Geneva may be a small city, in a small country, but the choice of curricula on offer from the international schools means that, educationally, it punches above its weight.
Many ex-pats come to Geneva believing that the level of education their children can look forward to receiving will be some of the best in the world (it must be all those stories of Swiss boarding and finishing schools that we’ve read). Unfortunately, the reality can be somewhat different, particularly for those parents and children used to private schools in the UK and US.
This is a city that could support bilingual, trilingual and multilingual schools as the population, partly due to the United Nations headquarters and all those banks, is a truly global hotchpotch. As it is, it boasts several schools teaching in English (in and around central Geneva) as well as private schools offering the Swiss, French and German based curricula.
Geneva is fairly straightforward, when it comes to neighbourhoods and schools, as it divides firmly into Rive Gauche (Left Bank) and Rive Droite (Right Bank), joined by the romantically named but traffic-filled Pont du Mont Blanc. As crossing the bridge can be something of a nightmare at drop-off and pick-up time, a high proportion of expats choose to live on the Right Bank in Nations or Petit Sacconex, where a number of international schools are around a maximum of 20 minutes’ drive away.
Travel is made easier for everyone, wherever they choose to live, as Swiss trains are every bit as clean, efficient and on-time as you would expect and most schools can be reached from most places, in not much longer (and, occasionally, less time) than it takes to drive.
International School of Geneva (Ecolint) is the colossus in Genevan international school terms, with its three campuses: La Grande Boissière - the oldest and largest; Campus des Nations - the newist and smallist; La Chataigneraie - more extensive grounds and sports facilities. All three have a large following of expats with ':La Chat' being the most popular with Brits as the only campus offering IGCSEs.
In fact the teaching is all in English, but don’t think you can just pick any one blindfold, or indeed the nearest one, as they have very different curricula. The common ground is that they all teach the International Baccalaureate Diploma but it would be very strange if they didn’t as this programme was developed here by Ecolint teachers in the 1960’s before spreading to over 5000 (and growing) schools around the world.
Of the schools that have been brought to the attention of (and often inspected by) the GSGI, there are two very English schools, the British School of Geneva and the Geneva English School (neither missing a trick on getting the message across), and the remainder, which are basically French schools with international sections offering a smorgasbord of American, English, French and Swiss curricula with the corresponding choice of graduate qualifications.
It is not for the faint of heart and fluent French is a given but if your child is aiming for an academic hothouse, two of the schools, the Institut Florimont and the Collège-Lycée International de Ferney-Voltaire offer the OIB or ‘Option Internationale’ which is not a separate diploma but an option within the framework of the French Baccalaureate. There is an American, English, German and Italian version and if you succeed, you end up with a mighty fine qualification, consisting of the equivalent of two A Levels and a French Bac.
If you are looking for a really wide choice of curricula offered in one place, the Institut International de Lancy teaches a French curriculum but has an English section offering an English curriculum up to IGCSE and then the IB Diploma.
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 Geneva considered by expats'.
The Swiss State System
Parents who don’t have assistance with school fees may choose the local Swiss State system, but the quality of schools varies enormously. The Primary schools in the Terre Sante region in Vaud (villages of Mies, Tannay, Commugny, Coppet and Founex included) are considered to be the best, while it is difficult to recommend many in the Canton of Geneva. All schools offer non-French speakers “welcome lessons” to improve their French, but again these vary in quality. Education in Switzerland is obligatory from age 6 to 15, but some primary schools will accept children from 4 years. The quality of the Secondary schools and system in Geneva is perhaps reflected in the fact that many wealthy Swiss opt for the private system in the first 3 years (known as Le Cycle). It should also be noted that entry into UK universities is more difficult with the Swiss Maturité exam than other European leaving school qualifications.
For the Under Five Set
For nursery aged children, some Montessori schools have an English section, for instance, the Bell One World Nursery School which has an English based curriculum takes children from 2 ½ years. A number of the schools listed above also now have a nursery class. Otherwise there are the local Garderies and Jardins des Enfants where young children will experience French immersion.
Remember it is the communes and cantons that provide sports facilities not schools, although private international schools do provide some sport and after-school activities - at a cost.