Country information for Estonia - Systems of support and specialist provision

Development of integration/inclusion

There is a clear movement from a disability-centred approach towards pedagogical specifications in legislation, identification of special educational needs (SEN) and evaluation of learners with SEN.

Labelling terminology has been removed from the legislation. Medical diagnoses in legislation on education have been replaced with pedagogical ones. This allows progress from a learner’s abilities, adapting the study environment to the needs of every single learner.

The guidelines on the Lifelong Learning Strategy for 2014–2020 encourage consideration of the individual needs of learners with SEN and implementing principles of inclusive education. The following trends have been taken into account in organising instruction for pupils with SEN and the development of activities for 2014–2020:

  • The educational, social and health services that support the instruction and development of pupils with SEN are cohesive and adjusted to pupils’ needs.
  • Support specialists and study guidance services are available to schools regardless of the region or the school’s size.
  • The number of pupils in special schools is decreasing. The network of segregated special schools established for pupils with severe and multiple disorders will meet societal expectations, take into account pupils’ special needs and use resources optimally and efficiently as part of the network of general education schools.
  • The competence of school leaders, teachers and support specialists in the organisation of study for pupils with SEN has increased.
  • In order to support pupils with SEN, teachers provide modern instructional materials and study materials appropriate for pupils’ needs.

Separate special provision

Children with special needs generally attend mainstream pre-primary education. In certain cases, they attend one of the three special pre-primary institutions in Estonia.

The number of special schools has decreased from year to year. Depending on the specific needs of the learner requiring special education, resource-intensive support measures or special treatment, they may study at a school for pupils with special needs. There are special schools for:

  • learners with visual and hearing impairments;
  • learners who have a special educational need in addition to a physical disability;
  • learners with severe and multiple disorders;
  • learners with emotional-behavioural disorders.

Approximately 2.1% of the total number of learners in general education schools study in special schools.

Special schools for learners with hearing and visual impairments act as resource centres and provide support to teachers, learners and families in mainstream schools (Source: CPRA – Estonia Country Report).

Special needs education in mainstream schools

All schools must describe their SEN policy and the organisation of instruction for pupils with SEN in their own school curriculum. This document should describe:

  • common values and principles;
  • the co-ordination system and responsibilities of teachers, school leaders, other staff, etc.;
  • the system of identifying SEN, support measures, data collection and evaluation;
  • co-operation and participation (parents, all learners at school, all teachers, other schools, community, external institutions, etc.).

Teachers are obliged to observe how all learners are developing and coping and, where necessary, adjust the study process according to their needs.

If a learner needs additional support besides the class or subject teacher, then a development observance chart is drawn up and additional support is provided. During the period when the measure is applied, teachers and support specialists observe how the learner develops and copes. To assess the effectiveness of the measures applied, all the teachers and support specialists who apply the measures shall describe how the learner is developing and coping and make regular recommendations. Developmental conversations with each learner and their parents must take place at least once each academic year.

In order to achieve the goals formulated in the learner’s curriculum and provide them with the required support, study assistance or level-based groups or special classes may be formed in addition to mainstream classes. Studies in a study assistance group, level-based group or special class must be based on the learner’s needs and limited in terms of time. Attention must be paid to the recommendations of the co-ordinator of the studies of the learner with SEN or those of the external advisory team or both. Teachers must take the external advisory team’s recommendations into account when teaching learners who need special support in a mainstream class.

The school head determines the number of learners in a remedial instruction group, specific level group or special class. They take into account the nature of the special educational needs and the recommendations of the school’s special education teacher, the co-ordinator of the studies of the learner with SEN or the external advisory team or both. Special classes for learners receiving enhanced support have up to 12 learners. Classes for learners receiving special support have up to six learners. The owner of the school may, where justified, increase the number of learners in a specific special class for one academic year at the proposal of the school head and with the consent of the board of trustees.

Support measures

Schools must implement the following support measures regardless of whether the learners with SEN are in mainstream or special classes:

  • supported education in groups or individually;
  • special education methodology and assistance;
  • a curriculum that corresponds to the learners’ abilities and to an adjusted curriculum;
  • availability of technical facilities for learners with disabilities;
  • adaptation of the physical learning environment according to the type of disability, if required;
  • drawing up and implementation of an individual curriculum if required.

Learners receive the services of at least a special education teacher, speech therapist, psychologist and social pedagogue (support specialists).

