Special needs education within the education system - Iceland
The educational system in Iceland is fully described in English at the Ministry of Education’s website: http://bella.mrn.stjr.is/utgafur/skolenska.pdf
Information can also be found in English on the Eurydice website: http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/Eurydice/ByCountryResults?countryCode=IC
Education is divided into four levels:
- pre-school (leikskóli) up to 6 years of age.
- compulsory (primary and lower secondary in a single structure – grunnskóli) 6–16 years of age.
- upper secondary (framhaldsskóli) 16–20 years of age.
- higher education level (háskóli) from 20 years of age.
Instruction in all four educational levels comes under the Ministry of Education. The majority of the schools are public and most of the few private schools receive support from public funds.
The lower secondary classes are often characterised by mixed ability groups. It is common, however, at this level to divide the pupils into groups according to their ability in individual core subjects. Pupils can then choose between groups progressing at different speeds through the same course material in a particular subject. Those who are more industrious can progress more quickly and those who find it difficult can proceed more slowly and receive more instruction. In a few schools pupils who apply themselves well in these courses can be allowed to take a specific credit unit in an upper secondary school. In this way there is co-operation between compulsory and upper secondary schools.
The lower secondary classes in compulsory schools emphasise special instruction to meet the needs of most pupils. Special instruction is carried out either as support for certain pupils or in the form of special departments. There is also increasing emphasis on educational and vocational counselling. Recent immigrants receive special instruction in Icelandic, both at the compulsory and upper secondary levels, in addition to some provision for instruction in their native language.
All those who have completed compulsory schooling or who have attained the age of 16 have the right to begin studying at the upper secondary level. An increasing percentage of those who complete compulsory schooling continue their studies at the upper secondary level; during the last decade this increase has amounted from ca. 80% to ca. 93% of each year class. The number dropping out in upper secondary school, especially for the first year, is considerable. In recent years several ways have been sought to reduce the drop-out rate, among other things with strengthened educational counselling and more varied course offerings.
The Ministry of Education and the upper secondary schools have done a great deal in recent years to meet the needs of all the pupils, not least those who cannot cope with traditional upper secondary studies; this is in accordance with the law and regulations as well as official policy, which emphasises offering courses to match everyone's abilities. This instruction is especially intended as preparation for upper secondary school studies and for pupils with very poor preparation for enrolment in upper secondary school programmes.
In mainstream classes at upper secondary schools, pupils with disabilities are assisted with their studies, by for example sign language interpreters, co-pupils acting as scribes or other assistants, but in other respects they are subject to the same rules as other pupils.
Special education is arranged in different ways:
- With special assistance within his/her mainstream class in his/her home school. The pupil remains in his/her class in his/her home school with extra resources organised in the form of extra teaching in different subjects, reading, mathematics or in the form of ADL assistance.
- With exchange hours within the class. The pupil receives special education in the same subjects as the other pupils but in a different way within the classroom.
- With individual instruction outside his/her mainstream class or in special groups (part time or full time). The pupil is part time in his/her home class and part time in a special class.
- In a special class within a mainstream school or in a special school. Also, the pupil can be moved to another mainstream school in the same community. The pupil is in a special class within the mainstream school or in a special school.
- Elsewhere if that is the most appropriate provision, at home or in an institution.
Special classes exist for pupils with autism, visual handicap and temporary classes for pupils with mild mental retardation and behavioural difficulties. The Association in Aid of the Mentally Retarded operates a day-care centre for the handicapped (0–20 year olds). The emphasis here is on work training.
At the pre-school level all disabled children are accommodated in regular pre-schools, some of which have specialised in meeting certain kinds of disabilities in special units.
Many compulsory schools accept pupils with disabilities into their mainstream curriculum, including pupils with severe mental and multiple handicaps. There are, however, some special schools at the compulsory school level and special classes/departments and some special units within local schools.
