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Special education: a cost comparison

Background and aims

The contribution which parliament makes available for financing public education in Canton Zurich through the Consolidated Development and Finance Plan (KEF) may be reduced in the future due to a variety of factors. This would mean that savings would also have to be made in special education. The remit for this commissioned research was to compare the costs of special education measures in such a manner that the data would be available for a hearing with those responsible for special education in a number of cantons. The statistics were not intended to speak for themselves. The quantitative data was to be given to experts to discuss, criticise and evaluate.


Four other cantons joined Canton Zurich in this comparison of provision. The data compiled on a total of 58 day schools in the special education sector related to variables which those responsible for special education in the cantons believed might directly or indirectly generate cost effects. The principal variables here were: hours of care provided, percentage of pupils with a great or very great need for individual care, composition of staff including percentage of trained staff, wage costs and staff/pupil ratios. Adjustment was made for the different pay scales in different cantons. The data was discussed at a hearing and the findings were recorded.


Noticeable cost differences were identified and called for closer examination. The differences arose both between different types of day school – facilities for pupils with learning disabilities, learning and behavioural disorders, and speech impediments – and between the cantons. Upon closer examination, the factors exerting the greatest influence on costs were: staff/pupil ratios, hours of care provided, and the percentage of trained staff. However, the relative impact of each variable is not constant but depends on the type of school. Hours of care, for example, play a particularly prominent role in schools for pupils with learning disabilities. The other variables examined did not display a noticeable impact.



  1. The hearing delivered two main conclusions: The special day schools in Canton Zurich tend to be more expensive even after adjustment for pay differentials between the cantons and they display a greater variance in relation to staff and staffing costs than schools in the other cantons. The schools in the other cantons do not provide services of lesser value. Moderate cost reductions in specific areas therefore appear to be feasible.
  2. The present remit did not include any quality criteria for the schools. However, concrete decisions on savings cannot be made without data on quality standards.




  • Liesen, Chr. (2015). Kostenvergleich sonderpädagogischer Angebote. Bericht. Zürich: Interkantonale Hochschule für Heilpädagogik Zürich. PDF
  • The report (in German) is also available from Volksschulamt – Sonderschulung.
  • Project summary (German) PDF



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