The Swiss Schools have been Governed by Local Lay Authorities

Heinzer, Markus (23 August 2013). The Swiss Schools have been Governed by Local Lay Authorities (Unpublished). In: Education and Power: Historical Perspectives. International Standing Conference for History of Education 35 (ISCHE 35). Riga, Lettland. 21.08.-24.08.2013.

After the introduction of the liberal-democratic constitutions in the Swiss cantons in the first half of the 1830ies the grid of existing schools has been systemized and broadly expanded. The school systems have ever since been characterized by one key element: a special local authority type called „Schulkommission“ or „Schulpflege“. They take the form of committees consisting of laymen that are appointed by democratic elections like all the other executive bodies on the different federal levels in Switzerland. When it comes to their obligations and activities these community level school committees conform very much to the school boards in the American and Canadian school systems. They are accountable for the selection and supervision of the teachers. They approve decisions about the school careers of pupils and about curricular matters like the choice of school books. Normally their members are elected by the local voters for four year terms of office (reelection remains possible) and with regard to pedagogics they normally are non-professionals. The board members are responsible for classes and teachers assigned to them and they have to go to see them periodically. These visitations and the board meetings each month together
with the teachers enable the board members to attain a deep insight into what happens in their schools over the course of their term of office. But they are confronted as laymen with a professional teaching staff and with educational experts in the public administration. Nevertheless this form of executive power by non-professionals is constitutive for the state governance in the Swiss as well as in other national political environments. It corresponds to the principles of subsidiarity and militia and therefore allows for a strong accentuation of liberty and the right of self-determination, two axioms at the very base of democratic
federalist ideology.
This governance architecture with this strong accent on local anchorage features substantial advantages for the legitimacy and acceptability of political and administrative decisions. And this is relevant especially in the educational area because the rearing of the offspring is a project of hope and, besides, quite costly. In the public opinion such supervision bodies staffed by laymen seem to have certain credibility advances in comparison with the professional administration. They are given credit to be capable of impeding the waste of common financial resources and of warranting the protection and the fostering of the community’s children at once. Especially because of their non-professional character they are trusted to be reliably immune against organizational blindness and they seem to be able to defend the interests of the local community against the standardization and centralization aspirations originating from the administrational expertocracy.
In the paper these common rationales will be underpinned by results of a comprehensive historical analysis of the Session protocols of three Bernese school commissions from 1835 to 2005.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Speech)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Education > General and Historical Educational Science

UniBE Contributor:

Heinzer, Markus


300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 320 Political science
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 340 Law
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 350 Public administration & military science
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 370 Education




Markus Heinzer

Date Deposited:

16 Sep 2014 08:34

Last Modified:

16 Sep 2014 08:34


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