Children are classified according to their primary handicap (deafness, blindness, physical handicap, mental and multiple handicap and socio-emotional/ psychiatric problems). Within the larger schools and units, they are grouped roughly by age, but in smaller schools they are taught together irrespective of age. The size of the groups range from individual teaching to a maximum of approximately ten pupils, the average being between four to six. Most pupils in special units located in mainstream schools are included for part of the time in regular classes and this makes the sizes and composition of the groups variable during the day. There are six segregated special schools that serve pupils with disabilities in the compulsory school age phase. These are: a school for mentally handicapped pupils, a school for children with psychiatric disabilities, two schools for adolescents with socio-emotional difficulties and two schools for children with mental handicap and multiple disabilities. None of the above-mentioned schools offers boarding facilities.
These schools, like all other compulsory schools, were, by 1 August 1996, transferred from the state to the municipalities.
In addition to the above-mentioned special schools, there are six special units within local schools that have the same role as the schools: three for autistic children, one for the blind, one for the motor impaired and one for children with mental handicap and multiple disabilities. All these units are located in mainstream schools and the pupils are included in regular classes’ part of the time.
In some schools there are special units for children with some SEN set up as a temporary solution. Pupils in these units are usually in close contact with the mainstream classes.
The Regulation for special education (no. 389/1996) in compulsory school can be found in Icelandic at: http://www.menntamalaraduneyti.is/log-og-reglugerdir/
Policy for special education in Reykjavik
Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is by far the largest municipality in Iceland with a population of about 120,000 (approximately four times the population of the second largest municipality).
The school authorities in Reykjavik made a thorough research on special education in the city’s compulsory schools. Based on their findings they issued the following policy guidelines:
- The guiding philosophy is inclusion or schools that serve all pupils.
- Every school should be able to tackle the needs of every pupil as possible.
- It is likely that about 1% of pupils will study in special schools and special school units.
- Parents have the right to choose between a special school, a special school unit and a mainstream school for their child.
The main objectives of the policy
- Inclusive education is the guiding policy for the city’s compulsory schools.
- Funding of special education will be divided into two parts:
a. Based on the number pupils attending a particular school for general special education.
b. Based on individual pupils in need of large support.
- Schools use flexible teaching methods to accommodate the needs of different pupils in mainstream classes.
- Special education facilities are available at every school.
- Every school has a co-ordinator of special education.
- Every school has a supporting (supervising) team for teachers because of pupils with learning-, behaviour- and communication-difficulties and a pupil protection committee.
- Assessment of pupils with special needs will be based on common criteria and the results of diagnostic tests will be used systematically to organise special education.
- Pupils with communication difficulties and behaviour difficulties will be able to receive behaviour modification training.
- Teachers will have access to trained assistants (pair educators) to help them with disabled pupils and pupils in need of more support.
- Pupils with delayed speaking development, speaking difficulties and serious speaking impairments will be served by their school or outside services.
- There is a possibility of establishing special school units within different areas in the city.
- Co-operation with the Reykjavik Juvenile Working Programme will be strengthened to provide for work-related education.
- Co-operation will be arranged with the Sports and Recreation Council in Reykjavik in providing recreation for disabled pupils and pupils in need of more support and with the Social Service in Reykjavik when supporting pupils in social difficulties within or outside of the school setting.
- The aim is that in Reykjavik there will be three special schools, one ‘twin school’ and few special units, besides hospital teaching.
The policy was implemented in stages between 2002 and 2004.
The policy paper is available in Icelandic at: http://dev.reykjavik.is/Portaldata/1/Resources/skjol/svid/menntasvid/pdf_skjol/stefna_um_serkennslu_lokaskjal.pdf
The report on special education in Reykjavik 1998-1999 is available in Icelandic at: http://dev.reykjavik.is/Portaldata/1/Resources/skjol/svid/menntasvid/pdf_skjol/utgafur/grunnskolar/ymsarskyrslurogbaeklingar/serkennsla_i_grunnskolum.pdf
Upper secondary school
No special schools for handicapped pupils exist at the upper secondary school level. Extra teaching hours are provided to schools wishing to give special support to individuals or groups of pupils so that they can either follow the mainstream curriculum or a special programme. There are special units operated in 18 secondary schools with approximately 3,400 pupils.
Many upper secondary schools now provide extra support to pupils who have difficulties with reading and writing.
