Country information for Austria - Systems of support and specialist provision
Above all, early intervention aims to support the child and their family, and establishes interdisciplinary collaboration. The kind of support given mainly depends on the child’s and their family’s needs. It is based upon individual, holistic approaches which especially take into account the family’s and the child’s resources.
Interdisciplinary work fosters teamwork among all family members who help to rear a child with a disability. Early intervention also includes mediation and assistance services for families to provide adequate help, information and financial support.
All supportive measures aim to give children who present or are in danger of developing a disability the highest possible degree of autonomy. Another aim of early intervention is to enable parents to help themselves, so that in the long run they can organise those supportive provisions that they need for themselves. This means that early intervention, above all, builds on the capabilities, skills and resources of the child and the family, and not on the deficits.
The provinces’ Kindergarten Acts (i.e. the Day-Care Act and the Children’s Day-Care Centre Act) distinguish between mainstream kindergartens, inclusive kindergartens (inclusive groups) and special kindergartens. These types coincide in their definition of kindergarten and the definition of the tasks of kindergarten. In some provinces, they also refer to inclusion. There are differences in the provinces’ legal regulations for kindergartens as to the maximum number of children in a group (which, in most provinces, is approximately 25 children per group). There are also differences in the minimum number of children in a group, the number of pedagogically trained staff and assistants per group, the hourly quota devoted to further training, preparation, etc. – if indeed the individual provincial legislation mentions these items at all. Each province employs a certain number of professionals who give ‘expert advice for inclusion’, with every specialist being responsible for approximately 2.5 children per hour (Source: IECE – Austria Country Survey Questionnaire, p. 9).
Models for inclusion
- Inclusive groups in mainstream kindergartens
- Individual inclusion in mainstream kindergartens
- Inclusive groups in remedial kindergartens.
Special needs support in compulsory school
Special needs support/inclusion in mainstream schools
Inclusive education for pupils with special educational needs (SEN) is currently legally regulated in primary, lower-secondary school, and in the lower grades of general secondary education schools. Three models of joint education are applied:
- Inclusive classes: pupils with and without SEN are instructed in all lessons by a team of teachers.
- Classes with support teachers: mainstream classes where one or two pupils with SEN receive additional support from a special school teacher for a few hours per week (depending on their disability).
- Co-operation classes: primary, lower-secondary and pre-vocational school classes are generally separate from special school classes in terms of organisation. The teachers involved agree upon a plan according to which pupils are taught together, either some of the time or all the time.
The co-ordination tasks of Special Education Centres
Special Education Centres have the task of providing and co-ordinating all special needs education measures to ensure through inclusive education that learners with SEN can be educated in mainstream schools in the best possible way. These tasks include:
- the issuing of expert opinions to identify SEN (special needs opinion);
- co-operation with regional compulsory education schools, other Special Education Centres, school authorities, the district school inspector, the special school inspector, regional non-school institutions, etc.;
- supporting inclusive education through educational and organisational counselling, assistance for establishing teacher teams;
- information for parents, public relations, experience exchange and further training;
Co-operation with other institutions
The Special Education Centres are responsible for co-operation with other institutions to support learners and their parents in the best possible way. For example, if other institutions require additional assistance, therapy, training programmes, diagnoses, etc., the Special Education Centre establishes contact with the competent bodies and procures the respective provisions.
Please refer to the ‘Integration’ section on the Community Integration Sonderpädagogik website for further information (in German).
Special needs support in special schools
Special schools have the task of supporting learners with physical or psychological disabilities according to their type of disability, and giving them – as far as possible – a level of education which corresponds to primary school, lower-secondary school or pre-vocational school, and – in the case of the job preparation year – preparing them for integration into the labour market.
There are 10 different types of special schools with a focus on different types of disabilities (for example, special schools for pupils with learning disabilities, visual or physical disabilities, etc.). Specially trained teachers instruct their pupils in smaller classes; the curriculum, methods and materials are adapted to the pupils’ abilities.
In these schools, pupils are either educated according to the primary or lower-secondary school curriculum, or to a curriculum of the respective special school type.
Special schools that follow the primary or lower-secondary school curriculum have to enable learners – depending on their interests, orientations, talents and abilities – to carry on in upper-secondary schools.
The curricula and further information about special schools are available in German on the Community Integration Sonderpädagogik website.
Education in special schools comprises compulsory schooling (nine years of school attendance). However, if necessary, it is possible to prolong attendance at a special school to a maximum of 12 years.
The maximum number of pupils per class is between 8 (for example, in a special school for pupils with hearing impairments) and 13 (general special school).
