Local schools for non-German speaking children

If you are planning on staying more than a year or if the starting fees for international schools of CHF 20,000 a year are out of your budget, you may want to consider going local.

The St.Gallen city authorities support non-German speaking children by providing free ‘Integration Classes’.  These are available at three designated schools from Primary level upwards.  The schools are Riethüsli, Lachen and Spelterini. These three schools cater for all children residing within the city limits whose German level is below that required for regular class.  Once a child is assessed as being good enough at German, they will be transferred to your local school, but with additional teaching support (ISF teacher).

Which school will you be allocated to?
St.Gallen runs a catchment system where you have to live in the local area of a primary school to be able to attend.  If you live in a different catchment area from these three schools you will have almost no influence over which school your child is sent to and it will not necessarily be the closest. If you live in the are of one of these schools, it will be likely that you child goes there, but not guaranteed.

For how long?
There is no minimum or maximum length of time that your child will go to Integration Class. It depends on how quickly they learn German (which may be age related) and on the time of year. It is normal to wait until the start of a new year to transfer children. I have heard of anything from 6 months to 2 years in Integration Class.

School is compulsory for all children from the age of 3 (yes even for us foreigners!). Integration Classes only start from the age of 5 – year 1 of primary. Kindergarten level children are expected to go to the local Kindergarten (again based on catchment area) where they are educated entirely in Swiss German and are expected to pick up the language. After Kindergarten, they may or may not be sent to Integration Class depending on the teacher’s (and possibly the city’s child psychiatrist’s) assessment.

Extra help
Ask the school for recommendations for help.  There are many ISF teachers around who are often willing to provide additional language support for very reasonable rates at lunch and after school.

Outside the city?
Beware! Outside the city limits is a wild and unforgiving place ;-). Seriously though, this is very hit and miss. Each village and town will have a slightly different system depending on how many foreigners they have and how big and well organised the schools are. Some will simply have no support at all. They are regulated by the Kanton and not the city and the support is not as reliable.

Next steps
First choose which school you want your child to go to longterm. Not all schools are equal in quality (in spite of what locals may tell you!), so plan the school before you get your accommodation. Then contact the headmaster who will refer you to the city authorities for support in getting into Integration Class. After about a year of commuting, you will then have  a nice local school ready for your child.

My kids followed this system in different ways are now relatively well adapted, settled and integrated. Most importantly, they have lots of friends locally and know their way round…


International Schools in St.Gallen

A common question for non-German speakers is about schooling options for their children. St.Gallen is not particularly well served for English schooling for a number of reasons. First, it is a small town with a limited number of companies that would bring in non-German speaking employees. Second, the city provides quite effective integration classes for non-German speaking children which gets them into the regular school system fairly quickly. Lastly, the fees for international schools in St.Gallen are high. Really high. Which makes it an unaffordable long-term solution for many people.

Institut auf dem Rosenberg (Rosenberg Institute)
There are two possibilities in St.Gallen for schools, the most famous of which is the Rosenberg. This school is well-known in elite circles and is predominantly for full-boarding students often sent from overseas. The tuition (2012) is CHF 75,000 – close to the average national salary ;-). The location, facilities and views are exceptional, but it is hard to argue that the teaching is really that much better from a good state school. Still you are paying for the complete education solution.

International School St.Gallen
The second option is very new and is located only about a kilometer from the Rosenberg and is right next to the University (motives are clear!). The ISSG was only founded in 2009, and serves the lower end of the market that can’t or don’t want to afford the Rosenberg.  Tuition fees aren’t published publically (available on request) which shows that as a young school they are still flexible on fees while they establish a reputation and steady flow of new students. The school itself is in a large converted residential house with a regular garden – not immediately obvious that it is a school until you see the sign.  Good location, unknown quality, but still likely to set you back a 5 figure sum every year.

Other options
Something that many people look to is the Swiss International School. This is actually a chain of international schools with locations in Chur, Winterthur and Zurich. This will mean that either you or your children are going to be commuting (or both) but at least you have a reliable English speaking option within reach that won’t cost a fortune (roughly CHF 20,000 per year).