Special needs education and inclusion in Germany

Does Germany have special education? -- In Germany, due to the child-based model, special services usually can only be applied if a child has a diagnosis that states that it needs exceptional support. Support by special educators, therefore, is always a reaction to a child's deficits.

Special needs education and inclusion in Germany

 This article examines the educational systems of both Sweden and Germany, with a particular emphasis on how inclusive education has been implemented. It is investigated how the two systems are structured, how the categorization processes function, how inclusion can be financed, and how various teaching models can help realize inclusion in the classroom setting. The analysis is constructed with the help of guiding documents and research articles.

The traditions of the two different schooling systems lead to a different understanding of how to assist children who have difficulties learning, which is revealed by the analysis even though it is impossible to conduct a systematic comparison of the two. The various processes of categorization and financing models are intertwined with the numerous approaches to putting inclusive education into practice.

In both of these nations, inclusive education requires collaboration between educators from a variety of backgrounds. On the other hand, the reality in both nations is that children with special educational needs are still often segregated from other students in the form of special schools or special classes. This paper will discuss the findings that were obtained from the analysis.

About Special needs Education and Inclusion in Germany

Over the past three decades, the idea of inclusion, and more specifically, inclusive education, has gained traction in several different countries. The term "inclusion" refers primarily to a process that involves reconstruction and change in order to encourage participation (Thomas & Loxley, 2001). According to Nilholm and Goransson (2013), it is conceptualized as being a component of the concept of diversity, and the concept of diversity itself is seen as a factor that facilitates collaboration between various groups.

In light of this, inclusive education refers to a set of practices that aim to strengthen the sense of community and participation among students (Nilholm, 2006). However, there is a wide range of degrees to which the groups that have a pressing requirement for inclusion are acknowledged (European Union, NESSE report, 2012). In a more general sense, the notion of inclusion as a concept is theorized to have a positive outlook on various types of diversity (e.g. race, gender, poverty). However, it seems that students who have special educational needs (SEN) are frequently the focal point of conversations about inclusive education.

According to Isaksson and Lindqvist (2015), the term "inclusive education" refers to a vision that prioritizes teaching a diverse group of students in one classroom and promoting social collaboration. In other words, the goal of inclusive education is to foster social inclusion. According to them, schools ought to be structured in such a way as to provide a social community that caters to the requirements of each and every one of its pupils. One could argue, in line with the ongoing discussion in the scientific community about inclusive education, that there are a variety of perspectives on inclusion and approaches to putting it into practice.

In some countries, such as Italy, the advancement of inclusive education has resulted in the closure of the majority of schools catering to students with special needs. On the other hand, in other countries, a two-tiered school system has either been developed or continues to exist. As a consequence of this, there is still a significant amount of disparity between the educational systems of the various countries in Europe with regard to the placement of children who have been identified as having special educational needs into either regular or special need schools (European Union, NESSE report, 2012).

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This article compares and contrasts the educational opportunities available to children with special educational needs (SEN) in Germany and Sweden, with a particular emphasis on inclusive education. Both countries are presented as examples of inclusive education that are at opposite ends of the spectrum within Europe. According to a report published in 2010 by the European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education (EADSNE) (NESSE report), Sweden is one of the countries with a lower number of students in segregated special needs classes. In contrast, the report found that Germany has a high number of students enrolled in special needs schools (European Union, NESSE report, 2012).


Nevertheless, the NESSE report of the European Union, NESSE report, 2012: 20, recommends exercising some degree of caution when interpreting the data. The report states that "while some special schools have closed down, the number of special units attached to or embedded within mainstream schools, such as behavior support units, has increased." Therefore, it's possible that different kinds of exclusion have become less obvious.

Therefore, it seems appropriate to take a more in-depth look at selected aspects of inclusive education in the two school systems (namely, the school systems of the federal state of Baden-Württemberg in Germany and Sweden). After providing an overview of the two systems in the previous section, the following section will move on to present the research questions and the analysis.

