss primary school is also very good, very structured, especially the maths and German. I did not force my children to learn English also. I felt that was a total waste of time – later they learn English very fast. The children should be out with friends or making music and in a sporting activity (with Swiss children).
The Orientierung Schule (OS) is a very difficult time. Nearly every child has a bad experience. I think it is the age (11 -13) The teachers try hard, but the girls can get really arrogant, and the boys mess around. We live in Riehen and luckily this system is changing, hopefully it will be better. This was the worst time in the Swiss school system for my children, but luckily they had other activities to keep them happy.
From my experience you need to support your children the most from the age of 13 onwards. They are under so much pressure, socially and academically.
All the gymnasiums are good, but they are different. It is difficult for the child to chose at age 12/13. My son made a wrong decision, many do. You can change gymnasium but can be difficult. Do not try to put your child into a gymnasium with no German, it’s not fair on the child. Repeating a year is not the end of the world, many children do. My son repeated the 3rd year, which is not bad, because there are many changes in the classes anyway. From my son’s experience, the 4th year is the most work – but some fail the 5th. If a child fails the 5th, there are often other issues. Even the most intelligent can fail, the standard is high.
Overall we are fairly happy with the Swiss system, but nothing and nobody is perfect. I like the fact that there isn’t the competitive culture that you find in British or American schools – the children help each other a lot, it’s great.
I only have experience of the gymnasiums, but have heard that the Fach Matura Schule (FMS) is very good, and of course all the apprenticeships are excellent. I also want to point out that until recently the Swiss Matura system has produced very well educated children and workforce. Suddenly the IB is all the trend – probably because there are more children who want to go to Universities in other countries, and they (the parents and children) think that the Matura is not good enough. The Swiss Universities, especially the ETH and St. Gallen are excellent, world class.
The BaselConnect Education site is the first resource to provide information in English about the new system for schools in Basel.