Career planning and pre-vocational year in special schools
Career planning is incorporated into the curriculum for learners in grades 7 and 8. Key elements of career planning include offering crucial information and developing the learners’ individual, social, theoretical and practical competencies regarding their future integration into employment. Co-operation with parents, external agencies and employers is taken into account.
Career planning is an overall principle in secondary education. It can be carried out by offering separate lectures or integrated into different appropriate lectures.
Another possible way to prepare young people for the labour market is through the pre-vocational year in special schools.
Further information is available in the ‘Transition from School to Employment’ section of the Community Integration Sonderpädagogik website (in German).
Mobile special education service
The mobile special education service provides support for pupils with diverse disabilities through advisory and support teachers for pupils with visual and hearing impairments, behavioural difficulties, and speech disabilities, and for learners in hospital. This additional service is provided outside the classroom depending on the learner’s needs.
The development of integration/inclusive education
Living and learning in society are the fundaments of human co-existence. Inclusion is not just a humane act, but also an integral component of an open and equal society.
Inclusive education means that learners with and without disabilities learn together in a class. Inclusive education also makes possible mutual experiences to promote mutual understanding, and to remove potential barriers.
Inclusive education requires forms of learning from which all learners can benefit. Learners learn best through their own experience – a fact that has also been acknowledged by the school system. Thus, traditional education has increasingly been replaced by open forms of learning, especially in primary school.
The acquisition of knowledge and skills is not being neglected. Only the mode of teaching has changed. First of all, learners should acquire knowledge in a playful way, learn from each other and work together. Step by step, they should be directed towards conscious, autonomous and goal-oriented learning.
In inclusive classes, attention must be paid to each individual learner. This is because learners differ, for example, in their development, their previous knowledge and their learning aptitude more than in any other kind of learning environment. These differences are taken into account and form the basis for different learning provisions and requirements. This is the only way to avoid challenging individual learners too much or too little, and to establish the basis for successful learning.
In autumn 1978, the first Austrian ‘kindergarten with inclusive education’ was founded in Innsbruck as a model kindergarten without a corresponding legal basis. The legal encompassment of inclusion, however, was not first established for kindergarten, but rather for primary school in 1993. This is why the kindergarten system has lagged behind the quantitative and qualitative developments of inclusion in school for years. Meanwhile, children with disabilities can gain experience together with children without special needs in almost all Austrian provinces.
Inclusive education is based on working with very different children in a group, and thus rejects any differentiation in ‘children who can and cannot be included’. A non-segregating pedagogy renounces any labelling, which is often in contrast to what the law states.
Inclusive education is not confined to putting children with and without disabilities together in places of common play and learning. It includes provisions of joint care and support to be able to cater to the individual needs of all children.
In order to optimise the practice of inclusion, it must be ensured that favourable conditions for learning and socialisation of the pilot projects can be provided and expanded for all children.
Practice of integration
Practice of inclusion
Integration in mainstream kindergartens, admission of children with disabilities
Living and learning in the mainstream kindergarten
Diagnosis and appraisal by experts
Co-operative problem-solving by the kindergarten teacher team
Two-group theory (children with and without disabilities)
Theory of the heterogeneous group (many minorities and majorities)
Resources for children with labelling
Resources for systems
Individual curricula for individual children
Individualised curricula for all children
Focus on the ‘labelled’ child
Focus on the heterogeneous group
Special education teachers as support for children with disabilities
Special education teachers as support for groups and kindergarten teachers
Source: Zettl Michaela, Wetzel Gottfried and Schlipfinger Verena, 2001. ‘Qualität der Integration von Kindern mit erhöhtem Förderbedarf in Kindergärten’, in Behinderte in Familie, Schule und Gesellschaft, 3/4, 63–72
In the 1980s, a parents’ movement emerged in Austria. Its objective was the inclusion of learners with disabilities and severe learning difficulties into mainstream school. Committed parents have been co-operating with teachers and educationalists for many years to grant learners with SEN access to primary schools and lower-secondary schools. Several education models for learners with and without disabilities were tested in pilot projects. The School Acts of 1993 brought about a significant change in the situation: since then, parents have been able to decide whether their child attends a primary school or a special school. Since 1997/98, pupils with SEN have been entitled to attend lower-secondary school and the lower grades of general secondary education.
During the time when learners with SEN were explicitly educated in special schools, the regions supported them via mobile support provisions for learners with disabilities, such as behavioural or speech disorders. With the legal encompassment of inclusion, the Special Education Centres were also established. They are responsible for implementing the provisions of regional special educational support.
Detailed information about the legal basis and framework for inclusive measures can be found in the ‘Legal Framework’ section of the Community Integration Sonderpädagogik website (in German).
