7.3 Special needs education in primary and lower secondary

Decline in the number of pupils receiving special needs education

It has been a political goal for some time to improve adapted tuition in order to enhance learning outcomes for all pupils. As long as schools are able to improve ordinary, adapted tuition so that pupils benefit sufficiently from it, there is no need to provide special needs education. If one needs to deviate from the normal curriculum a decision on special needs education is required (White Paper 20 (2012–2013) På rett vei).

In the autumn of 2013, 51,000 primary and lower secondary pupils had individual decisions on special needs education. They make up 8.3 percent of all pupils, which is a slight decline on the previous year, when the proportion was 8.6 percent. After a noticeable increase in the provision of special needs education between 2006 and 2011, the figure has stabilised over the last few years, and in the 2013/14 academic year it fell slightly.

Figure 7.1 Pupils in primary and lower secondary with individual decisions on special needs educa-tion. 2004/05 to 2013/14. Percentage.

Source: GSI/The Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training

The reduced proportion of pupils receiving special needs education can imply that schools better adapt ordinary tuition to individual needs.

However, the decline is small and we do not know whether it will last. Nor do we know whether the decline has occurred because more pupils benefit sufficiently from ordinary tuition, or because pupils are not receiving their entitlements.

On the other hand, the number of complaints relating to special needs education has fallen. Complaints cover issues such as rejected applications, the extent of special needs provision, organisation, qualifications and/or failure to provide special needs education. The number of complaints about special needs education fell by 119 in the period 2010–2013. Based on the number of complaints, it would not appear that the decline in the number of pupils receiving special needs education has had a negative impact on the fulfilment of pupils’ rights.

Figure 7.2 Pupils with individual decisions on special needs education – by year group. 2012/13 and 2013/14. Percentage.

Source: GSI/The Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training

Early intervention and better adapted tuition

Early intervention entails both intervention at an early stage of a child’s education, and intervention as soon as challenges arise.

The authorities have been expecting the principle of early intervention to reduce the current trend where the proportion of pupils receiving special needs education increase as they progress through the school system.

There has been a drop in the proportion of pupils receiving special needs education in almost every year group between 2012/13 and 2013/14. The biggest fall occurred in Year 8. Despite this drop, there are still almost three times as many pupils receiving special needs education in Year 10 as there are in Year 1, and this has been the case for some time.

However, it would appear that this curve is beginning to somewhat level towards the end of compulsory education. The proportion of pupils receiving special needs education is now slightly lower in Year 8 than in Year 7.

One reason for this pattern could be increasing academic challenges and peer group heterogeneity further up the grades (Wendelborg 2010). There is also much to indicate that once a decision has been made to give a pupil special needs education, the pupil will continue to receive such education for the duration of his/her schooling. The reason could be that schools fail to assess the learning outcomes from special needs education and therefore do not make the necessary adjustment to the tuition they provide (Office of the Auditor General 2011).

Knudsmoen et al. (2011) point out that schools should assess the pupil’s progress throughout the year. For example, schools should consider whether the pupil, after a period of receiving special needs education, is capable of working towards the attainment targets and fundamental skills described in the standard curriculum for Knowledge Promotion.

In addition, schools should produce annual reports for pupils receiving special needs education, detailing the tuition the pupil has received, and providing an evaluation of the pupil’s progress based on the targets set out in the pupil’s individual subject curriculum. Pupils receiving special needs education are subject to the same assessment practices that apply to all pupils.

Figure 7.3 Reduction in the proportion of pupils receiving special needs education in schools with increased teacher-to-pupil ratios compared with the rest of the country – by year group. 2011/12 and 2013/14. Percentage points.

Source: BASIL/The Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training

Increased teacher-to-pupil ratio in schools with low-performing pupils has reduced the proportion of pupils receiving special needs education

A 4-year funding scheme was launched in the autumn of 2013 to increase the teacher-to-pupil ratio in lower secondary schools. The purpose is to make the tuition more practical, varied and relevant, and to boost pupils’ foundation skills. The scheme also aims to see whether increasing the teacher-to-pupil ratio could reduce the need for special needs education.

