Zurich International School
Zurich International School, based on two separate campuses and Swiss and American accredited, is a large independent, private, day school offering the IB Diploma and AP courses.
- Zurich International School
- T +41 58 750 2500
- E [email protected]
- W www.zis.ch
- Lower School Ages: 3-11
- Lower School Sexes: Co-ed
- Middle School Ages: 11-14
- Middle School Sexes: Co-ed
- Senior School Ages: 14-18
- Senior School Sexes: Co-ed
- Total School Numbers: 1,275 boys and girls
- Teaching Language: English
- SEN: Mainstream with SEN support
- Boarding: Not available
- Uniform: No
- School Year: Mid August - mid June; 2 semesters: Breaks: 3 weeks Christmas; 2 weeks March
- School Hours: 8.30am-4.30pm
- Fee Currency: Swiss franc (CHF)
- Fee Details: Annual Tuition Fees: Pre-school: 16,550 - 26,300 (depending on sessions chosen), Kindergarten: 27,200; Grade 1 - Grade 5: 31,800; Grade 6-8: 35,200; Grade 9-12: 37,900
- Fee Extras: Application fee (non-refundable): 500. Registration fee: 5,000. Intensive learning provision: 55,100 - 63,800 (depending on age). Exams, lunch, transport, after-school care, external examination fees (i.e. IB and AP exams).
- Religion: Non-denominational
- Memberships: ECIS, SGIS, WIDA (lower school).
- State/Independent: Independent: private non-profit
- Advanced Placement (AP)
- Adapted or School-Developed Curriculum
- International Baccalaureate (Diploma)
- Swiss Lehrplan 21
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
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What The Good Schools Guide International says
Since August 2019, Lisa Lyle BA (French, Uni of Texas, Austin) MA (French lit, UPenn) and MA (private school leadership, Columbia). Previously head of school at Mary Institute, St Louis Country Day School (MICDS) in Missouri for 12 years, and before that spent five years as assistant head of school at the Blake School in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Both are private schools in the US. Started her career as a French and humanities teacher at the Lawrenceville School, a boarding school on the east coast of the USA.
Says she realised early on how important it was to meet the social, cultural and emotional development needs of students, not just the academic side. Believes this allows students to thrive and engage deeply in their learning, creating whole people. Was largely attracted to this school because she said she could see this in action, thereby fostering flexibility, compassion and self-awareness, producing stronger, more empathetic children.
Her appointment could be seen as brave as this is the first time she has worked outside the USA, let alone at an international or non-selective school, but she has risen to the challenge. She is an excellent communicator, which puts heed to any dark mutterings about not being seen as ‘in the mix’ as the three school principals. She arrived shortly before the first Covid lockdown in Switzerland but already had some great conversations underway, so the school’s strategic direction could be refined and plans implemented despite the pandemic (namely, the combining of the middle and upper school campuses).
Driven by the assertion that a great school must be aspirational in its provision for its students and community, and able to create an environment for children to be the leaders of the future. It’s not just a pipe dream for this school, she asserts, because it is based on disciplined reflection, a key part of her own leadership style.
Married to David, who is retired; they have three adult children who live in the US. In her spare time, she loves languages, travelling, cooking international food and hiking.
Ms Lyle will be leaving in June 2024. New Head is Elsa Hernandez-Donohue, starting in July, 2024. Elsa will join from Vientiane International School (VIS), an IB World School, where she has served as head of school since 2018. Prior to her arrival at VIS, Elsa spent seven years at the Jakarta Intercultural School (JIS), first as the elementary school principal then as head of two campuses. Elsa started her career as a teacher in her native Venezuela and she previously taught at ZIS Lower School from 2004 to 2006.
While priding itself as an inclusive school with an open admissions policy, attention is still paid to prospective students’ past academic achievements and extracurricular involvement. Students entering grades 11 and 12 are expected to have a proficient level of English (C1 CEFRL level or above) to support success in their senior years. A small number of companies still have historic corporate relationships, originally created in the 2000s and still honoured, where the company pays an additional sum on top of school fees to give its employees’ children priority on the waiting lists, but with no guarantee of a place. School also actively collaborates with corporate partners in other realms, such as internships and schools-wide design thinking events, to name a few examples.
School supports smooth transitions for families leaving before graduation to another school.
in 2023, 23 per cent to UK,15 per cent to USA and nearly 10 per cent to Netherlands. Six per cent stayed in Switzerland.
