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Institute of Education

KoS – Context-Oriented School Development

A comparative study on the adaptive-compensatory strategies of actions in primary schools

Duration: February 2014 to January 2017

To the project website (in German)

As a result of their increased autonomy, schools are more and more responsible to develop and implement context-oriented strategies for the compensation of socially unequal educational opportunities. In particular, primary schools in ‘difficult’ social contexts are hereby faced with the structural contradiction of a most effective and adaptive support for socially disadvantaged pupils on the one hand, on the other hand the warrant on stimulation towards selection processes with a view to the transition to secondary schools.

Against this background, the SNF-project focuses on the following questions:

  • How do these schools interpret their social and institutional-organisational context conditions?
  • How do these schools deal with the contradiction of support and selection?
  • Which school-internal orientations are guiding the planning and implementing of adaptive-compensatory support strategies?

The project is thus theoretically based on the sensemaking-approach in an organisational-sociological perspective, as well as on the action-theoretical description of the processes of recontexualisation within the multi-level-system of the educational system.

The research design is a contrastive casestudy (cross section), with a single primary school as an organised action entity being defined as one case. For the methodological implementation of the project, a triangulation design is planned (triangulation of results and perspectives), which should enable an analysis of the processuality of the practice of recontextualization as well as the structure of the social, institutional and school-internal context requirements of this practice. For the methodological realisation, qualitative-reconstructive methods for the inquiry and evaluation are combined with standardised methods. On the basis of these methodological and theoretical considerations, recontextual strategies at schools will be categorized, and school-specific case portraits will be created. For the project, seven primary schools from the city of Zurich within comparable social contexts are selected. Due to the pupils’ social background, all these schools have been included in the school development project QUIMS, and they maximally differ with regard to size and adaptive-compensatory support strategies.

For each school, there will be…

a) one problem-centred interview with the head teachers, and two group discussions with teachers, and pedagogical-therapeutic staff, which will afterwards be analysed by means of the documentary method.

b) standardized questionnaire with teachers, pedagogical-therapeutic staff and students.

These analyses will be complemented with school-specific information from documents and evaluations.

Apart from identifying single situational context conditions for successful, adaptive-compensatory action, the research design and the theoretical background should allow the reconstruction of the complex processes of sense- and decision-making as potential conditions for a context-sensitive school development within schools. Thereby, the study extends the current state of research on the understanding of the practice in single schools with regard to the compensation of social inequality.


Bühlmann, F. (2020). Der Beitrag der Schule zur Bearbeitung von Bildungsungleichheit: Chancen und Risiken. Eine explorative Fallanalyse. Dissertation. Universität Zürich. Link:

Kamm, C. (2019). Konzeptionen von Förderung, Selektion und Gerechtigkeit. Eine rekonstruktive Studie an Primarschulen in herausfordernden Lagen. Wiesbaden: Springer VS. Link:

Emmerich, M. & Maag Merki, K. (2017). „Kontextsensitive Schulentwicklung“. Eine fallvergleichende Studie zu adaptiv-kompensatorischen Handlungsstrategien von Primarschulen. Erkenntnisinteresse, Forschungsdesign und erste Ergebnisse. In A. Paschke, M. Heinrich, A. Kanape & R. Langer (Hrsg.), Schulentwicklung zwischen Steuerung und Autonomie. Beiträge aus Aktions-, Schulentwicklungs- und Governance-Forschung (S. 139-154). Münster: Waxmann

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