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.
- Education in Geneva
- Choosing a school in Geneva
- La Maturité Suisse
- Pre-schools, kindergarten and nurseries in Geneva
- Best schools in Geneva
Many families come to Geneva believing the level of education is the best in the world (it must be all those stories of Swiss boarding and finishing schools). Unfortunately, the reality can be rather different, particularly for those used to private schools in the UK and US.
When it comes to neighbourhoods and schools, Geneva is fairly straightforward 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 families 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.
But 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.
Several of Geneva’s private schools teach in English, while others offer the Swiss, French and German based curricula.
When it comes to the English teaching schools, 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 – in fact, the programme was developed here by Ecolint (International School of Geneva) teachers in the 1960’s before spreading to over 5000 (and growing) schools around the world.
The remainder 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 you are after an academic hothouse, a small selection of schools offer the BFI (formerly known as the OIB or ‘Option Internationale’) - 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 after a really wide choice of curricula offered in one place, there are French curriculum schools that have an English section offering an English curriculum up to IGCSE and then the IB Diploma.
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. All schools offer non-French speakers ‘welcome lessons’ to improve their French, but again these vary in quality. 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). Education in Switzerland is obligatory from age 6 to 15, but some primary schools will accept children from 4 years.
In some private schools in Switzerland, secondary students can opt to take the Fédérale Maturité Suisse, (or ‘la matu’ as it is known colloquially) which qualifies them for entry into any Swiss university or universities overseas. Parents should note that the Maturité Cantonale taken in the Canton de Vaud state schools may not be accepted by universities outside of Switzerland.
It is a very broad and totally exam based qualification which takes 4 years of study. The subjects are divided into two categories, the first of which is taken at the end of Grade 12 and includes 3 humanities, 3 sciences and an arts subject. The second category includes 3 languages (2 Swiss languages plus English), Maths and 2 other options depending on the school - these subjects are assessed in both written and oral exams.
These final exams are taken in August (so no summer holiday as students are expected to revise) and since students receive their results immediately after the oral exams they can enter the Swiss university of their choice at the end of September. However, the results are usually too late for entry into UK and US universities and a gap year is needed. Subjects are graded 1 to 6 points with 6 being the highest. A student must obtain 115 points or more (with an average of 5) to obtain the Maturité.
Two things to note: One, entry into UK universities can be 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). Two, the communes and cantons provide the sports facilities in Geneva, rather than the schools, although private international schools do provide some sport and after-school activities - at a cost.
For nursery aged children, some Montessori schools have an English section. Bell One World Nursery School, for instance, has an English based curriculum and takes children from 2 ½ years. A number of other schools also now have a nursery class. Otherwise, there are the local Garderies and Jardins des Enfants where young children will experience French immersion.
National Curriculum for England/ IGCSE / A Level; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 300 students
Founded in 1961 by a small group of parents, moving to the ‘Petit Malagny’ site in Genthod (overlooking Lake Geneva and with stunning views of Mont Blanc) in 1989. Joined by a nursery in 2014 and secondary campus in nearby Versoix in 2017 and growing organically each year. Most pupils go on to local international schools with a varying proportion heading to boarding school in the UK. Accredited by the Council of British International Schools (COBIS) and inspected by British Overseas Schools (BSO).
Click here to read our full review of the Geneva English School
4,000 students on three campuses and offering the choice of differing curricula makes Ecolint the largest and most educationally diverse institution in Geneva. In addition, all three campuses now offer an Extended Support Programme, the only international school in Switzerland to do so, for the Anglophone community. All the schools are accredited by the Council of International Schools (CIS).
Click here to read our full review of the International School of Geneva.
PYP /MYP/ IB Diploma/ IB Careers; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; 990 students
The newest edition to the Ecolint schools, on two sites near the United Nations buildings. A wide variety of nationalities are taught the entire International Baccalaureate programme in English although students can choose to take some IB subjects in French. Despite the small size of the site, the sports facilities, thanks to some creative architects, aren’t bad as long as you don’t mind playing basketball on the roof.
