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Challenges and tendencies - Germany

The 1994 recommendations of the KMK have brought a positive turn in education policy in Germany and have paved the way for inclusive education and instruction. However, their practical implementation remains to be assured. One of the first and probably most important starting points can be seen in the detachment from the institutional point of view which is linked to the formerly prevailing concept of Sonderschulbedürftigkeit, i.e. the need for education at a special school (1972 KMK). Whilst former guiding principles were lead from the assumption that children required special assistance in the form of Sonderschulen as the only learning venue where they would receive sufficient support, a new primacy was set forth in the 1994 recommendations: the concept of inclusive education according to which children with special educational needs, as a rule, are entitled to instruction at mainstream schools, whereas instruction at Sonderschulen is declared as exception to the rule requiring special justification.  

Secondly, this primacy is linked with the opinion that SEN assessment must be based on a quantitative and qualitative evaluation of general and special educational needs, instead of claiming instruction at a Sonderschule as a matter of principle. This makes the rough development of an education plan an imperative task which will help generate new perspectives focussing on the question of teaching conditions required to put into practice this promotion concept. For only on this basis will it be possible to judge in which learning venues these conditions already exist or could be provided.  

Thirdly, the 1994 recommendations clearly reject the categorisation of children according to their special educational needs. Instead, they recognise the necessity to integrate internal and external factors of learning environments into the determining fields of SEN. In the framework of education and instruction it should therefore be aimed at varying and designing these fields according to detected SEN, as is imperatively demanded in inclusive education. 

Finally, individual support manifests itself in the work with individual education plans. These plans document the previous development of pupils with SEN and constitute both the basis for instructive action (including the specific form of special assistance and promotion) and for the assessment of the implemented measures in connection with pupils’ progresses. Further they can constitute the basis for consultation of all persons involved in the process of education and instruction. An individual education plan needs to be established, updated and evaluated at regular intervals, and the results communicated to the persons and institutions involved.

Problems and Challenges from the Experts’ Point of View

Educational guidelines showing traits of or dominated by the traditional institutional view counteract the implementation of inclusive education. To a small extent, this already holds true for the most general level of the recommendations of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs. For instance in the 1999  recommendations for learning promotion the notion of learning disability is still linked to the (apparently individually judged) non achievement of learning  and learning disability classified as norm deviation. To a larger extent, this problem area concerns the implementing regulations of the individual Länder, among which some still refer to out-dated school decrees and consequently adhere to the antiquated notion of Sonderschulbedürftigkeit, i.e. the need for education at a special school. 

One basic problem encountered at the higher level of recommendation of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs seems to be of particular importance: If initial special needs diagnostics with a definite character are required in order to provide for institutional resources (in particular the assignment of pupils to Sonderschulen), this strongly suggests a selective form of diagnostics (in the way it is performed in limited time frames). On the other hand, permanent diagnostics focussing on learning processes are envisaged, i.e. continual data collection and its flexible use for continual adaptation of the promotion concepts. If the promotion concept is directed at justifying learning venue recommendations, as suggested by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (1994, 7 et seq.) then this should ideally be supported with process oriented diagnostics. Initial diagnostics with definite character could not assume this function.

In Germany’s education system SEN determination is often required for an official allocation of resources which are quantified according to the amount of lessons to be provided by qualified staff in the field of special education. This can be regarded as problematic for two reasons: Firstly, SEN determination often carries a negative label because in the public eye SEN is viewed in the traditional sense of Sonderschulbedürftigkeit, i.e. the need for education at a special school and identified with deficit or stigma (labelling phenomena). Secondly, the dividing lines between special and general educational needs are scientifically not clearly definable and in practice they are usually determined on the basis of subjective criteria. However, this means the resources are allocated unjustly insofar, as their allocation depends less on the subjective needs for education and support, but rather on the governing administrative decrees.

Altogether, the situation of disadvantaged groups in the German education system has grown more complicated and confusing. It is the differences in education participation and competence acquisition in relation to social background and migration status that are particularly evident. When it comes to eliminating these inequalities decisions made at the decisive interfaces of the education system (most importantly when the transition to the secondary level is concerned) are of strategic importance. Moreover, educational support measures within schools and classes play a decisive role when it comes to decreasing the differences on the level of competence acquisition.



  • KMK (Sekretariat der Ständigen Konferenz der Kultusminister der Länder in der Bundesrepublik Deutsch¬land): Gutachten zur Ordnung des Sonderschulwesens. In: Zeitschrift für Heilpädagogik, Beiheft 9, 1972.
  • KMK (Sekretariat der Ständigen Konferenz der Kultusminister der Länder in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland): Empfehlungen zur sonderpädagogischen Förderung in den Schulen in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Beschluss der Kultusministerkonferenz vom 06.05.1994. Bonn 1994.
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