Country information for Switzerland - Legislation and policy
Convention on the Rights of the Child
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Übereinkommen über die Rechte des Kindes) has been in force in Switzerland since 26 March 1997.
(Source, in German: UNO-KRK, 1989).
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Übereinkommen über die Rechte von Menschen mit Behinderung) has been in force in Switzerland since 15 May 2014.
(Source, in German: UNO-BRK, 2006).
National legal framework
Federal Constitution (BV)
The Constitution (Bundesverfassung – BV), status 1 January 2008, contains the following articles, which are of particular importance for special education.
Equality before the law
No one may be discriminated against, in particular on grounds of origin, race, gender, age, language, social position, way of life, religious, ideological, or political convictions, or because of a physical, mental or psychological disability (BV, Art. 8.2).
The law shall provide for the elimination of inequalities that affect persons with disabilities (BV, Art. 8.4).
Right to primary school education
The right to an adequate and free primary school education is guaranteed (BV, Art. 19).
(Note: Articles 8 and 19 belong to the ‘Fundamental Rights’ – Chapter 1 of the Constitution).
The Confederation and the cantons shall, as a complement to personal responsibility and private initiative, endeavour to ensure that children and young people as well as persons of employable age can obtain an education and undergo basic and advanced training in accordance with their abilities (BV, Art. 41.1.f).
The Confederation and cantons shall endeavour to ensure that everyone is protected against the economic consequences of old age, invalidity, illness, accident, unemployment, maternity, being orphaned and being widowed (BV, Art. 41.2).
No direct right to state benefits may be established on the basis of these social objectives (BV, Art. 41.4).
The decisive phrase in Art. 41.1.f is ‘in accordance with their abilities’, which means that individual abilities are more important than other goals, such as those of economy.
In Art. 41.2, it is important to understand the character of social insurance: the individual has the right to the necessary means of support in situations of social risk. In these kinds of situations, the individual has no obligation toward the state. Invalidity is directly associated with the inability to work and should not be confused with disability.
Article 41.4 is important in connection with the Federal Disability Insurance Law.
The cantons may enter into agreements with each other and establish common organisations and institutions. In particular, they may jointly undertake tasks of regional importance together (BV, Art. 48.1).
The Confederation may participate in such organisations or institutions within the scope of its powers (BV, Art. 48.2).
Agreements between cantons must not be contrary to the law, to the interests of the Confederation or to the rights of other cantons. The Confederation must be notified of such agreements (BV, Art. 48.3).
The cantons may by inter-cantonal agreement authorise inter-cantonal bodies to issue legislative provisions that implement an inter-cantonal agreement, provided the agreement:
- has been approved under the same procedure that applies to other legislation;
- determines the basic content of the provisions (BV, Art. 48.4).
The cantons shall comply with inter-cantonal law (BV, Art. 48.5).
The Confederation and the cantons shall, within the scope of their powers, jointly ensure the high quality and accessibility of the Swiss Education Area. (BV, Art. 61.1)
The cantons shall be responsible for the system of school education (BV, Art. 62.1).
They shall ensure the provision of an adequate primary school education that is available to all children. Primary school education shall be mandatory and be managed or supervised by the state. At state schools it shall be free of charge (BV, Art. 62.2).
The cantons shall ensure that adequate special needs education is provided to all children and young people with disabilities up to the age of 20 (BV, Art. 62.3).
Where harmonisation of school education is not achieved by means of co-ordination in the areas of school entry age and compulsory school attendance, the duration and objectives of levels of education, and the transition from one level to another, as well as the recognition of qualifications, the Confederation shall issue regulations to achieve such harmonisation (BV, Art. 62.4).
The cantons shall participate in the drafting of federal legislation on school education that affects cantonal responsibilities, and special account shall be taken of their opinions (BV, Art. 62.6).
The Swiss education system is characterised by federalism, and organised in a decentralised manner. Primary responsibility for education lies with the cantons (states). They are responsible for compulsory education, except where the Federal Constitution declares the Confederation, or the Confederation and cantons together, to be competent (BV, Art. 3). In matters which require a joint solution, the cantons co-ordinate with each other.
In 2006, the Swiss electorate and all the cantons adopted the new articles on education in the Federal Constitution. The amended Federal Constitution obliges the Confederation and the cantons, within the scope of their responsibilities, to jointly ensure the high quality and permeability of the Swiss Education Area. Through the Inter-Cantonal Agreement on Harmonisation of Compulsory Education (HarmoS Agreement), the cantons are meeting their constitutional obligation to ensure harmonised national regulation of certain benchmarks in education. Cantons which have signed the HarmoS Agreement undertake to harmonise objectives and structures in compulsory education. This generally involves adaptation to the solutions already followed by most cantons.