Click >here to read our full review of the International School of Geneva: Campus des Nations.
French curriculum/ Brevet/ Swiss Maturité / PYP/ IGCSE/ IB Diploma; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; 1,550 students
Located in the countryside in the Canton de Vaud, 20kms outside Geneva. Ground-breaking bilingual curriculum with students spending 60 per cent of the school year in English and 40 per cent in French or vice versa. French Brevet, followed by the choice of Maturité Suisse for Francophones and IGCSEs and the International Baccalaureate Diploma for Anglophones.
Click here to read our full review of the International School of Geneva: La Châtaignerie.
French curriculum/ adapted English curriculum/ American High School Diploma/ IB Diploma; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; 1,900 students
Oldest of the Ecolint schools, based around a beautiful chateau in the centre of Geneva, surrounded by trees. Offering French, English and bilingual programmes to a majority of Francophones but any subject can be studied in English or French from year 9. Predominantly English or French classes in primary, English or bilingual in middle School and English, French or bilingual in secondary.
Click here to read our full review of the International School of Geneva: La Grande Boissière.
These schools have been brought to our attention, but until we have more reports from parents, we are unable to consider reviewing them.
National Curriculum for England/ IGCSE/ A Level; ages 4-18; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; 200 students
The school started life as an A Level college in the centre of the city and, unusually, expanded downwards with a reception class only recently opened. The only school in Geneva to offer the full English National Curriculum programme, making transitioning to or from the UK, easier for students. Owned by ASC International House Education group, in turn owned by Novapred SA, specialists in language teaching. Inspected by Penta for the British Schools Overseas (BSO).
American curriculum/ American High School Diploma/ AP/ IGCSE/ IB Diploma /IB Careers/ French curriculum/ Brevet/ French Bac/ Swiss Maturité; ages 2-19; co-ed; day and boarding independent; privately owned; 1,900 students
Founded in 1960, sold to Meritas (education) in 2008 and then to Nord Anglia Education in 2015. Offering both English and French programmes, the former leading either to Advanced Placement exams or IGCSEs and the International Baccalaureate Diploma and the latter to the French Baccalaureate or the Maturité Suisse. Both programmes produce successful outcomes at university entrance. Accredited by the Council of International Schools (CIS) and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
French curriculum/ Brevet/ French Bac/ OIB/ (National Curriculum for England in 4 subjects); ages 4-18; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 2,650 students
Over the border and only open to families living in France (large numbers of families commute from France to Geneva). French curriculum taught in French throughout but also offering fee paying courses in English, maths, history and geography. GCSE English is very popular with about 80 students taking the exam annually.
French curriculum/ Brevet/ French Bac/ Swiss Maturité/ IGCSE/ IB Diploma/ OIB; ages 4-18; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 1,490 students
Located in Petit-Nancy. Initially, a Catholic, French speaking, all-through day school but has now introduced a full bilingual system and since 2014, offers the International Baccalaureate Diploma as well as the French Baccalaureate and the Maturité Suisse. There is a bilingual section in secondary divided into Honors and Expert Users dependent on their attainment in English. Students come from over 70 nationalities. Recently Swiss were the largest cohort, followed by French. Graduates head to Oxbridge and Russell Group in the UK and Ivies in the US amongst other destinations.
French curriculum/ Brevet/ French Bac/ National Curriculum for England/ IGCSE/ IB Diploma; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 1,430 students
Originally, a traditional French Catholic day school (College Marie-Thérese, founded 1903) but changed its name into the Institut International de Lancy, with the English section opening in 2001 and the International Baccalaureate Diploma authorised since 2009. Now a bilingual international school but still with a strong Catholic ethos and part of the international network of the schools of Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Lyon. Results are good and graduates head off to leading universities in Europe and the UK.
For more information on the schools above, please go to each school’s individual entry on the Good Schools Guide international search.