Country information for Cyprus - Systems of support and specialist provision

The special education services in Cyprus, like those of many other countries, developed out of private and charitable initiatives. In 1929, a school for the blind opened, followed by a school for the deaf in 1953. Following the independence of Cyprus in 1960, the first provision for teaching learners with disabilities was established with the introduction of a special class in a local primary school. During the 1960s and 1970s, special schools for learners with disabilities were founded in all districts of Cyprus.

Mainstream school system

The state recognises that all learners have the right to an education appropriate to their needs. The state attempts to provide a legal framework where those with special educational requirements can receive an education that meets their individual needs, in the least restrictive environment. Through on-going re-evaluation, it aims to ensure that the learner’s individual education plan (IEP) develops along with the learner and that every effort is made to create the least segregated educational setting possible.

While the law is specifically for special educational needs (SEN), it has assisted in advancing the inclusion of special education in mainstream education. Special education has its own legal framework, but special and mainstream education are part of one school system with common administrative procedures.

Specialist educators who are fully assigned to mainstream schools, run special units in mainstream schools or are peripatetic are considered part of the school’s teaching staff in much the same way as the music, physical education or art teachers.

Learners assigned to special education and training attend mainstream schools, special units or special schools with appropriate infrastructure. These are adapted to their own needs and to their IEP, which is set up by the Special Education Co-ordinators (SENCOs), in co-operation with the learner’s teachers and parents. The same officials supervise the learner’s progress.

Most learners with special needs attend mainstream schools and follow the mainstream curriculum, which may be adjusted to suit their particular needs. If a specialist educator is part of the learner’s education, they must co-operate and interact with the learner’s class teacher in developing and delivering an IEP for the learner. During the development of the learner’s IEP, staff will make every effort to ensure that the learner is fully involved in all school and class activities. The education team developing the IEP will often determine what instructional methodology will be implemented for the learner. If a learner requires individual assistance outside of their classroom, this is arranged so as not to restrict their access to all subjects of the curriculum.

With the introduction of the term ‘education and training’, the 1999 law expands the concept of special education beyond academic subjects. It also includes areas of self-help skills, social skills, vocational training and anything that may assist the person in their holistic development.

SENCOs offer guidance in both special schools and mainstream schools. They work under the guidance of the inspector of special education, or another inspector. They offer advice and support to specialist teachers and co-operate with teachers and administrators in mainstream schools and with other professionals. After assessment and diagnosis is made, SENCOs visit both special and mainstream schools and offer advice and suggestions to school staff, parents and learners.

Learners attending special units within mainstream schools have the same school day as the mainstream classes. Depending on their individual needs, they may spend most lessons with their mainstream reference class. They also attend inclusive lessons and participate in celebratory or festive events with this class. The amount of time spent in the special unit depends on the learner’s level of learning difficulty. This also determines the amount of differentiation that the learner’s personalised curriculum will have from that of their peer group.

Within secondary school, support is primarily in the form of additional language and numeric tuition. If necessary, a learner may be exempted from certain subjects. Learners with special needs attending mainstream secondary schools receive transition services designed for their age-equivalent peers. These normally consist of advice on careers or further educational opportunities. Those with specific sensory disabilities receive specialised assistance from the special schools.

The use of assistive technology is increasing continually in an effort to maximise learning. Hands-on learning, visits and course trips are also an integral part of the tuition process.

Those attending technical schools are, by definition, in a vocational training environment.

Special school system

As most learners with special needs attend mainstream schools, those attending special schools present the greatest learning difficulties. Hence, major elements of the curriculum for learners attending special schools are: 

  • self-help and independence skills;
  • social and emotional skills development;
  • recreational skills;
  • communication skills;
  • vocational training. 

If learners can follow aspects of the mainstream curriculum, this will be accommodated. If learners have a specific disability (e.g. a visual, hearing or mobility impairment), specific training and therapeutic interventions will be part of the curriculum. The prevailing philosophy is that learners should receive an education suited to their developmental needs.