Between 2011/12 and 2013/14 we have noted that the schools that are part of the subsidy scheme have reduced the proportion of pupils receiving special needs education. The decline is greater than the nationwide reduction, and greatest in Year 9.

From next year, the Pupil Survey can help us find out whether the increased teacher-to-child ratio has led to better adapted tuition and increased motivation. We can also examine their average point scores to ascertain whether learning outcomes have improved.

More boys than girls receive special needs education

An average of 11.0 percent of boys and 5.5 percent of girls receive special needs education. For the girls the proportion is increasing steadily throughout their schooling, while for boys the figure has already peaked around 14 percent by Year 7 (Figure 7.4).

On average almost 68 percent of pupils receiving special needs education are boys, a figure that has remained stable over time. The share of boys is slightly higher in primary school than in lower secondary – 69 percent in Years 1–7 and 66 percent in Years 8–10.

Figure 7.4 Pupils with individual decisions on special needs education – by year group and gender. 2013/14. Percentage.

Source: GSI/The Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training

Differences between counties in the proportion of pupils receiving special needs education

The counties Akershus, Hedmark, Oslo and Østfold had the lowest proportion of pupils receiving special needs education in the 2013/14 academic year, just over 7 percent (Figure 7.5). Nord-Trøndelag has the highest proportion at almost 11 percent. Fifteen out of nineteen counties saw a decline in the proportion of pupils receiving special needs education from the previous academic year, and the remaining counties only experienced a slight increase. Aust-Agder, Telemark and Hedmark saw the largest decline on the previous year.

Figure 7.5 Pupils with individual decisions on special needs education – by county. 2012/13 and 2013/14. Percentage.

Source: GSI/The Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training

The smallest municipalities have the highest proportion of pupils receiving special needs education

There is far greater variation between municipalities than between counties in the proportion of pupils receiving special needs education. In the smallest municipalities, an average of 10.2 percent of pupils receive special needs education, while the share is 7.5 percent in municipalities with a population of more than 50,000.

The variations are greatest between the smallest municipalities (less than 5,000 inhabitants), ranging from 2 percent to 28 percent. Correspondingly, in municipalities with a population of between 20,000 and 50,000 it varies from 4 percent to 12 percent. Looking at the very largest municipalities, the variations are even smaller at between 6 percent and 10 percent. In most of the largest municipalities, the proportion of pupils receiving special needs education is 1–2 percentage points below or close to the national average.

Figure 7.6 Pupils receiving special needs education – by municipality size. 2013/14. Percentage.

Source: GSI/The Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training

Almost everyone receives special needs education from a teacher

In the 2013/14 academic year, 49,500 of the almost 51,000 pupils with an individual decision on special needs education received special needs education from a teacher. Half of them received between two and five hours a week. 22,600 of the pupils receiving special needs education received some lessons with a teaching assistant and some lessons with a teacher. Around 1,500 pupils only received lessons with a teaching assistant. Of the 24,100 pupils who received lessons from a teaching assistant, 60 percent received more than seven assistant lessons a week.

The use of teaching assistants was defined in the Education Act in August 2013. The Act states that personnel who are not employed in a teaching position may assist in the teaching if they receive necessary guidance and the pupil benefits sufficiently from the tuition. Personnel who are employed in order to assist with the teaching must not be given independent responsibility for ordinary tuition or for special needs education.

Dyssegaard et al. (2013) point out that teaching assistants have a positive effect on all pupils when they are trained to perform a specific duty and when they have a defined and planned role.

Figure 7.7 Pupils in primary and lower secondary with individual decisions on special needs education – by hours with teaching staff and hours with teaching assistant. 2013/14. Numbers.

Source: GSI/The Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training