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Descriptions of the legal system for assessment - Austria

The development of integration in Austria 

The amendment to the Law on School Organisation adopted in 1993 replaced the need for special school placement with the SEN for the support of disabled children at school. Hence the possibilities of special needs education have been broadened considerably beyond placement in a special school within the Austrian school system. Since the school year 1993/94 a quantitative increase of pupils with SEN has been registered at mainstream schools.

While during that school year about 20% of all children with SEN attended an integration class, in the school year 2002/03 already more than 50% did so (with considerable regional differences ranging from 40% to 85%). However, also the total number of children with SEN has increased during the last years.

In 1994/1995 about 3.5% of all children in primary, secondary and special schools were pupils with a special educational need. In 2002/03 the percentage of children with SEN already grew to 4.3% (according to data from the Austrian school statistics). Is it really possible that the number of children with SEN has increased that much? What are the reasons for that?

A substantial reason is that children fail the goals of the syllabus requirements due to learning difficulties or disabilities, which leads to the launching of SEN procedures, because only after the diagnosis of a special educational need can resources be made available. The number of children who are considered not to be capable of attending school for several years is very low (only a few per mill).

The interface between kindergarten and school

During the last years the interface between kindergarten and school has become even more important. At present, kindergarten staff are not allowed to give information about the children to the primary class teachers without parental consent. As far as school start is concerned, there are a few pilot projects which should enable the children to start school without any problems. Currently there is intensive contact between the itinerary special needs kindergarten teachers and the heads of Special Education Centres.

Children who attend a special needs kindergarten and/or a mainstream kindergarten in combination with special needs care are discussed in interface conversations comprising the District School Board, the kindergarten staff, Special Education Centres, school psychologists and school doctors. In case of obvious disabilities, a special educational need will be applied for in the run-up of school start to be able to procure the necessary resources in autumn.

One obstructive fact is that it is impossible to allocate contingents (that is teachers) to children who start school without delay and obvious disabilities although they have been qualified to need support by their former kindergarten teachers. Thus in the most sensitive stage of development no early support is provided. Quality early support could help us reduce the need for certain SEN procedures.

School enrolment

For many children and parents school enrolment is the first real contact with school. Since the impressions they obtain will influence their further school life, the first contact should be organised well in terms of pedagogy. Already the invitation for enrolment (§ 6 Abs. 1, SchPflG ) should be attractive. Children should (if possible) be present personally so that head teachers can get an overview of their readiness for school. The presence of the children for the assessment of their language skills will be mandatory by October 2005.

A child is ready to go to school when it can be taken for granted that it will be able to follow the lessons in Year 1 without being physically or mentally overtaxed. (§ 6 Abs. 2a SchPflG)

The decision whether a child is ready for school or not is taken by the school administration (§ 6 Abs. 2c SchPflG). It depends on this decision whether the child is placed in Year 1 at primary school or in pre-school. Comprehensive information (e.g. through standardised procedures, expert opinions, individual observations) should be obtained to back this decision. On the basis of the current school start period (in force since September 1999) all children of school age are placed in Grundstufe I (lower level of primary school comprising Years 1 and 2, poss. pre-school). It is not possible to downgrade children due to their lack of readiness for school.

Since all children not ready for school have to be placed in pre-school, a comprehensive consultation will become necessary in cases of disabled children or if the parents do not want their child to go to school due to special circumstances (SEN, non-capable of attending school, home schooling). The result of this procedure, which is based on a summary statement about readiness for school, is to be delivered through a decision to the parents or legal guardians. Besides, a constant dialogue with the parents or legal guardians is crucial to avoid conflicts.

Since the Austrian law does not require compulsory school attendance but the obligation to receive instruction, parents can apply at the local school board for home schooling of their children. Progress has to be proved through an exam at a public school by the end of the school year. Pre-schoolers do not have to give evidence since they only receive a school attendance certificate.

Within Grundstufe I of primary school and special schools applying the syllabus of primary school the pupils have the right to shift to the next higher or lower grade during the term if this better suits their learning situation and if they would not be overtaxed or challenged too much concerning their mental and physical development (§ 17 Abs. 5 SchUG ) Such a shift is arranged by the school conference after the application by the teacher or parents/legal guardians, who will be notified via decision.

Pre-school can be organised in an additive form (a separate class with children instructed according to the pre-school syllabus) or in an integrative form (pre-schoolers and children of Year 1 [and Year 2] are instructed jointly). Due to the geographically most different structures there are various regional models. It often depends on the number of pre-schoolers in a school municipality which model is to be applied.

If the number of pre-schoolers exceeds ten in a school municipality, in most cases a pre-school class is held (parting number for a further class: 20). If there are less than ten children, they are instructed in an integrative way and jointly with children from Year 1. For this model lesson resources are available. This form of inclusion has proved to be effective especially in smaller schools because there several grades are instructed jointly anyway, so teachers can deal with the individual development of the respective child. In classes with joint instruction according to the syllabus of Grundstufe 1 it is no problem to be up- or downgraded within the class itself, which better promotes the educational and social inclusion.

Source:

  • SchPflG:  Austrian Compulsory Education Act
  • SchUG:  Austrian Education Act
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