Special educational support and provision has a fairly long history in Malta with substantial contributions being made both by the State, the Catholic Church and non-governmental organisations. However since 1989, the Government embarked on an intensive programme for the promotion of inclusive education, with a substantial reduction in the number of pupils with special needs attending special schools and a corresponding increase in the number of pupils attending mainstream schools, providing a support service, including the service of a Learning Support Assistant (LSA) on a one-to-one basis, full-time or shared basis. A recent study on inclusive education published in 2005 has charted the future of inclusive and special education for the coming years.
Until approximately seven years ago, inclusive and special education was closely associated with primary education and few pupils with special needs succeeded in joining secondary or higher secondary education. However, the inclusion process in Malta has led to more and more pupils joining lower secondary schools while a number of others are proceeding even to tertiary education.
In 2005, an Inclusive and Special Education Review was carried out and the set-up of the Inclusive and Special Network together with its Centre.
In 2007 The Student Services Department (SSD) in the Directorate of Educational Services (DES) was set up with the appointment of a Director. In 2008 the Department appointed Service Managers to manage The Inclusive Education Section, Special Education and Resource Centres and Psycho-Social Service.
Kindergarten and Compulsory Schools
It is the government's policy to include pupils with special needs within the mainstream education system rather than in special schools. In March 2007 nearly 88% of pupils with a statement attended mainstream schools. However, parents are left to decide which provision they prefer for their children, particularly when pupils with severe special needs require specialised services and facilities that are difficult to obtain in mainstream schools.
During the last decade, action has been taken to make the school's physical environment for pupils with a mobility impairment as user friendly and accessible as possible. Moreover, pupils with special needs may be given the services to cater for their physical, sensory, intellectual or other needs.
Pupils with sensory impairments besides being supported by LSAs are also supported by peripatetic teachers, who visit schools once or twice a week depending on the needs of the pupils. There are also pupils who communicate through sign language and are provided with the services of sign language interpreters. These pupils are also supported by interpreters at post-secondary education.
A team of educational psychologists provide support to schools in catering for the education of pupils with special needs and may refer the pupils to the Statementing Moderating Panel. Referrals can also be made by the Head of School and also by parents.
A number of special schools still function to cater for the more demanding needs and to satisfy the wishes and expectations of parents who consider that their child can receive a better educational service in a special school where there may be better educational provision than that obtainable in mainstream schools.
It is estimated that only 0.36% out of the total pupil population attends these schools. The rest of the pupils receive their education in mainstream schools. The existing special schools are networked so that they can complement each other's services and facilities and to work closer with mainstream schools. They are supported educationally and professionally by a central unit.
Over the years, substantial investment has been made in these schools in order to provide all the required facilities and services and to turn them into resource centres that also support mainstream schools. As a result, facilities and services provided at these schools can be made use of by pupils with special needs in other special schools or in mainstream schools.
Pupils in special schools visit mainstream schools, usually nearby, for shorter or longer periods of time. There are also educational programmes being carried out between mainstream and special schools. Pupils in mainstream and special schools follow the mainstream curriculum with the necessary adaptation and modifications necessary to ensure full access to the curriculum. It is highly stressed in these schools that ALL pupils should have access to a common set of subject syllabi with the same quality of subject content. This should enhance equal learning opportunities and experiences for ALL pupils to become educated persons. Each pupil follows his/her Individual Educational Programme (IEP) which is agreed upon and revised annually during an IEP conference meeting with the involvement of all professionals working with the pupil: school administration, teachers, LSAs, parents and sometimes the pupils themselves. Peripatetic teachers give lessons in drama, art and craft, music, and physical education.
There are several other developments with regards to Inclusion in Malta including:
The National Policy and Strategy for the Attainment of Core Competences in Primary Education which aims to address basic aspects of cognitive development which are essential for all learners.
Inclusive Curriculum supports teacher’s professional practice in raising standards of education for ALL pupils, ensure that all pupils in mainstream and special schools have access to a common set of subject syllabi thus ensuring equal opportunities and support teachers in achieving these goals through collective critical self-evaluation.