EducationBlog: Changes to the Vaud School System

Blog post contributed by MiV member and mother Wendy Horne and copy-edited by Michelle of MiV

The school system in Vaud is currently in a period of transition as the application of HarmoS, a Swiss-wide harmonization of the 26 cantonal school systems, will be introduced in Vaud in August 2013.  At the same time, the new Vaud education law, that was approved by popular vote last year, will also take effect.

Starting this year already, a new syllabus for Suisse romande, the Plan d’Etudes Romand (PER) will be rolled out.  This means new content, new teaching aims, new minimum standards and new teaching materials.   Some subjects will continue following the old syllabus, but only until materials (e.g. History books) and teacher training (German & English teachers) can be brought up to date.

Following on from the presentation by Anne-Catherine Lyon of Vaud Public Schools, here is a summary of the changes to expect in the comings months and leading up to August 2013.


Enfantine (4-6 year olds)

Up to August 2012, the cut-off date for entry into non-compulsory École Enfantine was 30 June.   Children needed to have turned four by the end of June to start school that academic year, i.e. in August.  The parents of children born in May or June could request that their child start school one year later and the parents of children born in July or August could request to join school one year earlier than normal.

From August 2013 the cut-off date for entry into the now-compulsory first two years of primary school will be 31 July, meaning children must be 4 years old by the end of July to start school in August.   This new cut-off date will be adopted by all public schools in Switzerland by 2015.   There will also be an increase in the total number of hours of education, i.e. an additional three school periods per week.

Parents who aren’t sure when their child should be starting school can enter their child’s date of birth in the Canton of Vaud’s Educational Calculator.

Premier Cycle Primaire (6-8 year olds) &
Deuxieme Cycle Primaire (8-12 year olds)

Currently, primary school (primaire) is considered schooling for children between the ages of 6 and 10 and is divided into Premier Cycle Primaire (CYP 1) (Children 6-8) & Deuxieme Cycle Primaire (CYP2) (Children 8-10) with two transition years (CYT) (children 10-12).  From August 2013, these classifications are changing.   The premier cycle primaire will refer to children between the ages of 4 and 8 (Years, 1, 2, 3 & 4H), and the deuxieme cycle primaire will refer to children between the ages of 8 and 12 (Years 5, 6, 7 & 8H).  There will be no transition years.

Language Instruction in Primary School

From August 2014, formal teaching of German will start for 8 year olds (currently called 3e but will be called 5H) (note: currently German teaching starts at age 10).  Marks from 1-6 are also introduced in 5H.

From August 2015, formal teaching of English will start for 10 year olds (this is currently called 5e but will be called 7H) (note: currently English teaching starts at age 12).

Class times

Currently, most primary/elementary schools in Vaud have a long break for lunch (1.5 to 2 hours), and most children go home (or to a friend’s or other) for lunch or are enrolled within each school district’s “Accueil du Midi” programme where lunch is served.  There is no school on Wednesday afternoons.  This will continue.

The school day currently includes one or two periods a week before school or at lunchtime for children who need extra attention.   Called “appui”, teachers use this time differently across schools and districts.  From August 2013, the system of “appui” will no longer exist, all children will go to school for 28 periods a week and any additional support will be given either in school time or outside school time.


Cycle de Transition (10-12 year olds, discontinued from 2013)

As mentioned above, from August 2013, the transition years (10-12 year olds) will no longer exist, instead secondary school will start at the age of 12.

Secondary School for 12-15 year olds in 2012

Currently, secondary school students are placed into one of three streams: Voie Secondaire a Options (VSO),  Voie Secondaire Générale (VSG) or Voie Secondaire de Baccalauréat (VSB).

VSO is primarily for students who expect to continue onto an apprenticeship at the end of Year 9.   VSO students complete work experience (stages) during years  8 & 9.  At the end of Year 9 students graduate with a VSO certificate.

VSG prepares students for either an apprenticeship or for further academic study.  In Year 8, students enrolled in the VSG stream complete work experience (stage).  At the end of Year 9 they graduate with a VSG certificate.

VSB (pre-Gymnase) is for those students who expect to continue on to higher education (US: High School, UK: College).  There is no work experience (stages).  Most VSB students continue studies by attending a Gymnase (e.g. the Gymnase de Nyon, de Morges or de Lausanne).   They graduate VSB at the end of Year 9 with a VSB certificate.

Currently, if a students’ results in the core subjects (Maths, French and German/English) are sufficiently high, he/she can move between these three streams at the end of Year 7 and at the end of Year 9 .  If a student moves up a level they must redo the academic year.  Likewise students who do not achieve the minimum results required of them can move down a level, but these students are not expected to redo the year.

Those students who completed primary school in July 2012 will be the last class to start VSO, VSG or VSB streams for the 2012/13 academic year.

Secondary School for 12-15 year olds from 2013

Starting in August 2013, the VSO stream will be discontinued.   Instead, the VSG (voie generale) will have two different ability-levels for Maths, French and German: basic or advanced.  A students’ placement is dependent upon on his/her results for the subject in Year 8H.  See image inset.



The discontinuation of VSO means that current current CYT students (i.e. those that are between 10-12 now or born in 2000, 2001 or 2002) and all students who complete primary school (age 12) will be oriented into one of two streams (VSG or VSB), based on results in the key subjects plus the results of the ECR cantonal exam (30% weight) for Maths, French and German (just Maths and French for those children who are in 6e in 2012-13).  It is expected that just over 1/3 of students will enter the VSB/Pre-Gymnase stream and just under 2/3 will enter the VSG/General stream.

To ensure students are in the right stream, every 6 months VSG students will be assessed and those who have progressed well may move from the basic to the advanced group or from the VSG-advanced level to the VSB (voie baccalaureat) level for that particular subject.

Students that are identified as being in difficulty will be offered specialized teaching attention, the modalities of which will depend on the school (e.g. additional lessons, either individually or collectively).

Students that have progressed sufficiently may change stream at the end of the first term of the Year 9H, at the end of Year 9H, or at the end of Year 10H (i.e. between the ages of 13 & 15).  In all streams, the students are asked to choose a specific option that will help them in their career choices after secondary school (i.e. after the age of 15).   All children are expected to successfully complete Year 11H, even if they repeated a year and are already 16 or 17 years old.

Catch-up classes

From August 2013, any student who does not obtain their end of school certificate at the end of Year 11H will be automatically expected to repeat the year or spend a year in a catch-up class.

In addition, catch-up classes are available to students that do well in VSG.  These students can spend a year in a catch-up class to qualify for the VSB/Pre-Gymnase certificate.

A student in the VSB/Pre-Gymnase stream that does not successfully complete the requirements and therefore cannot graduate with a VSB certificate,  will be eligible to receive a VSG certificate.  If his/her marks meet the requirements, a VSG certificate will be awarded.


Language Classes

With a large expatriate community, where French is not the mother or native language of many students, it is recognised that additional help in French is a service the school-system must provide.    As such, each school will continue to provide Intensive French Lessons to students who do not speak French or have limited French language skills.   These lessons are done in small groups or, for children aged 8-15, they may be done in a specific class for non-French speakers.   It is expected that special measures should only be required for 1 to 2 years.

For students who enter the educational system and who speak German or English as a native or mother tongue, there is no formal differentiation made between them and those who are learning German or English as a second language.  All children follow the same syllabus.   This said, parents and teachers are able to work together to try to create a suitable programme for those children who are already fluent in German or English.


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