An overview of european trends in special needs education
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Verity Donnelly European Agency for Development in Special Educational Needs. AN OVERVIEW OF EUROPEAN TRENDS IN SPECIAL NEEDS EDUCATION. The Agency. Established in 1996 Main secretariat in Odense, Denmark and European Liaison office in Brussels, Belgium

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An overview of european trends in special needs education

Verity Donnelly

European Agency for Development

in Special Educational Needs


The agency

The Agency

  • Established in 1996

  • Main secretariat in Odense, Denmark and European Liaison office in Brussels, Belgium

  • Financed by member countries’ Ministries of Education and the European Commission (Jean Monnet Lifelong Learning Programme)

  • Member countries’ platform for collaboration between professionals and decision-makers at national and European levels, on policies and practices of special needs education

  • Networks in 28 European countries



  • Collection, analysis and dissemination of information on priority themes

  • Participation and organisation of conferences, seminars and political events

  • Liaison with the European institutions and international organisations – UNESCO and its institutes (IBE, IITE), OECD Eurostat, Eurydice, Cedefop

    Agency thematic reports, databases and newsletters can be downloaded in up to 22 member languages from:

International policy context

International Policy Context

At all times, the Agency works to guiding principles as outlined in:

  • Council Resolutions concerning inclusion of children and young people with disabilities into mainstream systems of education

  • UNESCO Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action in Special Needs Education (1994)

  • UN Convention on Rights of People with Disabilities (2006)

    • Article 24 in particular

Developments towards inclusion

Developments towards inclusion

-A wider range of more flexible provision, heterogeneous groupings and personalised education

-Early intervention and support for a continuum of learner needs

-Greater staff collaboration – in schools and communities - and between agencies

-Greater attention to school leadership

-Teacher education for inclusion – ITE, CPD

-Developing the role of special schools to resource centres

-Creative funding models

Challenges presented

Challenges presented

- Accountability - academic vs wider achievement

- Terminology – common understanding of key concepts

-Identification of additional needs and criteria for allocation of support without labelling

-Engaging older learners and reducing school drop out rates

-Preparing all teachers for inclusive education and maintaining specialisms

-Developing the role of special schools/settings - over 2% of pupils educated in separate settings (schools and classes) across Europe

An overview of european trends in special needs education

Percentage of pupils in the compulsory school sector recognised as having SEN in 2010 (in all educational settings)

Percentage of pupils with sen in segregated settings

Percentage of pupils with SEN in segregated settings

Dilemmas for inclusion as systemic change

Dilemmas for inclusion as systemic change

Who… all learners, vulnerable learners, learners with SEN/disability?

Where ... special settings/mainstream school (under the same roof or engaged in a common learning endeavour)

When ... full/part time. Can you be a little bit ‘included’?

How ... focus on diagnosis/label or social/environmental barriers to learning and participation

Towards a continuum of educational wider support needs

Towards a continuum of educational/wider support needs

  • Widening definition of groups considered eligible to receive services

  • Greater awareness of the impact of labelling and categorisation of needs

  • Consideration being given to terminology, ‘hidden’ meanings and implications of use

  • Children with disability seen as a group with specific needs within the educational continuum of individual needs

Key principles policy

Key Principles - Policy

  • Widening participation to increase educational opportunity for all learners

  • Education and training in inclusive education for all teachers

  • Organisational culture and ethos that promotes inclusion

  • Support structures and flexible resourcing systems to promote inclusion

  • Legislation and policies that promote inclusion

Key principles practice

Key Principles - Practice

The focus is on the widening participation and promoting access and achievement for all learners

-The learner voice – learners’ voices and those of family and advocates should be heard, particularly when decisions are made that affect their lives

-Active participation of learners – all learners are entitled to be active participants in the life of school and community

Key principles practice1

Key Principles - Practice

- All teachers should have positive attitudes towards all learners and the will to work collaboratively with colleagues

- All teachers should develop the skills to meet the diverse needs of all learners

-School leaders should value diversity among staff as well as learners, encourage collegiality and support innovation

- Every school should have access to the support of a multi-disciplinary service and relevant community services

What do we still need to know

What do we still need to know?

  • What legislation, policy and models of resourcing can support quality education for all?

  • How can agencies collaborate to provide holistic support - early intervention, family support, community involvement?

  • What makes effective teachers and school leaders - skills, experience, attitudes? How can they be prepared for work in inclusive settings?

  • What works for learners at school/classroom level - organisation, pedagogy, curriculum and assessment?

  • What are valued outcomes (academic and social) –and how can these be ‘measured’?

Agency projects addressing priority areas

Agency projects addressing priority areas

  • Development of a set of indicators for IE in Europe, Mapping the Implementation of Policy for Inclusive Education

  • Assessment in Inclusive Settings

  • Early Childhood Intervention, Multi- cultural diversity and SNE

  • Vocational Education and Training

  • Teacher Education for Inclusion

  • ICT for all learners

  • Organisation of provision to support learners with disabilities in mainstream settings

  • Raising Achievement for all Learners (RA4AL)

An overview of european trends in special needs education

Attended by 31 delegations from 27 countries, official representatives from the Ministries, the European Institutions and key European and international organisations.

The event aimed to highlight issues raised by young people regarding the benefits of inclusive education and challenges still to be overcome and look at the progress made since the 2007 Hearing in Portugal.

An overview of european trends in special needs education

“Inclusive education allows us to make more friends, to be part of the community and to feel like everybody else”.

Financing additional school provision should not be the main consideration, inclusive education is an investment: if everyone is involved, it is good for the whole of society. Inclusion is important for everyone, it is not only about

disabilities ”

“We need to fight against prejudice and change culture. We need to train teachers and make them capable of meeting the requirements of all students in the classroom.”

More information

More information

European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education

Østre Stationsvej 33

DK-5000 Odense C


[email protected]

Dr. Verity Donnelly [email protected]

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