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The Implementation of Legal Innovations in the Area of Special Teaching

Background and aims

The new 'Volksschulgesetz (VSG 2005)' is currently being implemented in the schools of canton Zurich and includes various reforms such as the introduction of school administrations, day structures and block scheduling. The re-structuring of special needs provisions within the framework of this new act is of particular interest from a special needs education perspective. In addition to the integrative basic policy direction, the VSG also contains three innovations in the field of special needs education: 1) De-differentiation of special needs services into five provisions: speech and language therapy, psychomotor therapy, psychotherapy, integrated school support and German as a second language; 2) School unit based allocation of special needs therapy personnel according to a fixed coefficient; 3) Legitimation of special needs provisions using the cooperative assessment meeting consensual procedure.

Control Sample In order to implement the innovations made in the area of special needs education, the schools in canton Zurich are separated into three successions. Implementing the VSG in the area of special needs education in this way facilitates a quasi-experimental form of investigation; this means establishing an experimental group and a control group, the difference between the two being that the experimental group (the school units in the 1st succession) have already implemented the innovations, whereas the control group (school units in the 3rd succession) have not. Our sample consists of 32 schools in the first succession and 15 in the third succession.


Questions for Investigation

  1. Are there differences between the school units in the first succession and the school units in the third succession with regard to the perception of their special needs school culture?
  2. What differences can be detected during the implementation process (between t1 and t2) in the school units contained in the first succession?
  3. Are there any links between structurally similar school types and certain characteristics of special needs education school culture?
  4. How do those school units that differ greatly in their special needs education school culture cooperate and communicate?
  5. How are pupils with learning difficulties and behavioural problems integrated in those school units that differ greatly in their special needs education school culture?


A web-based questionnaire is employed twice (t1: March 2008; t2: March 2009) and contains a total of 124 items subdivided into the four main areas: integrative didactics, cooperative assessment meetings, cooperation/communication and politics/society. These special needs education school culture dimensions are compared with 133 structural characteristics of the school units and their local education authorities, as collected in 2006/7 by Zurich's education statistics department: number and type of special needs provisions, number of foreign-language pupils, number of teaching staff, number of upper secondary school pupils, social index etc.


Here, we will restrict the presentation of results and interpretations to the third question. Please refer to the article published in the professional journals on our research homepage regarding the other questions. 

3) The main finding with regard to the links between school structure and school culture is as follows: The attitude towards to the new VSG and its integrative orientation is in the first succession at t2 dependent on the development of the Integrated School Model (ISM) provision before implementation of the act. The greater the ISM provision in a school unit (and thus the further back the introduction of the ISM model), the more negative the VSG evaluation with regard to the required level of integration. Concurrently (that means within the same regression model), it is apparent that the richer the local education authority and the more successful its pupil population, the more the statutory integration is supported. Our data also shows that those financially strong local education authorities with a successful pupil population exhibit a lesser than average development of their special needs provisions.

In schools with financially strong education authorities, the relatively homogenous pupil population allows for a more economic application of special needs provisions. Approval of the new school act and its integrative orientation could in this case be attributed to the fact that a model has been given where special needs therapy resources are above the development standards already achieved. The opposite could be said of those schools that have worked with ISM for years and developed local models that are highly adapted to the size of the school and the heterogeneity of its pupils. The standard model, institutionalised by the VSG, appears from this perspective to be less adaptive. In recommending these school units with highly developed ISM provisions we do not criticise the integrative orientation of the act itself, but rather its centralising effect, which disrupts both local structures and resolving capacity causing the adaptive ability of the individual schools to diminish. One will no longer learn from an environment whose complexity (the heterogeneity of pupil population is one example of this environmental complexity) will continue to increase, but rather from the support and further training provisions created for the implementation of the VSG and their corresponding handouts and files leading, henceforth, to coping with the complexities contained within these requiring more energy than coping with the environmental complexities.



Project Management

Dr. phil.  Barth


Project team


Forschung und Entwicklung
Tel: +41 44 317 11 81

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