Guidance and counselling

Counselling and instruction from a special education teacher, speech therapist, social pedagogue and psychologist must be available to learners. The school may involve professionals from other disciplines outside the school in assessing the need for the service and selecting support for the learner, notifying the parent or their legal representative.

The principal employs the support specialists required for the service of the school or otherwise arranges for the services to be available, taking the learners’ needs into account. If learners or their legal representatives request a service or if the need arises, the school must arrange for the learner to have a personal meeting with the support specialist within a week. In the event of an accident or where the learner’s own life or that of other learners is in danger, the service must be provided to the learner no later than the following working day.

Services are provided at school or, with the consent of the parent or their legal representative, at another location.

According to the Basic Schools and Upper-Secondary Schools Act, the Ministry of Education and Research makes recommendations for organising teaching and education and for the implementation of support services. Sixteen Educational Support Service Centres (Pathfinder Centres) are established at each county level. Counselling in Pathfinder Centres includes:

  • the recommendations from the external advisory team;
  • counselling of parents and specialists of educational institutions and teachers;
  • preventive activities;
  • support to educational institutions in crisis situations.

In addition to organising the work of the Pathfinder Centres, the Educational Counselling Agency develops the quality system and the evaluation and methodological tools for support specialists and teachers. (Source: CPRA – Estonia Country Report).

Curriculum and subjects

According to the Pre-School Childcare Institutions Act, education in pre‑primary childcare institutions should be based upon the study programmes of childcare institutions. These comply with the general study programmes for pre-primary education. Each child has the right to teacher assistance in order to reach the goals set by the curricula. The principles and arrangements for supporting learners with special needs are established in the institutions’ curricula.

The Basic Schools and Upper-Secondary Schools Act stresses that basic schools both educate and edify. Schools should support the personal and social development of each learner and the development of critical thinking, creativity and entrepreneurship. This, however, requires a novel approach to the roles of teacher and learner and recognition of the importance of co-operation on all levels. With the focus on co-operation and development in education, the understanding of the role of teacher/supervisor as an authoritarian source of academic knowledge is no longer adequate (Source: Raising the Achievement of All Learners in Inclusive Education – Estonia Country Report).

In basic schools and upper-secondary schools, the national curriculum is also the framework curriculum for learners with special needs. In addition, the simplified national curriculum has been adopted by government regulation. It establishes the basic education standard for learners with intellectual disabilities who, based on an external multi‑disciplinary advisory team’s recommendation and upon agreement of parents, undergo simplified, coping or nursing study. An individual curriculum may be compiled for learners with special needs according to their abilities.

Individual curriculum

A school may change or adjust the study time, contents, process and environment for learners. If the changes or adjustments substantially increase or decrease the weekly workload or intensity of studies in comparison with the school curriculum or reduce or replace the learning outcomes provided for in the national curricula, an individual curriculum shall be drawn up for the learner pursuant to the procedure set out in the national curricula.

If the individual curriculum drawn up for a learner with SEN stipulates reduction or replacement of the learning outcomes provided for in the national curriculum or exemption from learning a compulsory subject, the individual curriculum may be implemented on the basis of the external multi-disciplinary advisory team’s recommendation.

The learners or their parents – and, where necessary, teachers and support specialists – are involved in drawing up an individual curriculum.

Quality indicators for special needs education

According to the Pre-School Childcare Institutions Act, the Basic Schools and Upper‑Secondary Schools Act and the Vocational Educational Institutions Act, the evaluation of schooling and education is an obligation of the teachers’ council in the educational institution.

According to the law, pre-primary childcare institutions, general education schools and vocational schools are obliged to conduct internal evaluation. An educational institution must prepare a complete internal evaluation report on its activities at least once every three academic years. The internal evaluation report is based on criteria which define the fields to be evaluated. The criteria, as well as data on the institution’s activities, include quality indicators on special needs education.

Each year, educational institutions’ performance indicators are published online. In this way, all information about the educational institutions will be easily accessible to the learners, parents and owners of the institutions and the data can easily be compared.

Foundation Innove organises external evaluation of the study results of general education institutions, standard determined tests, basic school final examinations and national examinations.

The Ministry of Education exercises administrative supervision over the lawfulness of the activities of schools and their owners. The aim is to ensure the availability of basic and general secondary education and their accessibility on equal grounds, the organisation of teaching and education, and their quality and effectiveness. An official exercising administrative supervision has the right to visit a school to inspect teaching and education activities and the provision of support to learners with SEN, informing the school head in advance.


Last updated 30/03/2020

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