Country information for Latvia - Systems of support and specialist provision
Development of inclusion
The movement towards integration and inclusion of learners with special needs started in the mid-1990s. The Law on Education stated that every child has the right to be educated in a school of their parents’ choice.
The Ministry of Education and Science has always supported the idea that both trends in special education – special schools (groups, classes) and inclusion in mainstream schools – should exist in Latvia.
Due to the very low birth rate during the last two decades, the number of learners in schools has diminished. This means that every school needs all the children from the local community to attend in order to prevent the closure of some classes or even the whole school. In this situation, more and more mainstream schools and pre-primary institutions are adapting their curriculum or providing new curricula to offer to learners with different kinds of special needs. To ensure that schools and pre-primary institutions have teachers who understand how to work with learners with disabilities, universities and colleges offer in-service training for teachers to acquire the qualifications of special teachers. Because of the above-mentioned tendency, the number of learners in special schools and boarding schools has decreased. However, the process of inclusion is not unequivocal. Not all mainstream schools can provide the support and learning environment the learner needs. The attitude of society in general, and of individual parents, learners and school staff, does not always permit good terms of inclusion for learners with special educational needs (SEN).
There is a strong political will and support from non-governmental organisations to move forward with the inclusion of learners with different disabilities into the mainstream education system.
The main task of the Ministry of Education and Science, the local boards of education and the municipality authorities is to provide the best possible conditions for learners with SEN in mainstream education institutions.
There is a strong need to develop a nationwide support system for people with special needs. The National Centre for Education is responsible for implementing national policy in special and inclusive education. Its main objectives are:
- to co-ordinate the development of the support system for SEN;
- to provide methodological guidance for special education;
- to consult all stakeholders about the issues of special and inclusive education;
- to develop co-operation between different national and international agencies;
- to gather evidence of good practice and disseminate it;
- to suggest amendments to legislation concerning the education of people with SEN;
- to improve the assessment of learners with special needs.
Due to the economic crisis in 2009, the National Centre for Special Education – which was working on the previously mentioned objectives – was reorganised. Its tasks and objectives were transferred to the Unit of Special Education in the National Centre for Education. More attention is paid to increasing the competence of mainstream teachers to work in inclusive settings, because more and more parents of learners with SEN choose mainstream schools for their education. During the last several years, the number of special schools has decreased and more special schools will close in the near future. However, a number of special schools will remain, as there are many families – especially in rural areas – which are affected by the poor economy, unemployment and immigration. Special schools are in demand for families from disadvantaged backgrounds, as these schools provide not only educational services, but also social support.
During the period from 2007–2013, the National Centre for Education – in the framework of the European Social Fund project, ‘The Development of Support Systems for Learners with Disabilities’ – attempted to develop support systems at individual and institutional levels. It did so by establishing eight regional support centres for inclusive education that provide specialist assessment and support to individual pupils, their families, teachers and other stakeholders, as well as methodological support to the whole educational institution and local community.
After the project, the regional centres continued to provide their services only in the municipalities where they were situated or to other municipalities where they had service provision contracts.
In order to provide more objective assessment of learners’ diverse needs during the above-mentioned project, new assessment tools were developed, standardised and validated for learners with special needs. Universities and higher education institutions developed new methodological materials to help teachers who work with pupils with intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, behavioural disorders, hearing impairments (cochlear implants), visual impairments and autism.
At present, with the support of European Structural Funds financing, the National Centre for Education is working on developing teaching and learning materials and information and communication technology for learners with special needs. The European Structural Funds financing provides support to ensure adequate numbers of support staff in schools and pre-primary educational institutions.
According to the Law on General Education, special education is part of general education.
Learners who require special organisation of their learning environment, the application of special teaching methods and additional pedagogical support are entitled to special education. Special education is provided for learners with different kinds and degrees of disabilities, disorders and impairments. Special education can be organised in different ways.
