Success factors in the transition to vocational education and training of young people in lower secondary Realschulen, special educational needs classes and special education schools

University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW)
Centre for Learning and Socialisation

Lead researcher: Prof. Dr. Markus P. Neuenschwander, PProf. Dr. Christoph M. Müller
Duration: 01.09.2022 – 31.10.2026

Young people from lower secondary school types with basic requirements (hereafter: Realschulen), special educational needs classes and special education schools have greater difficulties than other young people in finding an apprenticeship with final qualification (federal VET diploma or certificate) (Pool Maag, 2016). Although there have been numerous studies on the transition from lower to upper secondary level in Switzerland, this group has not yet been systematically studied. Nonetheless, it plays an important role in achieving the EDK's strategic goal that 95% of a cohort should complete upper secondary level. The planned research project focuses on the following questions: 

  1. To what extent are young people’s intellectual and academic performance as well as behavioural problems in the above-mentioned school types related to structural characteristics (socio-economic status, migration background, gender) and family support? 
  2. To what extent do intellectual and academic performance or behavioural problems and their interaction explain the chances of young people in the above-mentioned school types of obtaining a place in a federal VET programme (diploma or certificate)? 
  3. To what extent do institutional factors such as attending a specific type of school (Realschule, special educational needs classes, selected special education schools) explain the chances of obtaining a place in a federal VET programme (diploma or certificate)? 
  4. How does the support provided by teachers during the transition from lower secondary level to VET differ between young people in Realschulen and young people in special educational needs classes or selected special education schools? 
  5. What, according to instructors at federal VET certificate level and PrA (INSOS), are the success factors that allow a young person from the above-mentioned school types to complete their training? 

The study is based on a working model according to which individual and contextual success factors influence the chances in the apprenticeship market. The target group is defined on the basis of institutional criteria and includes young people in Realschulen, in special educational needs classes and selected special education schools. Special education schools for young people with physical, sensory or speech impairments or learners with mental disabilities are not included in the sample. 

The hypotheses are tested in a longitudinal study conducted in German-speaking and French-speaking Switzerland. Approximately 1,200 pupils from Realschulen, around 490 pupils from special educational needs classes, around 150 pupils from special education schools and their teachers are interviewed during lessons in the final school year. Teachers fill out a questionnaire about the young people in their class. The young people complete an intelligence test, a performance test in reading and mathematics and a standardised questionnaire. Based on administrative data from the Federal Statistical Office, the educational trajectories of these young people (e.g. progression to upper secondary education or termination of an apprenticeship contract) are documented for two years after their data is initially recorded. In addition, semi-structured interviews are conducted with vocational training instructors on the support given at VET certificate level and PrA (INSOS). 

On the basis of the results, conclusions can be drawn about the role of intellectual and academic performance and of behavioural problems when young people from Realschulen or special educational institutions enter a VET programme. The results also indicate how teachers and parents can effectively support young people in this target group in the transition process and so improve their chances of entering the primary labour market. 

Keywords: special needs education, intelligence, achievement, behavioural problems, transition, vocational education and training, VET, individual support