A team of in-house university counsellors advises the students and guides them through the university application process. Majority of students head to the UK (eg University of Oxford, Imperial College London, Royal Holloway, Uni of Bath etc), followed by the United States (eg Cornell University, Michigan State Uni, NYU, UCLA etc), the Netherlands (eg Uni of Amsterdam, Utrecht University etc), Switzerland (eg ETH Zurich, Uni of Zurich etc) or Canada (eg Uni of Toronto, McGill Uni etc), as well as other European Universities (eg Uni of Paris, Uni of Vienna, CEU San Pablo in Spain etc).
In 2023, IB average score 35, out of 80 candidates 36 per cent achieved a bilingual diploma. AP - 95 per cent achieved 3.0 or higher, 562 AP exams were taken.
In the 2021/22 academic year, 250 students in grades 9-12 at ZIS sat a total of 630 AP exams, achieving an average score of 3.99, of the maximum 5 points. This is well above the world average.
Meanwhile, as of July 2022, the average IBDP score was 37 from the 60 ZIS students who took this academic route (down one from 38 points in 2021 and up two from 35 points in 2020), significantly higher than the world total points of 32. A third of ZIS students scored 40 or more, of the possible 45 points, and there was a 100 per cent pass rate.
Teaching and learning
ZIS prides itself on being rigorous in its approach and aims to produce well-rounded students who also gain some impressive results across the school’s different academic pathways: Advanced Placement (AP), IB Diploma and a ZIS high school diploma.
On average there is a 50/50 split between those students taking the IB and those taking AP courses, with a few taking a mixture of both in grades 11 and 12, and some starting AP’s in grade 10. There were 70 AP and IB courses offered in 2021/22, giving students a good range of options.
Prior to grade 11, ZIS offers its own school-developed international curriculum, which is Anglo-American influenced, but also incorporates some aspects of the English system. Each of the three separate divisions - lower (ages 3-11), middle (ages 11-14) and upper (ages 14-18) - have their own academic and co-curricular programmes.
Deemed by the parent community to offer a high quality of teaching staff, with complaints taken seriously when occasional issues do occur. Previously there was a perception by some parents that the quality of teaching in maths, science and German was somewhat lacking, but recently the school introduced strong programmes in STEM, German and lower school maths which seems to be hitting the spot. The STEM programme has its own dedicated space on each campus.
School is particularly proud of its new optional bilingual (English/German) programme, currently offered for students aged 3-8, with plans to grow this over the coming years up to grade 6 (ages 11-12).
The school makes excellent use of technology, and students are supplied with their own iPad in the younger grades up to grade 5 or PC notebook from grade 6 to bring in and out of school daily. A good technological foundation had been built up over the last decade, so all systems were in place for quality online learning during the pandemic.
Covid restrictions notwithstanding, in-class academics are supported by age-appropriate field trips within Switzerland and other nearby European countries, with opportunities for older student to take part in trips further afield. For example, in spring 2022 the middle school went on the following trips: grade 6 to Italy for five days where they focused on history and geography, grade 7 to Spain for five days where they focused on history, culture and architecture, and grade 8 students to their choice of Berlin, Florence, or Geneva for five days or Ghana for longer. Parents report that trips are well run and enjoyed by students: ‘I think the trips are fantastic. They go places they wouldn’t necessarily go to - my child went to Sarajevo and Mostar for example - and they choose them according to their interests such as history, geography etc.’ The costs of these trips are mostly covered by tuition fees far as possible, with co-payments for some of them.
Learning support and SEN
A comprehensive, fully-funded, in-house learning support team supports children with mild to moderate SEN eg dyslexia, dysplasia etc, with good early detection systems in place. For children with autism, ADHD etc at the more severe end, there are additional fees - although, with guidance from the school, parents can apply for funding from the their local Swiss council to help cover extra costs. Occupational therapy and speech & language therapy are also offered on-campus at extra cost.
Parents told us the school treats each child as an individual, with one commenting that, ‘I have only good things to say about the support we received.' Some feel the level of support is more readily available in the younger than senior years - perhaps a result of the school encouraging independence in their older students.
Offers a bilingual program from pre-school through grade 4. The program will be expanded through grade 9 incrementally and is a German-English bilingual program based on the Swiss Lehrplan 21.
A dedicated and fully funded EAL department receives high praise from parents: ‘The school excels in support for ESL, they go the extra mile, and it made our transition into the school easier.’