Special schools must be built within the boundaries of a mainstream school. Special schools develop networks of contacts and joint activities with mainstream schools to minimise segregation. Schools for learners with visual and hearing impairments have a wide network of co-operation and support for learners included in mainstream schools. Most special schools have developed contacts and joint activities with local mainstream schools.

Special schools usually have groups of no more than six learners, with a lot of individual work.

Special schools for those with learning disabilities or emotional and behavioural problems also have pre-vocational and vocational training programmes. These are designed to assist the transition from school to work or from school to other vocational training authorities. Many special schools maintain close links with non-governmental agencies providing vocational training programmes to facilitate transition.

Development of inclusion

From the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century, Cyprus was a colony of the British Empire. Consequently, the education system for special schools used in Britain was applied to Cyprus. British educational legislation of 1870 suggested the establishment of special classes for learners with physical and intellectual disabilities, as well as for learners with behavioural problems.

Several additional legislation acts were introduced during the 20th century. The most important one, in 1944, was the introduction of compulsory education for learners with disabilities and learners with special needs, and for learners who had spent a long time receiving treatment in hospitals.

However, only in 1970 was every single learner entitled to attend school. Several special schools and institutions were then established to meet the new educational needs. As a result, learners were split between mainstream and special schools.

The outcome of the most recent educational theories against any type of segregation of learners, which advocated that every learner has their own special needs, was the Warnock Report in 1978. Among other things, this report suggested the abolition of any type of segregation and of the use of the term ‘children with special educational needs’, and their integration in mainstream schools.

The need to ‘tidy up matters’ in special education led to the introduction of the 47/1979 Special Education Law in Cyprus. The 47/1979 Special Education Law’s most important provision was that the government would take full responsibility for the education of learners with special needs, between the ages of 5 and 18. This law gave the government the authority to spend public money on special schools. According to this law, learners with special needs were categorised as:

  • having moderate intellectual disabilities;
  • having learning difficulties;
  • having emotional difficulties;
  • having physical disabilities.

Under the 47/1979 Special Education Law, the education of learners with special needs took place in special schools or in special classes in mainstream schools.

The next step was the inclusive movement: in the 1990s, the Ministry of Education made a serious attempt to align its policy with the modern educational trends, especially those referring to the inclusion of learners with special needs in mainstream schools. Therefore, there was provision for learners with severe needs, supported by extra educational help offered by special staff working in mainstream schools. In other cases, learners were placed in special units attached to kindergartens and primary schools, with part-time attendance in the mainstream class programme.

The rapid implementation and expansion of the concept of inclusion naturally created numerous technical, practical and social problems. The main problem was mainstream schools’ inability to meet all their pupils’ various needs, by introducing multi-speed teaching methods and by securing quality education for all.

Great efforts were made towards this goal. However, the problems that learners were facing in education in mainstream schools were very complicated and varied. They were related to a lack of appropriate education programmes, means, support services, administrative arrangements, the inability to apply individual education plans and the over-weighted curriculum. All these factors caused great difficulties in meeting learners’ special needs.

By the new millennium, a balance had emerged between mainstream placement and special schools. Educational placement based on the unique needs and abilities of an individual learner was formalised with the passing of the new Special Education Law in 1999.

The whole philosophical trend in Cyprus, which led to the implementation of the new law of 1999, is that learners with special educational needs (SEN) have the same right to education as any other learner. They should receive all the opportunities for an equivalent education, training, guidance and rehabilitation so as to improve their abilities to the maximum. The state is responsible for safeguarding the rights of learners with SEN and is responsible for placing those learners in the united body of training.

The 113(I)/1999 Special Education Law gave a statutory basis for the provision of special education based on the learner’s individual needs. Among other provisions, the law stipulates that one of the state’s main responsibilities is to support the integration of learners with SEN in mainstream education by any means.

With the implementation of the 1999 law, the education authorities aimed to make special education an integral part of the education system, while providing the maximum level of flexibility to best serve the individual needs of learners with SEN. It actively supports the philosophy of integration and inclusion of learners with SEN in mainstream education. Nevertheless, it recognises that the mainstream classroom cannot meet all the highly-specialised needs of all these learners. The development of the special units ensures that only the most demanding and specialised cases are referred to special schools.