Organization and structure of the two school systems

Germany's Situation

The 1949 German constitution states that the individual federal states bear primary responsibility for legislation and administration in the fields of education, science, and culture, a concept known as cultural sovereignty. According to this federalist principle, the German school system varies greatly between states. As a result, the current article focuses on the central issues that are applicable to all German federal states.

There is a long-standing tradition in Germany of a three-tiered secondary educational structure. Students are assigned to one of three types of schools after four years of primary school (six years in the federal states of Berlin and Brandenburg) based on their performance and grades in primary school. There is also a long history of special needs schools for nine different types of disabilities. In Germany, approximately 6.6% of all students have a documented need for special education. However, the percentage of children with SEN varies by federal state, with variations of up to five percentage points (Klemm, 2015).

There has not been a national agreement on all-inclusive schools for all children. As a result, the demand for inclusive education may be seen as at odds with the common practice of educational selection based on individual performance.

Despite this, and since Germany ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2009, significant efforts have been made to include students with special needs in this three-tiered educational system. As a result, the number of special needs students enrolled in mainstream classrooms is steadily increasing. As of 2015, approximately 28% of special needs students were enrolled in mainstream classes (Klemm, 2015). In general, inclusive education in Germany differentiates between students who can follow the mainstream curriculum (those who can meet the regular learning goals) and those who require an adapted curriculum (those who cannot meet the regular learning goals). Teachers must consider different educational plans for their class, especially for students who require an adapted curriculum. The extent to which educational plans for students with SEN exist, however, varies by federal state.

Situation in Sweden

Sweden has a compulsory comprehensive school system that emphasizes inclusion and is relatively equitably constructed and conceptualized (OECD, 2015). All children, regardless of gender, residence, or social or economic circumstances, have equal access to education. The term "inclusion" is rarely "debatable" (Isaksson & Lindqvist, 2015: 123), and it is not explicitly mentioned in the Education Act or the national curriculum. Following this principle, students' diverse educational needs must always be taken into account, and their successful inclusion is critical. Furthermore, the rights of students who require special assistance are not explicitly stated. They should be given the guidance and stimulation they require to be able to grow intellectually as much as possible while also developing a lifelong desire to learn (Swedish Education Act/Skollagen, 2010:800, 3 kapitel, 3 kapitel, 3 kapitel, 3 kapitel, 3 kapitel, 3 kapitel, 3 kapitel, 3 kapitel, 3 kapitel, 3 kapi As a result, the majority of students attend a compulsory school (Isaksson, Lindqvist, & Bergström, 2010).

Nonetheless, different specified governmental support measures can be applied to students attending a compulsory school who require special support due to their special educational needs. Support is primarily provided in the classroom or group to which the student belongs. However, solutions in segregated settings do exist. Formation of a special learning group (also known as a special needs group), separate teaching, adjusted studies, and textbooks written in the corresponding native language are among the measures. If there are special circumstances that prevent measures from being implemented within a specific group, assistance can be provided in a special learning group. Decisions about placing a student in a special learning group can be made only after consultation with the student and the student's legal guardians or parents. Special learning groups educate 1.4% (13,800 students) of the students.

Furthermore, between 2015 and 2016, 5.6% (55,200 students) of students received an individual education plan. A special educational measure is used by 8.1% of students (79,600). (Skolverket, 2016). According to Göransson, Lindqvist, and Nilholm (2015), the total percentage of students receiving special support in their classroom can range from 85-90%. In conclusion, because there is no statistical data on the occurrence of disability in schools, the numbers mentioned above refer to special needs measures within schools. Students who do not meet the minimum learning goal receive extra assistance.

The current Swedish school system is influenced and shaped by the 2011 reform, which affected both special education and compulsory schools (Isaksson & Lindqvist, 2015). For example, four distinct curricula were introduced for each school type, i.e., each component of comprehensive education: comprehensive school, special school, special school for the intellectually disabled, and Sami school (children of the ethnic Sami population can attend this school based on a Sami syllabus in years 1–6). In this system, we can see a greater emphasis on categorizing students and possibly even a retreat from the concept of inclusion.

