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Challenges and tendencies - Belgium (Flemish speaking community)

Schools have the freedom to describe their own vision on education, assessment, care and tailor made education in their pedagogical project. This autonomy causes a very heterogeneous assessment picture in Flanders. The only requirement of the local assessment policy of a school is that it has to be placed on the very wide continuum between two possibilities. The first possibility is the pedagogical method that is program oriented, prestigious and selective. The other possibility represents the pupil oriented, adaptive and inclusive principles. It is required that the different parts of the didactical models are concreted within the vision of the school. In other words, a school chooses the weight of pupil orientation and inclusive ideas in the curricula and therefore still allowing a large amount of freedom for schools in their choice of differentiated education. How pupils are assessed and how goals and assessment procedures are differentiated from the standardised curricula and school work plan for individual pupils depends on the goodwill and expertise in this area of the school.

The main difficulty in this context is the freedom within this policy. Until now there were formulated too few clear purposes in the area of equality in opportunities and the procedures to reach these goals in the schools were not regulated enough. In other words, the government has to provide more frames in order to define the content and process in the schools, and not just stimulate the input of pupils into the mainstream classes.

A second difficulty of the policy of equality in educational opportunities is the role and position of the school counsellors. Experience tells us that they have a very isolated place in the school environment compared to their colleagues and to change this situation would require courses in leadership. With this context in mind, we must not forget that the classroom teacher still has to take a central place in this policy. Improving the expertise of the classroom teacher has thus to become a priority if we wish to invest in a proper special needs policy. Concrete plans for structural co-operation between mainstream and special education is a must.

In order to review the Decree on transfer to special education from 19th Sept. 1978, a pilot project was set up in January 2004. The project is embedded in 6 CLBs and makes use of a ‘care trajectory’ aiming for “harmony between the educational needs of the pupil and the educational supply of the mainstream school”. There has been set up a strict order of procedures: first it is the mainstream school that has to strive towards harmony. It is not until the mainstream school has proved its intentions that the CLB will offer help to create specific adaptations. If this does not lead to a solution, a transfer to special education can be considered. This trajectory contains four stages (see as well: www.ond.vlaanderen.be/schooldirect/BL503/discussienota.doc):

  • Stage 1: At this stage schools should offer a pupil prevention, differentiation and remedial teaching in order to decrease various problems. It could be very interesting to get some expertise knowledge and approach from special education, but it will remain the responsibility of the mainstream school to work with all the children.
  • Stage 2: In case the efforts of the mainstream school are not effective, the CLB can provide support to the mainstream school. This collaboration will lead towards an individualised program that can facilitate, compensate and dispensate where needed.
  • Stage 3: The third stage can again be used after the proved efforts in stage 2. Pupils who need more support than the second stage can be offered special education. In collaboration with the CLB, special education and the mainstream school, there can be sought a solution within mainstream education OR within special education, depending on the choices of the parents and the possibilities of the mainstream school. When a pupil at this stage continues his education in a special school, the financial support will be equalised with the financing of a special school. The program of the child is individualised and based upon a individual education plan.
  • Stage 4: Again this stage reflects on an individualised program and individual education planning. Pupils at this stage receive education in special schools. They live (partly) in a (semi)residential institution.

It is obvious that we will have to strive towards mainstream education that can offer differentiated learning targets and the implementation of dispensation/compensation or facilitated learning routes. This requires very specific attitudes and skills in all teachers.

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