7.4 Organisation of pupils receiving special needs education

Inclusive education

Inclusive education is a fundamental principle in primary and secondary education. It means that all children and young people with different social backgrounds and with different ethnic, religious and linguistic affiliations should be met with trust and respect at school. The right to inclusive, good and free primary and upper secondary education is also enshrined in Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In order for a school to be inclusive, it must organise and adapt the tuition to all pupils.

The organisation of pupils who receive special needs education outside ordinary classes

All pupils should belong to a core group or class, and spend enough time with this core group/class to feel a sense of belonging and stability. This also applies to pupils who receive special needs education.

Special needs education should be provided within the class or core group insofar as it is possible and appropriate. The individual child’s decision on special needs education must describe how the tuition should be organised. Special needs education may be provided within the class / core group, in a separate group, or alone. Pupils who receive special needs education may also be affiliated with a group other than their class, or they may receive instruction in other, alternative learning environments.

Figures are available that tell us something about the extent of special needs provision outside ordinary classes:

  • the number of pupils who receive special needs education alone with a teacher or teaching assistant or in small groups outside ordinary classes
  • the number of pupils in dedicated units for special needs education
  • the number of pupils on placements in alternative learning environments one day or more per week outside ordinary education

Almost three in four pupils with special needs receive special needs education outside of ordinary classes

Just under 51,000 pupils are receiving special needs education in the 2013/14 academic year. Of these, just over 14,000 (28 percent) are given special needs education within their ordinary class. The remaining 37,000 receive special needs education outside their ordinary class – either in small groups or alone. Of the 37,000 who receive special needs education outside their ordinary class, 4,000 are affiliated with a dedicated special needs unit and 33,000 are affiliated with an ordinary class.

We do not have figures that can ascertain how much of their school time these pupils spend outside their ordinary class.

There is a link between municipality size and the organisation of special needs education (Figure 7.9). In the smallest municipalities there are more pupils receiving special needs education in ordinary classes and fewer receiving tuition in small groups. In the smallest municipalities, more pupils also receive special needs education alone with a teacher or teaching assistant. Correspondingly, more pupils receive special needs education in small groups. One explanation for this is that small municipalities run small schools and subsequently do not have enough pupils to form separate special needs groups. There are however significant variations between schools irrespective of school and municipality size. This could suggest that other factors also play a part, such as the school’s attitude towards including pupils with particular needs.

Figure 7.8 Pupils receiving special needs education within ordinary classes, in small groups, or alone with a teacher or teaching assistant. 2013/14. Percentage.

Source: GSI/The Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training

Pupils in dedicated units for special needs education

The general rule is that pupils should receive tuition in their class / core group. Yet some pupils are affiliated with a dedicated special needs unit. These units may be separate special needs schools or dedicated special needs departments in ordinary schools.

In the 2013/14 academic year, just under 4,000 pupils are part of a dedicated special needs unit. This represents 0.6 percent of all pupils in primary and lower secondary and 8 percent of all pupils receiving special needs education. There are dedicated units in 351 schools.

In most schools, pupils in the dedicated special needs unit only account for a small percentage of all pupils. At 60 of the 351 schools, all pupils are part of a dedicated special needs unit. In addition, there are four schools where more than half of all pupils are part of the dedicated unit. Just over 1,400 pupils attend these 64 schools, which are in essence designated special needs schools.

Figure 7.9 Pupils receiving special needs education within ordinary classes, in small groups, or alone – by municipality size. 2013/14. Percentage.

Source: GSI/The Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training

The largest municipalities have most pupils in dedicated units

Large municipalities have the largest number of pupils in dedicated units (Figure 7.10). However, Figure 7.10 shows that in the largest municipalities, the proportion of pupils who belong to a dedicated unit ranges from 0.4 percent to 1.9 percent. One explanation for these variations is that some municipalities host intermunicipal schemes. There may also be differing attitudes towards inclusion and inclusive practices in schools.

There is no clear link between the percentage of pupils in dedicated units and the extent of special needs provision. The municipalities Drammen, Oslo, Stavanger and Skien have the highest proportion of pupils in dedicated units whereas the proportion of pupils receiving special needs education in these municipalities varies from 7 percent to 10 percent.

Figure 7.10 Pupils in dedicated units and pupils receiving special needs education in the largest municipalities. 2013/14 academic year. Percentage.

Source: GSI/The Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training

Pupils in alternative learning environments

In addition to the 4,000 or so pupils in dedicated units in the 2013/14 academic year, there are just over 1,300 pupils on placements in alternative learning environments outside ordinary education one or more days a week. More than 80 percent of them are boys. These learning environments could involve outdoor pursuits, canteen work, agricultural activities, car workshops etc.

Schools have a limited scope for making use of alternative learning environments for special needs pupils, and any such provision must be stipulated in each pupil’s individual decision on special needs education. Schools must consider whether an alternative learning environment is necessary in order for the pupil to benefit sufficiently from his or her education, based on his or her individual circumstances. They must also consider whether the arrangement would be in the best interest of the child.

Alternative learning environments are one of several measures available to schools in order to fulfil the principle of adapted tuition. The report “Den ene dagen” (Jahnsen et al. 2009) concludes that alternative learning environments can have a positive effect on pupils’ motivation and well-being. At the same time, there are challenges in securing structure and continuity in the partnership between the school and the alternative learning environment. When a pupil spends one or more days a week in an educational setting outside school, it is crucial that the school is conscious of the pupil’s learning outcomes, well-being and progress.