The Minister set up an educational research enquiry, with the University of Cyprus and the Cyprus Pedagogical Institute. The aim was to research and detect possible problems that learners with SEN were facing in their schools. It also aimed to investigate possible problems faced in the implementation of the Special Education Law in both primary and secondary education and to make suggestions for improvement.

This research has been completed for both primary and secondary education. The Ministry of Education and Culture also produced a Strategic Directions Paper for Inclusive Schooling Practices in Cyprus, prepared by an external consultant.

If a specialist educator is part of the learner’s education, they must co-operate and interact with the learner’s class teacher in developing and delivering an individual education plan for the learner.

Quality indicators for special needs education

The prevailing philosophy is that a learner should receive an education suited to their developmental needs. If a learner has a specific disability (e.g. a visual, hearing or mobility disorder), specific training and therapeutic interventions will be part of the curriculum.

The learner’s individual needs determine the instructional method that applies to them. For most learners, adaptations or minor adjustments to the subject content will allow the usual class group instruction to be effective. Some learners will function more effectively in small groups or with individual tuition for core subjects and will learn adequately in a class situation in other subjects. Specialists, such as speech therapists, tend to work on an individual basis.

School evaluation and quality assurance at national and local levels are available through school self-evaluation, the presence of school inspectors and data analysis.

The inspectors’ evaluations and assessment during school visits provide important information about the quality of policy and practice. This information enables the development of in-service training programmes, which focus on specific teaching and learning areas (Sources: Raising the Achievement of All Learners in Inclusive Education – Cyprus Country ReportIECE – Cyprus Country Survey Questionnaire, p. 11).


In the school year 2019–2020, a Unified System for Pupils’ Assessment was introduced in primary education. The philosophy of the new system is in line with modern pedagogical assessment principles. It is aimed at continuous feedback, reinforcement and support for pupils with the continuous development and improvement of learning outcomes as a key objective. A school progress report has been introduced to monitor the extent to which the expected final results are achieved. Those with special needs are graded in the same way as their peers, although their individual needs are considered.

In secondary school, learners with special needs are graded in the same way as their peers, unless they have a dispensation from the District Committee for Special Education and Training. The Committee can also give instructions for adjustments to evaluation materials and procedures that are usually designed to facilitate the learner’s specific needs, e.g. visual impairment, etc. The underlying philosophy is that a disability should not impede the expression of skill and that a grade obtained by a learner with special needs should be comparable to that of a peer of equal ability without special needs. 

Learners attending special schools for those with visual and hearing impairments are evaluated using criteria developed for their particular disabilities. Learners attending other special schools are evaluated according to their progress in learning, without a specific evaluation procedure.

Promotion (from one class or grade to another)

Learners, including those with special needs, in primary schools are promoted from one grade to the next. Under exceptional circumstances, a child may repeat the pre-primary year if they are deemed to need more time to mature for the needs of first grade. Similarly, under exceptional circumstances, a learner may be required to repeat one grade of primary school.

In secondary education, promotion from one grade to the next is based on exam results. At present, pupils with special needs who cannot undergo the exam procedures can be promoted without exams and receive a certificate of attendance. 


Pupils graduating from primary school receive a leaving certificate. Pupils graduating from the gymnasium or the lyceum receive a leaving certificate (apolytirion) based on overall performance and exam results. For pupils with special needs who h07e adaptations to exams that do not lower the exam content or standard, the apolytirion is the same as their peers. If pupils do not take the exams, they receive a certificate of attendance.

Transition from school to work

Learners with special needs attending mainstream secondary schools receive transition services designed for their age-equivalent peers. This normally consists of advice on careers or further educational opportunities. Those with specific sensory disabilities receive specialised assistance from the special schools. These schools have vocational training programmes for learners who attend these schools full time.


Last updated 27/02/2020

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