Furthermore, one of the distinguishing features of Swedish schools is the collaboration of various professions, including teachers with diverse backgrounds and institutional responsibilities. Other professions with responsibilities for various activities in school, such as educational psychologists, social workers, speech therapists, career guidance counselors, and school nurses, are mentioned by Hjörne and Säljö (2014). These various professions are even relevant in terms of special support, disability, and individual education plans. As a result, special needs educators, such as special educational needs coordinators and special education teachers, are becoming more important (see Göransson et al., 2015).

To summarize, "in Sweden, policy goals and national guidelines are ambiguous and do not specify the form and content of internal school work (including special education measures)" (Isaksson & Lindqvist, 2015: 123).


A comparative analysis

Due to the two countries' different traditions, an important difference between Germany and Sweden can be seen in the different modular structures of the school systems. Regardless of the two countries' different secondary school types, certain structural conditions are frequently discussed when debating inclusion. These conditions are, first and foremost, established practices regarding categorization and placement; second, financial resources; and, finally, issues concerning the support of children with SEN (Katzenbach & Schnell, 2013).

Steering documents, statistical data, and research articles were gathered and analyzed in preparation for this analysis. The paper employs a dual synthesis methodology that organizes the reading of macro-data reports along three axes: devices for evaluating and categorizing "students with special needs"/financing of inclusive education/inclusion/organization of the reference school system.

This paper is a discussion in which the previously mentioned selected aspects are used to compare the two school systems of Germany and Sweden and discuss the consequences of implementing inclusive education in various ways. This paper can also be viewed as the theoretical foundation for a future empirical study.

Processes of evaluation and classification

In most cases, school law in each federal state declares that if parents or the school notice indications that a student may not be able to successfully follow or pass general education classes, the educational authority initiates a diagnostic investigation into possible SEN. Unless the student is 18 or older, parents must be informed about this process. A special educator is usually in charge of the assessment. The educational authority informs parents whether or not their child requires special education and advises them on the best school for their child. However, many students with disabilities, such as a mental deficiency or a physical handicap, are diagnosed before starting school (Secretariat of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany, 2015).

In practice, special support measures are decided by the principal. Student Health Teams, as such, serve as an important measure in categorizing and assessing students who, at the school's discretion, are to receive outside support. The Student Health Teams' focal points are to work preventively and proactively with the issues that cause school problems, rather than only reactively and through assessments of individual student problems (Hjörne & Säljö, 2014).

The multi-professional health teams assess school problems while categorizing and analyzing the given situation, with the goal of preventing school failure by assisting children at risk. Furthermore, they develop and evaluate suggestions for ways to support schools (Hjörne & Säljö, 2014). According to the Education Act, the student health team should focus on prevention, be proactive in its methods, and strive to increase the number of students who achieve their learning objectives.

A SEN diagnosis is also required in Germany to obtain resources. This leads to an intriguing fact: despite the trend toward inclusion in mainstream schools, the proportion of students enrolled in a special needs school remains unchanged. The reason for this is that the proportion of students requiring special educational support is growing, and there is a trend toward more SEN diagnoses (Klemm, 2015).

Funding of inclusion

In many countries, providing special services to implement inclusive education in mainstream schools is costly. Both input- or child-based and resource- or throughput models exist. The input model says students must be labeled to receive appropriate services. The resource-based model combines special services with an inclusive class's resource allocation (Katzenbach and Schnell, 2013, Peters, 2003). System structures and special services funding affect classroom teaching.

In Germany, SEN labels determine educational resources like financial or personnel assistants. North Rhine-Westphalia has 6.14 intellectually disabled students per teacher. This teacher teaches 28 hours per week, so each SEN student gets 4.5 working hours. This number is based on per-teacher workload (every student with intellectual disability amounts for 4.5 hours if the teacher has a workload of 28 hours). In an inclusive school setting, those 4.5 hours are supplemented by a special educator to best include SEN students. This allocation allows for team-teaching during those hours (Nordrhein-Westfalen Education Ministry, 2015). Two teachers are present during these hours in an inclusive setting. Co-teaching is extended in classes with multiple SEN students. This may be why SEN diagnoses are rising. Classes with disabled children aren't always given extra cooperative teaching time. Mobile services support many students, especially those with equal curriculums. A special needs educator advises the regular teacher about SEN students. After observing daily lessons, the special needs educator holds advisory sessions outside the classroom.

