The Swiss school streaming maze

If you have done your research, you probably know already that secondary school in most German cantons are divided into ability streams or tracks. But did you know about performance setting? Since secondary schools in come cantons can choose among different options, as is the case in Zürich, you may come across a bewildering variety of streaming models!

Swiss education system: Different streaming models in canton Zürich

Ability streaming and performance setting in secondary schools

What exactly is the difference between streaming and setting anyway?

Streaming occurs when children are placed in groups according to their general academic ability; a child who is considered to be a strong student across the board may be put into the high stream, or Sek A.

Setting is where children are grouped by ability according to subject. So a child who is achieving highly in maths but is average in languages might be in the top set for maths, and the middle set for French.

Streaming and setting options can look quite different between schools. Some secondary schools opt for a rather separate model, which three separated ability streams from high to intermediate to basic requirements. Others settle on a more cooperative two or three tier system with joint performance sets in single subjects (see image above). To make matters even more complicated, schools in Zürich can also decide which (if any) subjects they want to offer in differentiated sets. 

Depending on where you live in canton Zürich, this can have implications for your child’s performance. If your child is a native English speaker, excels in Maths but struggles with French, she would probably be better off in Meilen with 3 performance sets in English than say in Zollikon-Zumikon secondary school with only one performance set in French.

A bright student who has to start in the intermediate stream because of his lack of German will probably benefit from a more cooperative model with performance sets in his stronger subjects.

Cantonal variations

The same is true between cantons. The majority of cantons the German part of Switzerland know horizontal streaming into more or less separate ability streams (with the notable exception of Luzern). When it comes to subject differentiation, there are major differences between cantons. Most secondary schools in Zürich, for example, will place students into performance sets in French and Maths. In Zug, however, secondary schools offer different performance levels in English and Maths. Schools in other cantons, especially in more rural settings, may not offer any vertical streaming at all.

Do you want to know more about pathways in secondary school? Read on:

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