Special needs education and care in mainstream education (special needs pupils)

Pupils that require extra care to allow them to go to school may receive additional individual funding. This ensures they get additional care in mainstream education or a place in special needs education. The number of special needs pupils and the attendant educational facilities have seen tremendous growth in past decades. But since 2006, growth in special needs facilities has plateaued, in part as a result of targeted policy measures. Secondary special needs education forms an exception and is still growing.

The Education Council has published a number of advisory reports about care in the education system. The most important of these are set out below.

Strengthen cooperation between mainstream education and other facilities

In 2004, the Education Council advocated cooperation between schools and external advisors for special needs pupils. The Education Council advocated the deployment and improvement of care advice teams (Enhancing young people's educational experience), which embody a form of cooperation between schools and experts, such as social workers, youth psychologists and youth doctors, allowing the parties to consult each other and take decisions on special needs pupils. The Education Council proposed that schools should take the lead role in these teams and should retain responsibility for the pupil as long as possible. It also proposed that schools should be given credits entitling them to enlist the help of certain experts.

Strengthen the capability of schools to deal with behavioural problems

Dealing with behavioural problems in schools starts with good education and good teachers (Schools and pupils with behavioural problems, 2010) Ideally, schools will have a clear educational climate, clear rules and the right amount of attention for pupils. Desirable behaviour will be practiced and rewarded, while undesirable behaviour will be ignored or, where necessary, punished.

Common sense and critical

Actors in the education community and policymakers at the Ministry of Education must take a common-sense and critical approach to the increasingly nuanced classification of problem behaviour, because behaviour is not static, but can be changed by the pupils in question themselves with help from teachers, school principals, parents, and assistants. The Education Council believes that schools and teaching teams should agree to remain critical regarding the use of medical and psychiatric terms to describe behaviour. Also bear in mind that while teachers have an important role to play in pointing out the problems they see, it is the sole reserve of behavioural specialists to make a diagnosis.

Support schools in dealing with behavioural problems

The government should help schools strengthen their capability to deal with special needs pupils. Giving access to practical case studies, training and more classroom staff are tried and tested methods. The effective conduct of some teachers is easy to describe and teach to others. It is important that the basic attitude is positive, instruction is effective, classes are effectively managed, there is a strong relationship between teachers and pupils and the behavioural change actions are planned. Teachers need support with these processes from teacher training colleges, the school's governing body and school leaders.

Improve the quality of special needs education

In recent years, there has been criticism of the quality of special needs education (primary school age) and secondary special needs education, and this has led to the introduction of core objectives for special needs education in order to provide a stimulus for an outcome-oriented approach. In 2008, the Education Council agreed with the introduction of core objectives, but believed that they needed to be further specified (Kerndoelen en leerstandaarden voor het speciaal onderwijs (Core objectives and learning standards for special needs education)). The Education Council called for the introduction of reference levels specially modified for special needs education.

In 2010, the Education Council responded to proposed legislation that intended to improve the quality of secondary special needs education by introducing three school-leaving profiles (Wetsvoorstel vso (Secondary Special Needs Education Bill), 2010). The key recommendations of the Education Council related to the principle that education should focus on the independence of the child. Furthermore, the Education Council also believed that the purpose of special needs education should always be to enable transfers to further education or entry to the labour market. Participation at day activity centres cannot therefore be considered equivalent to a school-leaving profile, except in special cases. Finally, the Education Council proposed that the action plan should not be replaced by the development perspective, as this represents a vision of the final goal of education for a specific pupil, while the action plan is an instrument that includes the development perspective as one of its constituent parts.

Introduce ‘appropriate education’ legislation carefully and gradually

The aim of ‘appropriate education’ policy is to ensure that pupils that need extra support are offered appropriate education, preferably in mainstream education, and at the same time reduce the strong growth in numbers of special needs pupils. The basic principle of the proposal is the introduction of a duty of care on school governing bodies and new collaborative partnerships with primary and secondary education. Duty of care means that the governing body of the school where parents enrol their child must make arrangements so that the child obtains an appropriate education place within the collaborative partnership. This means that the parents no longer have to make the arrangements themselves. Each region must have a varied offering of appropriate education so that special needs pupils do not end up at home in the long term.

In 2011, the Education Council published its recommendations on the Appropriate Education Bill (wetsvoorstel passend onderwijs) in its report Passend onderwijs voor leerlingen met een extra ondersteuningsbehoefte (Appropriate education for pupils requiring extra support). While it supported the objectives of the Bill, it proposed a three-pronged approach: basic care (by the teacher), broad care (at school, including in cooperation with external parties) and deep care (outside school, in special education centres). The Education Council emphasised the central role of teachers in the success of appropriate education, requiring professional teaching staff, high quality initial training and good in-service training pathways.

The Education Council believed that the timeframe set out in the Bill allowed insufficient time to put the intended measures in place. Furthermore, a lot is still unclear because the legislative process is still ongoing. This is the case, for instance, for cooperation through new collaborative partnerships. The Bill should therefore only become law two years after it is passed by the Senate.