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WiRk: The efficacy of integrated schooling

Background and aims

Schools teaching pupils with learning disabilities, and above all special education, are under pressure to prove they deliver effective education. Although it is still unclear whether or not segregation (the previous system) absorbed greater human and financial resources than today’s integrational approach, these questions about the efficacy of integration nevertheless demand answers.

The “WiRk” study on the efficacy of integrated schooling asks whether and to what extent education and integration are achieved for all pupils, both with and without “special educational needs”. The behavioural and educational development of these schoolchildren is observed for a year. From a special education perspective, the most interesting aspects to be explored in integrated classes at regular schools are: links between the emotional, social and academic status of the children, the degree of selection that occurs (integration remit) and the children’s behavioural and learning development (qualification remit). The objective is to obtain a better understanding of the complex dynamics of teaching in integrated classes at regular schools by analysing the impact of significant factors in relation to behavioural and learning development and the perceived wellbeing of schoolchildren. With the outcomes in mind, selected support teams are then interviewed about “best/worst practice” in integrated classes.


Data is compiled by using a range of standardised instruments to interview all pupils – with or without special educational needs – from a total of 30 integrated classes in regular schools (upper secondary grades) and their support teams (e.g. special teachers, regular form teachers, classroom assistants). The research is designed as a longitudinal study with three measurement points (t0, t1 and t2) over the course of a year. On these three dates, a total of 550 to 600 pupils, including about 100 to 150 with special educational needs, and their support staff answer questions about significant factors such as quality of teaching, perceived self-efficacy, quality of relationships, and behavioural and learning development. The data is evaluated using descriptive methods and inference statistics. A cross-lagged panel design is applied to establish reciprocal dependences between the factors under investigation and to gain a better understanding of the complex dynamics of teaching integrated classes at regular schools. Focus interviews are conducted with each special support team and are subsequently compared to explore best/worst practices.


Performance level: The average scholastic performance of the children in the study sample did not differ fundamentally from the performance level of children in a representative sample for the German-speaking part of Switzerland. The increase in performance of children with no special education measures was essentially the same as the performance increase in children in the comparison sample. Children receiving special education measures achieved on average a similar performance increase in language (German) and mathematics as their classmates, although their performance was, as expected, at a lower level.

Behaviour: Behavioural difficulties decreased on average over the course of the year of the study, and prosocial behaviour increased slightly on average. Children receiving special education measures showed a stronger decrease in behavioural problems than their classmates.

Integration and well-being: All of the children remained in their classes during the period of investigation—that is, there were no repetitions or transfers to special education schools or private schools. Children receiving special education measures had a lower academic self-concept and felt less well integrated than their classmates, but emotionally they felt as well as their classmates. In addition, differences in well-being between these groups of students did not increase over the school year.

In sum: In the regular classes of this non-representative sample, children with special education measures were successfully integrated, at no disadvantage to their classmates without special education measures. The problems—also confirmed in this study—of lower academic self-concept and poorer social integration of children with special education measures raise the question as to whether and when these problems can be solved by means of appropriate methods.

Outlook: In future research studies, the concrete organization and design of lessons in inclusion classes at regular schools will be investigated together with the teachers’ and school-level special education teachers’ occupational profiles and work models regarding learning, behaviour, and well-being of students in representative samples.

A further study examines the process of promotion of children with learning and behavioural difficulties in inclusion classes at regular schools.



Project Management

Dr. phil.  Altmeyer-Müller

Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin


Forschung und Entwicklung
Tel: +41 44 317 11 81

zfe[at] zfe