The Regulation for teaching disabled pupils in upper secondary schools (no. 372/1998) can be found in Icelandic at:
Higher education institutions have accepted students with disabilities and handled the task in a variety of ways. The University of Iceland, the largest of its kind in the country with about 13.600 students, is the only one, which has formalised its services to students with handicap or special needs. Students can apply to its Counselling Service for special study circumstances and special examination procedures. Special study circumstances include the provision of information on curriculum in good time to allow sufficient preparation, flexibility in programme arrangements and personal progress, recording of lectures and a choice of suitable location for instruction. Adjustment of examination procedures include the extension of exam time, private exams, reading and writing assistance and finally alternative examination form, such as multiple choice, brief written responses or oral exams in place of long essay-type examinations.
The Regulation for special support at the University of Iceland (no 497/2002) can be found in Icelandic at:
State and regional support
All pre-schools have the right of access to an outside professional counselling and psychological service, employing psychologists, special education teachers, pre-school consultants and other specialists, which may be operated jointly with counselling services for the compulsory school.
According to the law on the compulsory school and a regulation on specialist services for schools, issued in June 1996, local municipalities are obliged to provide their compulsory schools with specialist services. This involves general curricular advice, specialist advice on the teaching of the main school subjects, specified in article 40, guidance for pupils and psychological counselling. The focus shall be on support for teachers and head teachers in day-to-day school work, including how to meet SEN, but also on teachers' projects aimed at school improvement. The purpose is to strengthen the professional capacity of the school to solve its own problems. Specialists of the service, being teachers, psychologists and other specialists are also expected to assess pupils with psychological or social problems, should these difficulties impede their education. Some advice to parents is also envisioned.
Segregated special schools provide consultation to mainstream schools and parents concerning two tasks: inclusion of pupils with disabilities into their local schools and the transfer of pupils from mainstream to special schools and vice versa. The consultation is to be carried out in close collaboration with the local specialist services. The local authorities of Reykjavík took over this service in 1996 when compulsory education was transferred to the municipalities.
Teachers working in special units situated in mainstream schools at compulsory level have regular contact with mainstream education through the part-time inclusion of individual pupils.
There are facilities available for children who are hospitalised in two national paediatric wards. This is sometimes counted as segregated special education, but is more akin to short-term home support teaching for sick children.
The Law on the Communication Centre for Deaf can be found in Icelandic at: http://www.althingi.is/lagasofn/nuna/1990129.html
The Regulation for specialised services in compulsory schools (no 386/1996) can be found in Icelandic at:
Law for Communication centre for deft and hearing impaired nr. 1990/129.
Ráðstefna menntamálaráðuneytisins um ýmis málefni barna og unglinga með sérþarfir. Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. Reykjavík. 1996
Reglugerð um kennslu fatlaðra nemenda í framhaldsskólum 1998/372.
Reglugerð um námsmat nemenda sem víkja svo frá almennum þroska að þeim henta ekki samræmd próf 1996/709.
Reglugerð um sérfræðiþjónustu í grunnskólum 1996/386.
Reglugerð um sérkennslu 1996/389.
Reglur um sértæk úrræði í námi við Háskóla Íslands 2002/497.
The Educational System in Iceland. Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. Reykjavík. 2002.
Samningur Sameinuðu þjóðanna um réttindi barnsins 1992, nr. 18, 2. nóvember.
Sérdeildir framhaldsskóla, námskrá fyrir starfsbrautir. Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. Reykjavík. 2000.
Sérkennsla í grunnskólum Reykjavíkur – Könnun á fjölda nemenda, ástæðum og framkvæmd. Fræðslumiðstöð Reykjavíkur. Reykjavík. 2000.
Stefna fræðsluráðs Reykjavíkur um sérkennslu Nefnd um sérkennslu og sérúrræði í Reykjavík Fræðslumiðstöð Reykjavíkur. Reykjavík. 2002.
Verklagsreglur um viðurkenningu menntamálaráðherra á starfsreglum sérskóla/sérdeilda skv. 38. gr. laga nr. 66/1995 um grunnskóla 1997
Last modified Mar 26, 2010