Quality indicators of special needs support
Comparative studies carried out in the western industrialised countries over many years have shown coinciding beneficial factors for the positive development of children. For example, criteria developed in the United States (Harms & Clifford, 1997) correspond to the views of process qualities of the European Union and the World Health Organization (Tietze, Schuster & Rossbach, 2001).
Experts from the pre-primary field have regarded the following core elements to be fundamental for children’s development processes:
- Care tailored to age and developmental stage under adult supervision, safe toys, equipment and furniture
- Education beneficial for health which offers children the opportunity to be physically active and rest, provides hygiene education and complies with their elementary needs
- Appropriate encouragement of children, giving them the opportunity to play and learn in diverse fields, such as language, arts, music, role playing, fine motor and gross motor skills, pre-primary mathematics and the combined subject of science, local geography and history
- Positive interactions with adults who the children trust and from who they can learn in manifold ways
- Fostering individual emotional development which permits children to learn independently, autonomously, safely and competently
- Promotion of relationships with other children, which permits children to interact with other peers in a supportive environment and under adult supervision.
Children with special needs are specially promoted as soon as their educators have appraised the degree of their needs (physiotherapy, speech therapy, etc.) and modified the equipment, the educational programme and the daily schedule.
Harms, T. and Clifford, R., 1997. Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale. Neuwied: Luchterhand
Tietze, W., Schuster, K.M. and Rossbach, H.G., 2001. Kindergarten –Skala. Weinheim: Beltz
From 2004 to 2007, a team of researchers, teacher trainers and experts carried out the project ‘Quality in Special Needs Education’ (QSP). This project’s overall aim was to develop evidence-based proposals for policy-makers to improve quality in special needs education (SNE) and inclusive education.
On the basis of the experience of experts from various practical fields of SNE, the following tasks should be pursued:
- Designate problem areas where more precise legal and financial framework conditions are needed to better guarantee the quality of all SNE offers.
- Formulate guidelines for the organisational management of SNE offers in the framework of existing legal regulations in the regions and at the school locations and thus emphasise the schools’ obligations which arise from the general SNE objectives.
- Define more explicitly the pedagogic requirements and preconditions for instruction that can be regarded as minimum standards, taking into account the individual promotion of all pupils and the achievement of inclusion targets.
The QSP Core Team identified a number of areas for further improvement which policy-makers should focus on:
- Inclusive education as the standard alternative to special needs support
- Making resource allocation for special needs support more flexible
- Special education centres as hubs for resource distribution and quality agencies
- Objective procedures to identify special educational needs
- Individual education plans – process standards for special needs support
- Optimal use of resources to support potential in fully adapted inclusive settings
- Minimum standards for material equipment and personnel resources.
The current outcomes of the project suggest the need for further efforts, specifically in improving the following areas:
- Quality standards for education in inclusive classes
- Individual education plans as instruments for education planning, evaluation and quality assurance
- Re-organisation of the SEN procedure towards better consideration of the principles of provision diagnosis, participation and transparency
- More flexible resource allocation – preventive support provisions
- Measures to change the professional self-conception of (special needs) teachers.
Further information is available from the ‘Quality in Special Needs Education’ (QSP) project section of the Community Integration Sonderpädagogik website (in German).
New curricula, circular letters of the Ministry
Revised curricula for learners with learning disabilities, for learners who are blind and for learners who are deaf came into force at the beginning of the 2008/09 academic year.
All the curricula in German can be downloaded from the Community Integration Sonderpädagogik website.
According to some of the outcomes of the QSP project, the Ministry provided the Regional and District School Boards with circular letters to set up more standardised procedures concerning the basic assessment of SEN, the use of individual education plans and quality standards in inclusive settings.
The circular letters in German are available from the Community Integration Sonderpädagogik website.
Current process – implementation strategy
In spring 2011, the Ministry of Education took over the general co-ordination of the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Austria, in co-operation with the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Protection. This started with an implementation strategy in the field of ‘Education’ (Article 24).
These have been under the management of the Ministry of Education since 2011. In a scientifically supported participative process, representatives from all of society (community-based organisations, non-government organisations, etc.) are heard, as well as experts from the Ministry, the school authorities, universities involved in teacher training and school representatives. The goal is to portray the complex situation with its many diverse views and interests, to find ways and define measures for successful implementation and thereby achieve a basis for further political decisions.
Transition from school to the labour market
Further information about appropriate measures regarding the transition from school to the labour market and the inclusion of learners with disabilities in the primary labour market can be found in the publications of the Federal Ministry of Education, on the website of the Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Protection and from the Community Integration Sonderpädagogik website.
Last updated 12/04/2018