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Initial identification of special educational needs - Iceland

Initial Identification of SEN 

The Regulations on special needs teaching, 1996, state that special needs teaching entails major changes to the study objectives, study material, conditions of study and/or teaching methods vis-à-vis what other pupils of the same age are offered. 

Special needs teaching involves inter alia:

  • The preparation of a study plan, based on reasoned argument, for a group of pupils or an individual, based upon information on the pupil’s overall situation, and investigation and assessment of his/her status in study and development. Long-term and short-term objectives of teaching shall be stated.
  • Teaching in accordance with the study plan.
  • Systematic recording and regular review of the study plan and teaching.   

According to the regulations on special needs teaching, school staff must assess the needs of pupils with special needs, and prepare an individual curriculum for the pupil in accordance with his/her needs. All investigation and assessment of the status of individual pupils shall be made in consultation with the parents, and with their consent. Assessment of the status of pupils with special needs in primary/lower secondary school has until recently focussed primarily on their learning difficulties, mainly in reading, spelling and mathematics.

Assessment of disabilities and specific mental disorders has hitherto been handled by physicians, psychologists and other specialists at diagnostic facilities. A survey carried out last spring by Reykjavík education authorities revealed that assessment in special needs teaching is of various kinds: Formal diagnostic tools are used in most schools, home-made tests of progress are used, reports are written to assess the overall status of the pupils, and checklists are used. 

Initial assessment

In pre-school the ideology of early intervention, or service for children under the age of 6, is applied. The Early Intervention Services Assessment Scale has been translated and adapted, and it is used in pre-schools to assess the quality of early intervention for children with developmental deviations and their families. Physicians, psychologists and other specialists at diagnostic facilities run by the State are involved in initial assessment of the status of handicapped children and those with extensive special needs. The ICD-10 diagnostic standard is used. A range of medical and psychological diagnostic tools are used in initial assessment at diagnostic facilities.

Children are regularly assessed by pre-school teachers and specialised consultants. Factors such as linguistic development, social and communication skills, motor development and skills of daily life are assessed. 

When children enter primary school at the age of 6, a report and assessment is produced by the pre-school on handicapped pupils and those who require special support in school. With regard to handicapped children, those with severe speech disorders and those with mental and behavioural disorders, assessment is generally carried out by psychologists, physicians and specialists at diagnostic facilities run by the State. They use medical and psychological diagnostic tools on the basis of the ICD-10 diagnostic standard. They use e.g. WPPSI-R, WISC-3, and the ADHD Rating Scale.

Information on the child’s status is passed from the pre-school to the primary school in consultation with the parents. During the first term of primary school, special needs teachers and psychologists jointly carry out a diagnostic assessment of the development and skills of all 6-year-old children (Information from Reykjavík and surrounding communities, where 70% of pupils in compulsory education study).

Diagnostic assessment tools are used, such as Boehm and Tove Krogh. Special letter tests are also widely used. Those children whose deviation from the norm is considerable are referred for further and more extensive diagnosis by the school psychologist or other specialists. When this initial assessment has been completed, the class teacher should be better aware of the status of individual pupils, and should be better able to adapt the teaching to the needs of each.

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