Within the framework of the HarmoS Agreement, two years of pre-primary school attendance became mandatory from the 2015/2016 academic year. In the cantons which have signed the HarmoS Agreement, the requirement for 11 years of compulsory education covers two years of pre-primary, six years of primary and three years of lower-secondary school.
As part of the implementation of the HarmoS Agreement, the German-speaking cantons are implementing a common curriculum, called ‘Lehrplan 21’. For the first time, this common curriculum explicitly states that it is a curriculum for all learners, including those with disabilities.
For children and young people with special educational needs, the cantons provide appropriate schooling up to the age of 20.
A collection of all relevant laws is available in German and French.
Vocational education and training
The Confederation shall issue regulations on vocational education and training (BV, Art. 63.1).
It shall encourage the provision of a diverse and accessible range of courses in vocational training (BV, Art. 63.2).
In contrast to compulsory education, federal legislation regulates post-compulsory education (vocational education, higher education).
The Confederation shall take measures to ensure adequate financial provision for the elderly, surviving spouses and children, and persons with disabilities. These shall be based on three pillars, namely the Federal Old-age, Survivors’ and Invalidity Insurance, the occupational pension scheme and private pension schemes (BV, Art. 111.1).
The Confederation shall encourage the rehabilitation of people eligible for invalidity benefits by providing cash and non-cash benefits. For this purpose, it may use resources from the Invalidity Insurance (BV, Art. 112b.1).
The cantons shall encourage the rehabilitation of people eligible for invalidity benefits, in particular through contributions to the construction and running of institutions that provide accommodation and work (BV, Art. 112b.2).
(Source: Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation, 1999).
Law on Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities (BehiG)
The Law on Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities (Bundesgesetz über die Beseitigung von Benachteiligungen behinderter Menschen, Behindertengleichstellungsgesetz – BehiG), effective as of 2004, materialises Article 8.4 of the Constitution.
The cantons ensure that children and young people receive compulsory education, which is adapted to their special needs (BehiG, Art. 20.1)
The cantons promote the integration into mainstream school with appropriate measures, as far as this is possible and serves the well-being of the child or the young person with disabilities (BehiG, Art. 20.2).
(Source, in German: BehiG, 2004).
Federal Disability Insurance Law (IVG)
The Federal Disability Insurance Law (Invalidenversicherungsgesetz – IVG), 1959, arises from Article 111 of the Constitution.
Until the end of 2007, the Federal Disability Insurance Law constituted the federal component of special needs education (SNE) by regulating the identification and co-financing of SNE for children and young people with low-incidence disabilities. Consequently, the national disability insurance influenced SNE to a large extent, although education in general is a cantonal matter.
This law, however, has changed. At the beginning of 2008, responsibility for funding special schools was transferred entirely to the cantons.
Vocational Education Act (BBG)
The Vocational Education Act (Bundesgesetz über die Berufsbildung, Berufsbildungsgesetz – BBG) took effect in 2004. It materialises the constitutional Article 63 and is a general revision of an older law.
This law promotes and develops the equalisation of the education chances in social and regional regard, equal rights of women and men as well as the removal of disadvantages of persons with disabilities (BBG Art. 3c).
In contrast to compulsory education, post-compulsory education is substantially regulated at the national level. The new law creates a framework for flexible organisation of educational forms and content. The most important change for people with special educational needs – especially those with learning difficulties – is the new basic vocational training with federal certificate (Berufliche Grundbildung mit eidgenössischem Berufsattest).
Also, federal law will regulate health and social professions, which heretofore had been under cantonal law.
(Source, in German: BBG, 2004).
Inter-cantonal agreements (inter-cantonal conventions)
HarmoS is the inter-cantonal agreement on harmonisation of compulsory education.
The Inter-Cantonal Agreement on Co-Operation in the Field of Special Needs Education transfers special education from social security (medical model) to the field of education (‘education for all’). It describes the basic special needs measures – such as early intervention, speech therapy, psychomotor therapy and specialised education – to support children with special needs in mainstream classes and extended measures provided in special schools.
Both reforms were mostly implemented in 2015. The first statistical data was available in 2017.
Last updated 12/03/2018