In Sweden, the latest changes in special education involve special support, extra adjustments, and individual education plans. The latest change to the school law (2014) emphasizes that multiple teachers provide special support, as opposed to extra adjustments. Every needy student could get extra help. Principal and parents must participate. Additional adjustments, like a new law, must be incorporated into daily teaching and involve small changes. Additional school adjustments, such as a daily schedule or learning support, do not require formal processes. Special support needs the principal's approval (principals decide on special support measures in schools). Total IEPs decreased. Regulations are unclear. Pedagogical assessments at school can help fund inclusion if the municipality can hire more assistants.

Finally, child-based funding exists in Sweden and Germany. In some German states, throughput models are developing alongside child-based funding (Preuss-Lausitz, 2016). Differentiating special education needs is a current trend. In North Rhine-Westphalia, a throughput model funds special services for students with learning disabilities, speech and language impairments, and challenging behavior. Other, more severe disabilities require a label (diagnosis) to receive services. Students with learning disabilities, speech and language impairments, or challenging behavior are often educated in inclusive settings. According to this model, special needs educators are hired to teach students with learning disabilities, speech and language impairments, and challenging behavior (Nordrhein-Westfalen Ministry of Education and Training) (2015).

Organizational structure of inclusion

In Sweden, schools should have enough staff with special needs expertise (Swedish Education Act/Skollagen, 2010:800, chapter 2, 25). Principal, psychologist, special needs coordinator, teacher, school doctor, school nurse, social worker, and sometimes guidance counselor make up students' health teams. Law requires schools to have psychologists and special education staff. Chapter 2, 25 of the Education Act does not specify which group should handle special education measures.

Germany supports SEN children in various ways. The above-mentioned German regulations affect inclusive classrooms. First, inclusive education "requires qualified special education teachers, individualized forms of planning, implementing, and monitoring the teaching process, and coordinated cooperation between teaching and specialist staff" (Secretariat of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany, 2015: 242). Growing demand for mainstream placements has led to a new role for special needs school staff. Special educators consult with regular teachers or support children in inclusive schools (Lindqvist et al., 2014, Reiser et al., 2003).

Germany and Sweden have both hired more teaching assistants recently. The social assistance act (Sozialgesetzbuch VIII, 1990, 35a; Sozialgesetzbuch XII, 2003, 54) regulates teaching assistant employment in Germany. They can help with care, communication, work organization, or behavior. In inclusive schools, one-to-one support by teaching assistants who aren't qualified is controversial. No delegation concept seems problematic. Nor has the need for SEN assistant teachers been discussed (Dworschak, 2016). While many teachers and parents feel confident about one-to-one support, others say relying too much on teaching assistants for SEN prevents students from getting enough time from their special needs educator or regular teacher. In both countries, teaching assistants can improve professional support. This group lacks research.

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The Swedish system has a different understanding of how to support children with learning difficulties to prevent discrimination, according to a comparison of inclusive education in Sweden and Germany. Without a diagnosis, these students can get help. This leads to a discussion about proactive child support. Classifying a child as different may secure resources and equal opportunities.

Models of cooperation seem key to classroom inclusion (Lindqvist, Nilholm, Almqvist, & Wetso, 2014). Assistant teachers cannot replace professionals who share responsibility for all children. Germany and Sweden should increase co-teaching.

Finally, statistics don't reflect social reality objectively. Different assessment practices in a country can affect the number of SEN children. Exclusionary practices need closer examination. Despite claiming to be a "school for all," the Swedish system actively separates SEN students, according to an analysis. Empirical studies are needed to identify mainstream schools where SEN exclusion is a common and successful practice.

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