Pre-primary education is available from the age of 1.5 years, but children may enter from 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 years of age. Since 2002, pre-primary education is compulsory for 5–6-year-old children. Education for younger children is optional. The majority of these education institutions belong to the municipalities, while some are privately owned. Children with special needs usually attend general groups, but there are several special groups and 40 special pre-primary institutions. Most pre-primary age children who attend special groups or special pre-primary institutions are children with speech and language development problems. Special support is offered to these children to develop their linguistic and communication skills. Normally a speech therapist and special education teachers are engaged to work with children.
Pre-primary education is considered a comprehensive first stage of general education. All children must complete it by the time they are seven years old. This deadline may be extended for a year due to specific health or psychological problems by parental request or at a doctor’s request or recommendations.
If a child shows any special needs, the parents should contact local municipality services to obtain information about the kind of support available and where they can receive it. As stated previously, most pre-primary institutions belong to municipalities and it is their responsibility to provide adequate support for the child and the family.
When admitting a child with special needs, the pre-primary institution can choose to provide a special education programme or admit the child, develop an individual education plan and ensure that adequate support measures are provided.
In the 2014–2015 school year, there were 8,144 (8.8%) children who were formally identified as having additional needs (SEN). Of them, 4,868 attended special early childhood education (ECE) settings and 3,276 attended mainstream ECE settings. Many other children without an official decision receive support for their additional needs in mainstream ECE. There is no data available on their number.
Inter-service collaboration remains a challenge at municipal and national level. It should be strengthened, especially between the Ministry of Education and Science, the Ministry of Welfare and the Ministry of Health (Source: IECE – Latvia Country Questionnaire).
According to the Law on General Education, all children should start school in the year when they turn seven years old. Compulsory education lasts for nine years, from the first to the ninth grade. Learners with visual and hearing impairments acquire basic education over 10 years. Deaf learners have 11 years to finish basic education. Learners with severe language impairments and learning disabilities can have 10 years to acquire basic education.
Learners with special needs can attend any educational institution their parents choose. The prerequisites for providing education to learners in a mainstream school are:
- Licensed special education programme
- Availability of support specialists (special education teachers, speech therapists, psychologist, etc.)
- Remedial instruction
- Smaller classes
- Appropriate assessment.
According to the Regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers, a second teacher should be provided when pupils with intellectual disabilities and severe and multiple disabilities are included in mainstream settings. Pupils with severe and multiple disabilities from 5–18 years of age have the opportunity to receive state-funded personal assistant services for mobility and self-care. The assistant provides assistance up to 40 hours per week. The assistance is available throughout the school year. Based on the severity and the type of disability, the school signs a contract with the assistant. The contract specifies the duration of the assistance services, compensation for the assistance services and payment terms.
According to the Law on General Education, if a learner attends a special class or is included in mainstream settings, an individual education plan should be developed. The learner’s parents should be involved in planning the individual education plan. The school is responsible for providing appropriate support measures for learning.
After the completion of compulsory education, the young person can choose how to continue their education. There are several possibilities:
- Attend a vocational school
- Attend vocational classes in a special school
- Continue secondary education in a mainstream school.
The choice depends on their abilities and level of mental or intellectual development.
Each learner with special needs has the possibility of receiving education in the most appropriate educational institution by ensuring they have:
- help from qualified specialists;
- acquisition of academic knowledge;
- development of social and work skills;
- practical orientation in education;
- preparation for working life and integration into society;
- remedial instruction and rehabilitation.
Quality indicators for special needs education
According to legislation, all learners with disabilities, except those with intellectual disabilities, follow the general education curriculum, which is based on the National Standard of Basic Education. This means that they must take state tests and examinations and be assessed as learners without disabilities. However, learners with different kinds of special needs can use support measures during the tests and examinations that will help them to show their knowledge and skills. The testing and assessment process can be adapted to a specific learner’s needs and abilities. Learners with intellectual disabilities do not take state tests and their academic success is measured according to the dynamics of their development and their abilities.
The State Education Quality Service is responsible for evaluating, at least once every six years, the efficiency of every school, the quality of the educational process and the rule of law in education. It does so by monitoring the quality of education and providing support in implementing the educational process. The internal and external evaluation is based on criteria developed by the Service to evaluate different aspects of the educational process in the institution.
Last updated 05/02/2020