Once known for its ‘finishing’ schools, where unsophisticated English girls were sent to brush up their schoolgirl French and acquire a little foreign polish, this stretch of Lake Geneva is now home to some of the world’s most exclusive (and expensive) international schools.
Seized by the Romans, who gave this area the name, Lousonna, and regularly eyed up by various Dukes of Savoy, Lausanne has been capital of the Swiss canton of Vaud for over 200 years. Since the late 18th century, the English have been drawn here, originally as a good spot to stop off for a quick bit of mountain sketching before hitting the heavy art scene in Italy and later arriving, particularly those struggling for breath, to get a dose of mountain air and clean living.
Along with the spas, came schools, which took advantage of the stunning location, combining access to the healthy mountains, fabulous views and wildflowers and the teaching of the local languages (French first but also German). However, parents were, and maybe still are, not always entirely happy with their children coming home with a Swiss accent, so this leads to a proportion of teachers being imported from France.
Not a lot has changed in over a century, the schools and the wildflowers are still there and the mountains, due to the popularity of skiing, now have an even greater pull in the winter. The streets of Lausanne are just as steep and there is practically no industry but it is not all about yodelling and fondue, as the city is home to musicians and artists as well as the International Olympic Committee.
The reputation of private schools in Switzerland remains very high, possibly due to the exclusivity gained by charging some of the most jaw-dropping fees in the world. The audience has changed somewhat, from being almost entirely English or North American, with a sprinkling of students from other European countries, to a much more diverse collection of families (in terms of nationalities), although not in terms of the parental assets needed to pay the fees.
The majority of schools, chosen by expats, have histories as long as the bill for extras, the best known names, Institut Le Rosey, Brillantmont International School and the much smaller Institut Monte Rosa, have flourished here since the 19th century. Collège Champittet (Pully Lausanne), St George’s School and École Nouvelle de la Suisse Romande date from the early 20th century and of the remainder, only one, La Côte International School, has less than 25 years under its belt.
Almost all the schools including College Alpin Beau Soleil, the International School of Lausanne and Haut-Lac International Bilingual School are based near the lake, either in or around Lausanne, Vevey and Montreux or between Lausanne and Geneva. Only Le Rosey actually decamps to the snow in Saanen (outside Gstaad) but all the schools take advantage of their location when it comes to skiing. The only school In this part of Switzerland based full-time in the mountains is Aiglon College above Montreux and an hour's drive from Lausanne. A very small number of private day schools exist but almost all of them offer boarding, as their appeal is largely to the international (not necessarily Swiss-based) market.
As always when looking at international schools, the curriculum plays a major part in the choice and the common factor, in all but one of the schools, (Brillantmont International School), is that they offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma. However, several of them offer further graduating options, including A Levels, French Baccalaureate, Swiss Matura and the American High School Diploma. Apart from this qualification, they all tend to teach a variety of curricula lower down, so you may want to look carefully, if you are planning to move before your child has graduated, to ensure that they can transition as easily as possible into their next school.
The other very important factor in choosing a school here is probably the level of pastoral care, particularly if you are going to send your child to board, and that means trying to find as many parents to talk to as you possibly can, as well as visiting the schools. A lot of these schools have been around a very long time but what matters is the here and now.
For more information on these schools, please go to each school’s individual entry on the GSGI database or The GSGI article 'Best schools in Lausanne, Vevey & La Cote considered by expats'.
Parents who don’t have assistance with school fees or, are simply bouleversé by the cost of the private options, may choose the local Swiss State system, but the quality of schools varies enormously. All schools offer non-French speakers “welcome lessons” to improve their French, but again these differ widely in quality. Education in Switzerland is obligatory from age 6 to 15, but some primary schools will accept children from 4 years. It should also be noted that entry into UK universities is more difficult with the Swiss Maturité exam than some other European leaving school qualifications, although some global, student destinations tend to look on it more favourably.
Often mentioned in hushed tones or causing a raised eyebrow, there are some eye-wateringly expensive schools in or around Lausanne but they often provide a level of extra-curricular treats that are, literally, not available anywhere else in the world.