Understanding the local special education options

Understanding the school system in Switzerland and which options are best for your family can be a challenge. This can become a greater when your child has special educational needs. This is a short guide on the options available to you and your child, between the local and international schools in and around Luzern.

Special educational needs cover a vast spectrum of issues including physical, intellectual, emotional and developmental. Getting an assessment and diagnosis is often the first step and the child’s teacher may be the first to discover they are having difficulties. However, a useful guide covering warning signs for parents has been provided by John Byde on his website.

Schools will involve the local School Psychology Service for an assessment and diagnosis. If you wish to obtain a private diagnosis, it is important to know that the local school system will not accept a private assessment.

After diagnosis the school psychologist, teachers and parents will decide together which options are best for the child. In the local school system integration into mainstream schools, with appropriate support, is the preferred option.  There are 3 levels of special needs supported by the local school system:

  • Integrative Förderung – IF (Integrated Encouragement): is a programme which takes place during class hours and which the school provides in most classes. The teacher assesses whether a child will benefit from this and automatically put your child in this course.
  • Integrative Sonderschulung – IS (integrated special education): this is a programme for children who are below the standard level (usually with some kind of physical or mental disability) and will have been suggested by the school psychologist. The children will continue to go to regular school and will be supported during the school hours.
  • Separative Sonderschulung – Ses (separated special education): this programme is for children who are not being sufficient challenged in the regular class or who are not able to join in a regular class often due to their behavioral needs. The child will need to be assessed by a psychologist before having this course of action recommended.

If your child’s needs are unable to be met in the mainstream school, there are special schools – Sonderschulen – available, which the school psychologist will help advise you on.

International schools have their own individual policies for special needs. Information on their websites is understandably vague as every situation is unique. It is important to realise that any extra provision will incur costs on top of the fees listed. To discuss your individual situation contact the schools.

The schools most local to Luzern are the Swiss International School, International school of Zug and Luzern, Four Forest Bilingual International School, and the International School of Central Switzerland.

We’ve compiled a list of helpful resources for you to find further information on this matter in Switzerland, from websites to books and organisations. All the websites listed, provide their information in English.

Books and Websites

  • Going local: your guide to Swiss schooling by Margaret Oertig – A useful book on the Swiss educational system in English, with chapters covering special needs and gifted children.
  • A recent article from Mothering Matters deals with some of the emotional impact for the family, when dealing with special needs.
  • Both the European Agency for Special Needs and inclusive Education and the Swiss Education have written articles highlighting the system in place in Switzerland.


This article is from our Summer Magazin which you can download here.

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