The arts and extracurricular
Under the director’s watch, students are actively encouraged to take up as many opportunities as possible in sports, clubs and community activities. The clear message from school is that the more students say yes, the more likely they are to find out what animates them and giving clarity to what brings them joy.
All students have access to music and lessons in secondary school, with multiple orchestras and bands including jazz, concert, choral and voice and a string orchestra, to name a few. Plenty of dedicated spaces for music and the arts. Recent polished musical productions include Grease! performed by the upper school and Elf Jr by the middle school to an enthusiastic parent community, thrilled to be watching live productions again post Covid.
It being Switzerland, there are ski trips for some grades in the lower school. These start in grade 3 with a day trip and increase to three days and overnights by grade 5.
A good choice of seasonal American sports teams, plus football and swimming etc. Excellent sports facilities including multiple gyms in each of the school’s different locations and tournament-sized outdoor pitches with plenty of spaces to practice – no doubt contributing to their reliably successful results in the sporting arena. Competition is with other international and local schools within the Zurich area, plus occasional trips to other local European destinations.
Ethos and heritage
Formed in 2001 through the merger of the American International School of Zurich (founded in 1963) and the International Primary School of Zurich (founded in 1970). It retains an American influence in some areas, namely curriculum, sports offerings and outlook. It is the oldest accredited international school in Switzerland.
Until recently the school operated from three separate campuses, but since August 2022 upper and middle school have been combined onto one site in Adliswil where a new, purpose-built middle school building sits adjacent to the existing upper school. The already well-established lower school is a 10-minute drive away in Wädenswil. The construction of the new middle school is impressive both in terms of the excellent facilities it brings to the already well-equipped school, and the fact that it was mostly completed during the pandemic.
The school certainly has all the bells and whistles with numerous indoor and outdoor sports, sitting and play areas, and plenty of well-equipped classrooms, halls, drama areas, workshops, labs etc. Buildings are spacious with a positive buzz and the lower school backs onto a small, wooded area which is well used.
Some grade 12 students - who are given the privilege of leaving the school for lunch - complain about lack of choice, given the somewhat industrial area of location of the upper school, but all campuses do have a canteen where students can purchase food with various hot and cold offerings.
Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline
General feeling is that the school is on top of discipline and that any issues are handled with common sense, using the guidelines shared within their community. The school often tries to let the students work out minor issues themselves in the first instance to encourage responsibility; some parents feel this leads to escalation and would prefer things to be ‘nipped in the bud’.
The majority of parents say thoughtful care is taken for the overall wellbeing of students, with teachers and counsellors actively troubleshooting and helping to provide solutions, especially in the lower school. However, a perception lingers among senior school parents that there has been a lack of training in the counselling department and so those families looking for support for more serious issues seek it outside of the school.
Pupils and Parents
This is a culturally diverse school with approximately 59 student nationalities from around the globe with North Americans, British and Europeans (Swiss, German and Italian) making up the largest contingents of the parent body. Parents are described as a ‘good mix for a private school and pretty down to earth,’ with many working a wide range of corporates in the greater Zurich area.
Parents enjoy being active and involved, and there's no shortage of social and cultural events eg annual festival and quiz night. Parent clubs (eg crafting, hiking, running, walking and a dads' group) are run by an active parents association. Students and parents alike say they feel very happy to be part of the warm and welcoming ZIS community, with one parent commenting that she had 'made fantastic friends' and has 'an active social life.’
Zurich is ‘split’ by the lake, with locals referring to the ‘silver’ and ‘gold’ coasts. ZIS is located on the silver coast and the majority of students come from this side of the lake or central Zurich. Some gold coast families think the school is worth this travel commitment for their children but advise caution to prospective parents considering sending their younger and/or less savvy children.
While ZIS can be reached by the efficient Zurich public transport system, at peak times it can be quite crowded and best suited for older, more streetwise children if travelling alone. Parking at the middle and upper school campus can be an issue.
A not-for-profit school governed by a board of trustees. Parents are encouraged to support the school through philanthropy and volunteering. Contributions to an annual fund help launch strategic initiatives. School fees are considered justifiable for the provision by most parents.
The last word
Families looking for academic rigor and choice, with a good dose of healthy competition, will enjoy their time at this school. The community is welcoming and friendly, staff are well trained and committed - and the quality, purpose-built facilities support a healthy learning environment. Parents are engaged and students are actively encouraged to become well-rounded individuals. One of the top choices of schools in Zurich.
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