Research Area II

Factors at Transitions in the Educational System

Young people’s biographies are characterized by a host of transitions. Beyond the biological changes and psychological transitions from childhood to adolescence and adulthood that each individual needs to negotiate, there are several transitions in the context of the educational system that are governed by specific legal and societal regulations. These transitions necessitate complex decisions that are not independent of societal and institutional conditions and, in a tracked educational system, have far-reaching effects on students’ educational and occupational biographies. The analysis of transitions has a long tradition in the Center for Educational Research; transitions have not only been examined in Research Area I, but also in the previous Research Areas II and III.

The Research Area II integrates all of the Center’s projects and subprojects that deal explicitly with the analysis of transitions at various stages of educational careers, with a focus on family background.

The importance of educational transitions is a result of structural features of the German educational system:

  1. Both children and parents are confronted with various decisions from the very beginning of the educational career: from the choice of kindergarten and elementary school to the move to secondary school, the transition to upper secondary level or occupational training, to the choice of a university course.
  2. The educational system is characterized by a high degree of standardization and stratification in terms of the points within and educational biography at which transitions take place, with specific regulations varying across federal states. The decisions taken at various stages of educational trajectories are thus taken in the context of institutional structures and administrative rules and regulations.

Despite various reform endeavors, there is still a strong link between the educational track attended and the school-leaving certificate acquired. Although this link has become weaker over the past 10 years, 80% of Abitur qualifications, the certificate qualifying for entrance to university, are attained at traditional Gymnasium schools. Relative to other countries, the association between the educational system and the occupational system is particularly strong in Germany, across the entire occupational spectrum. The first job is thus largely determined by the educational system (in terms of the qualifications acquired).

Our scientific interest in the analysis of transitions in educational biographies centers on two aspects: (1) On the one hand, we focus on the transitions themselves. The starting points here are the social disparities in educational participation identified in contexts such as the PISA studies (Baumert & Schümer, 2001; Baumert, Stanat & Watermann, 2006). The acquisition of higher-level qualifications is still associated with considerable social selectivity. These social disparities are assumed to emerge primarily at transitional points in the educational career at which decisions much be made. In this sense, transitions are analyzed as transition decisions. (2) On the other hand, we concentrate on the period before the transition, examining from various theoretical perspectives the ways in which those involved (especially students) approach the transition.


Jürgen Baumert
Cornelia Gresch
Oliver Lüdtke
Kai Maaz
Nele McElvany
Gabriel Nagy
Ulrich Trautwein

Project Coordinator:
Michaela Kropf

Further Information

Element 8
Die Schulstruktur auf dem Prüfstand