Learning support and pastoral services in local Swiss schools

Parents with children in local schools are often confused by the array of different learning support and pastoral services. This article is trying to shed light on the different types of support for local school children in Switzerland. While schools in all parts of Switzerland offer these support services , this article focuses on the German-speaking cantons.

Swiss public schools provides different types of student support services, ranging from learning support for children with developmental delays to more pastoral services.

Developmental Support

Swiss local schools offer a variety of developmental support services aimed at children with developmental needs or delays. Most schools do regular assessments of children in all domains of development during the first two years of Kindergarten. If needed, the teacher can refer a child to different services:

Speech therapy/Logopädie

Children from Kindergarten onwards with a speech delay or other speech issues receive speech therapy at school. For children with more severe speech and communication problems, the speech support school/Sprachheilschule offers specialist support for children in different therapies outside school.

Occupational therapy/psycho motor therapy/ Psychomotorik

Therapy that evaluates and treats numerous adaptive and physical conditions to restore or develop fine and gross motor movement and skills to help students function more independently. 

Pastoral care at school

Local schools offer different pastoral services for students. If your child feels overwhelmed at school or has problems with the teacher or class mates, the  School-based social worker/Schulsozialarbeiter  is often the first point of call. Sozialarbeiter are not employed by school and have the duty of confidentiality. A good school social worker can be an important ally for children and parents.

Social workers work with single students and classes. They counsel students, observe classes and class dynamics. Furthermore, they help prevent and solve conflicts by promoting student skills in dealing with bullying and conflicts and developing healthy peer relationships. While social workers do not carry out assessments, they help students to get the right support and set up referrals to other mental-health agencies, amongst others the:

School psychological services/ Schulpsychologischer Dienst (SPD)

If a child is experiencing learning difficulties, mental or behavioural issues, parents, teachers and social workers can request an assessment at the SPD. The SPD is a public counselling service for local school students and their carers. It employs a team of skilled psychologists and will assess and, if necessary, place a child into psychotherapy, a special school or recommend inclusion support.

Inclusion support

Children who are diagnosed with mild learning and behavioural issues might receive additional classroom support/ Integrative Förderung (IF) in their mainstream class. In order to receive extra support, students need an assessment and a diagnosis by the SPD (see above). Depending on severity, children get between 2-10 hours extra one-on-one support by a special support teacher/Schulischer Heilpädagoge (SHP). Note that the quality of the support can be variable. This is because not all special needs teachers have the necessary experience or qualification. In fact, a recent evaluation in canton Zürich showed that only 64% of all teachers working as special needs educators have completed or are attending special needs training courses.

Quality issues

Sue, a mum in Zürich welcomes the extra support:

We are happy with the support my son has been receiving so far. He has a few one-on-one lessons every week with a specialist where they deal a lot with developing social skills and addressing any issues he might have’

A mother of an autistic son in the French part of Switzerland is less happy:

‚Individual provision is so low (in terms of support teacher hours allocated) that it means many of these highly specialised teachers have to follow multiple children during the week just to get their hours up to a liveable minimum. The administrative arrangements behind setting this up are next to impossible. Furthermore the cost of this approach is proving prohibitive’ 

Dedicated special needs schools/Sonderschulen

As elsewhere, education policies in Switzerland focus increasingly on integration into mainstream classes. Only children with more complex needs might be placed in dedicated special needs schools. These schools address complex learning and developmental differences or physical disabilities. Depending on the size of the canton, there might be one school for various conditions or different schools specialising on different needs. 

Mental health services for children

If your child faces mental health issues, the SPD/school psychology service might refer your family to the child and adolescent mental health services/ Kinder- & Jugendpsychiatrischer Dienst (KJPD). The KJPD is a public service provided by the canton. However, parents are able to choose an alternative service provider if they prefer but they might have to pay.

Do you need more informations on how local schools in Switzerland support students with special needs? Does your child face problems at school? Book an online or face-to-face meeting with your local school expert!

More information here:

2 thoughts on “Learning support and pastoral services in local Swiss schools”

  1. My family and I will be moving to Switzerland from Canada by Q1 next year. My son will be in Grade 9 (first year high school) by the time we move there. He has mild ASD. Can you let me know the steps I should take to organize the support/ school assistance for him when we get to Switzerland? He speaks English only.

    • Dear Gerry,
      I would be delighted to help you understand how the schools system works and what provisions are in place for children with different learning needs.
      I would suggest a 40 min online consultation to answer your questions.
      Feel free to get in touch with me for more information:
      Best regards
      Stefanie Busse


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