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Educational Careers of Students with Special Needs in Canton Zurich

Background and aims

The proportion of children who are educated at elementary schools in special classes has been continually increasing over many years in the whole of Switzerland and has remained on the internationally comparatively high level of approximately 6% since the end of the 1990s. A similar development can be observed in Canton Zurich.

Nevertheless, there are few results of research about the school careers of children or young people with special educational needs (sonderpädagogischer Förderbedarf SPF) available in Switzerland. In particular, we observe a knowledge gap in connection with the transition between school and working life of children and young people with a background of special classes or a school for special education.

An improvement in know-how in the training of pupils with special educational needs is urgent: the developments in the working world (keywords: tertiarisation, increasing educational intensity) could make it more difficult for the pupils to start their working and vocational lives (compare project B.1).


This project examines four critical thresholds in the education of pupils at the Canton of Zurich Elementary School:

  • Transition kindergarten – primary school
  • Transition lower primary level (3rd grade) – middle primary level (4th grade)
  • Transition middle primary level – secondary level I
  • Transition secondary level I – secondary level II

Particular attention is focused on young people in risk situations (attendance at a school with a special teaching programme, migration background).

The following central issues are examined individually:

  1. What kinds of education are selected for the stages kindergarten – primary level – secondary level I – secondary level II? Is it possible to identify different development models? How frequently do discontinuous developments occur?
  2. What form do the different kinds of education for pupils with special needs take? How accessible are separating models (proportion of reintegration from special needs classes into regular classes?)
  3. How significant are critical vocational occurrences, e.g. breaks, (repetition, change of type of school) for the further course of the education?
  4. Is there evidence of regional differences (urban districts, town/country)?


These issues are examined within the framework of the Bildungsstatistik des Kantons Zürich (BISTA) (official education statistics of Canton Zurich). The education statistics have been organised as individual records since 1999, thus facilitating the analysis of individual school careers.
In order to fully exploit the informative content of the BISTA records, it is worthwhile considering a combination of various analysis perspectives:

  • Full longitudinal study: development analysis over 6 consecutive years of education;
  • Mini-longitudinal study: analysis of critical transitions (e.g. secondary level I – secondary level II) over 2 years of education;
  • Trend: analysis of specific stages of education (e.g. sec. I/ sec. II) in comparison over several years (e.g. 1999-2004).


In addition to other things, the results show that learners with special educational needs have greater difficulty accessing vocational training and that learners from special education schools or special classes experience the greatest difficulty. Learners from special education schools have the least chance of accessing certified vocational training. The uncertified apprenticeship or the certified two-year VET programme is key to the successful integration of learners with special educational needs into professional life. Furthermore, there are no explicitly critical transitions during the training career of pupils with special educational needs in the stricter sense, but critical phases do exist.


Project organisation
This is a joint project of the HfH and the Abteilung Bildungsstatistik der Bildungsdirektion (BID) (department of education statistics of the education management) of Canton Zurich). The analyses ensue in exchange with an accompanying group of representatives from both institutions:

  • HfH: Prof. Kurt Häfeli
  • BID: Beda Imhof, Ruth Brammertz, Pius Bischofberger



Project Management

Dr. phil.  Gyseler



Forschung und Entwicklung
Tel: +41 44 317 11 81

zfe[at] zfe