Tone Mørk, Statped´s Director General
For a long time Norway was a pioneer in inclusion, but today more children attend special schools or special classes than during the time when we had public special schools. The white paper Learning together (PDF) from 2010 calls attention to the fact that many children and youth with disabilities and complex learning difficulties are met with low expectations and inadequate pedagogical efforts in school. This applies regardless of whether the pupil attends a special school or a regular school.
Statped is on behalf of the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training developing measures to promote inclusion and an increased learning outcome in kindergartens and schools for children with disabilities and complex learning difficulties.
Inclusion is about belonging
Inclusion in school does not happen by itself. A school administration that promotes inclusive attitudes and practice among pupils and employees is necessary. Important questions up for discussion are: What does inclusion mean in practice? Are there pupils who cannot be included in a regular Norwegian class? Must pupils be similar to enjoy interacting with each other? How can teaching on different levels take place in the same classroom?
The Norwegian Education Act states that the pupils should be divided into classes or groups that ensure their need for social belonging. All pupils have a right to adapted education, but for some adapted education requires so extensive adaptions that special education is needed. It is unfortunately a widespread understanding that special education should take place outside the classroom. This means that the more special education a pupil receives, the more time does the pupil spend outside the class community. It does not need to be like this and it should not be like this. Special education in the classroom usually means an extra adult, something that can be a resource for both the teacher and fellow pupils.
Belonging is about organising the daily school routine, but also about the experience of being allowed for. Targeted work is required to achieve real inclusion.
Statped supports schools in developing an inclusive practice where pupils with disabilities and complex learning difficulties have a natural place in the peer community. This involves giving teachers tips about methods, organisation and learning resources, but just as much it involves supporting the school in developing an inclusive culture.
Strengthening the team around the teacher
Strengthening the team around the teacher is important. It is demanding to have academic responsibility for pupils who largely diverge from the curriculum. To increase these pupils’ learning outcome, competence in academic subjects, curriculum, methods, adaptation and evaluation is needed. Teachers know a great deal about this, but they will need additional skills to be able to transform this in the education of pupils with complex learning difficulties. Personnel with special responsibilities have a right to competence training according to the Education Act, and schools must arrange this accordingly. Strengthening the team around the teacher is also about taking organisational measures. A fixed time to collaborate for those who work with the pupil is crucial. It is also important to receive support from the Educational Psychological Service (PPT), the school administration and colleagues in the work with an individual subject curriculum (IOP). The support from the school administration and colleagues to the vision of inclusive education is of vital importance to achieve good work performance over time.
Inclusion benefits everyone
Inclusion benefits both the pupil with special needs and the rest of the pupils. An extensive Norwegian research project shows that children who spend a lot of time with their class participate more socially in their spare time than children who spend a lot of time outside the classroom or attend a special school (Tøssebro and Ytterhus, 2006). A regular class gives the pupil access to an environment filled with many impulses, good role models, friends and acquaintances.
Knowing and interacting with people with disabilities is a valuable competence in life for everyone. This type of knowledge cannot be acquired through reading a textbook. The Knowledge Promotion Curriculum states that the objective of the education is to enable children, youth and adults to meet tasks in life and to master challenges together with others. The education should give all pupils the competence to take care of themselves and their lives, and at the same time energy and will to be of help to others. That is why it is important to focus on how kindergartens and schools can develop an inclusive learning environment.