Country information for Malta - Legislation and policy
Malta was one of the first United Nations (UN) member states to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2007). It was ratified in 2013. Efforts were made to increase the understanding of the concept of inclusion to all marginalised groups and to introduce more respectful terminology (European Agency, 2014, p. 24). The European Agency conducted an audit of Malta’s education system in 2014 and the recommendations are being implemented.
The Maltese system for early intervention is not incorporated within a legislative framework. In Malta, Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) covers the ages 0–7. Early childhood education provision for children aged 0–3 years is becoming increasingly popular in Malta, and the government has introduced schemes to increase participation rates at this education level. Between 2003 and 2005, the research evidence highlighting the importance of early intervention for learners’ development and education motivated the then Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity to further develop this important building block of social policy.
The Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity prepared the necessary legislation that gave the state the power to publish regulations to set standards (National Standards for Child Day-Care Facilities, 2006).
The government has introduced tax rebates on childcare fees for parents and rebates for employers that provide childcare services in the workplace. In line with the government’s policy, priority for the Free Childcare scheme is given to parents in work or furthering their studies.
Fourteen childcare centres have been opened on the premises of state primary schools on a public/private partnership model and more are planned to open soon. This will encourage parents dropping their older children at the primary school to enrol the younger siblings in the childcare centre. Childcare centres are mainly regulated by the standards set by the Ministry for Education and Employment. Standards also ensure that premises are suitable and accessible to children with disabilities in compliance with the Equal Opportunities (Persons with a Disability) Act (Chapter 413).
Standard 10 of the National Standards for Child Day-Care Facilities is dedicated to equal opportunities and children with special needs. Early intervention services managed by the Directorate for Educational Services are also provided to children at risk of or diagnosed with difficulties or disabilities. Children diagnosed with difficulties and disabilities are assessed by a multi-disciplinary team at the Child Development Assessment Unit and then referred to the early intervention service. The service is given to these children in their own home setting, in the childcare centre and, eventually, in kindergarten. Some private entities or foundations provide early intervention services, but these are procured by parents at their own initiative. A national policy on Early Childhood Education and Care, discusses policy matters for all children in their early years. It was launched in 2006 and is now being reviewed.
Pre-primary – kindergarten
From the age of 0–3, children can attend childcare centres in both state and non-state institutions. From 3–5 years, almost all children attend kindergarten schools. The Education Act (1988) and its subsequent amendments refer to pre-primary education, stating that the ‘state may provide schools for infants who are under compulsory school age’.
The National Curriculum Framework (2012) applies to all schools in Malta. It has the force of legislation subsidiary to the Education Act. It dedicates a section to early childhood education, mainly for children aged three to four years. It contributes to the development and implementation of a seamless curriculum and a coherent framework for learners from early years throughout compulsory schooling. An entire section deals with the early years. It includes learning processes and effective pedagogies, learning environments, effective transitions and parental involvement.
The Framework for the Education Strategy for Malta 2014–2024 aligns all sectoral education strategies and policies. It has four broad but measurable targets, in line with European and world benchmarks, that set the education agenda in Malta.
Children with disabilities are admitted into mainstream kindergartens, unless the parents believe that their child will receive better education and care in a resource centre (special schools that underwent a reform in 2010 and are now called resource centres. They offer support to mainstream schools). If, during daily contact with a child, a kindergarten educator discovers that additional support is needed, the child is referred to the relevant professionals. Reports, together with a referral, are sent to the Statementing Panel and further support is granted if required.
Chapter 327 of the Laws of Malta – the Education Act and its subsequent amendments – states that compulsory school starts at the age of five, up to 16 years of age. It clearly states that it is the duty of every parent of a minor to ensure that their child:
- is registered in a school for the school year starting when they are of compulsory school age;
- continues to attend school up to the end of the school year during which they cease to be of compulsory school age – or up to the end of a further period as the Minister may prescribe by regulations;
- attends school every day, unless they have good and sufficient cause to be absent.
All learners with or without individual needs must attend school while they are of compulsory education age.
The Constitution of Malta states that ‘disabled persons and persons incapable of work are entitled to education and vocational training’. Chapter 327 of the Laws of Malta also states that ‘It is the right of every parent of a minor to give his decision with regard to any matter concerning the education which the minor is to receive’. The amended Education Act (2006) refers to resource centres instead of special schools; this underlines the state’s commitment to inclusive education:
It shall be the duty of the state to provide Resource Centres, whose specialised role will include provision for learners with individual educational needs who would benefit more from being in such centres than in mainstream schools, for such time as may be appropriate depending on their needs;
A minor shall be deemed to have special educational needs when the minor has special difficulties of a physical, sensory, intellectual or psychological nature (Chapter 327 of the Laws of Malta, Article 45).
The Equal Opportunities Act (2016) specifically refers to education, stating that it is unlawful for an educational authority or institution to discriminate against:
- an applicant for admission as a student on grounds of their disability or a disability of their family members, by refusing to accept their application for such admission or in the terms or conditions on which such educational authority or institution is prepared to admit them as a student;
- a student on the grounds of their disability or disability of any family members by denying them access, or limiting their access, to any benefit, facility or service provided by such educational authority or institution or expelling them from the educational institution they are attending. The policy document ‘Inclusive and Special Education Review’, published in 2005, includes guidelines for implementing the National Curriculum Policy on Inclusive Education.
The National Minimum Curriculum Framework (2012) applies to all schools in Malta and has the force of legislation subsidiary to the Education Act. It recognises education for diversity to provide learners with quality education and the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to become active citizens.
This education for diversity applies to all learners with and without individual educational needs. The education system must ensure the availability of structures and the inclusion in mainstream educational provision of those learners whose first language is not the spoken language. It must provide culturally-appropriate and responsive quality education for all.
The National Curriculum Framework (2012) introduced a Learning Outcomes Framework (LOF) in 2015. It is a keystone for learning and assessment throughout the different cycles of the education process. The LOF aims to free schools and learners from centrally-imposed knowledge-centric syllabi. It also aims to give them the freedom to develop programmes that fulfil the framework of knowledge, attitudes and skills-based outcomes that are considered the national education entitlement of all learners in Malta (Source: IECE – Malta Country Survey Questionnaire, p. 12).
The Ministry for Education, through the Ministerial Committee on Inclusive Education, issued the Inclusive Education Policy Regarding Students with Disabilities (2000). It describes the procedure adopted for individual education plans for learners with special needs. In September 2018, a user-friendly and easy-to-use, web-based Provision Map Tool was introduced in Maltese schools. This tool allows educators to design Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and keeps a record of different support services for individual learners. The targets, success criteria, strategies and provisions are all specifically written for the Maltese context and aid educators to design high-quality IEPs. The tool allows educators working with a learner to map their educational progress through all of their previous school years.
Two recent documents aim to guide educators, schools, parents, professionals and other stakeholders in the journey towards quality inclusion in educational settings:
- Policy on Inclusive Education in Schools: Route to Quality Inclusion
- National Inclusive Education Framework.
In 2002, guidelines for special examination arrangements for candidates with particular requirements were also issued. Special arrangements are made for compulsory education examinations and beyond. These guidelines were amended in 2007 and have been regularly updated since then.
The Framework for the Education Strategy for Malta 2014–2024 and National Curriculum Framework also refer to achievements in reducing early school leaving. The number of early school leavers decreased from over 54% in 2000, to 22.6% in 2016, to 17.4% in 2018. The number still remains higher than the EU average of 12.8%. The number of learners in higher education increased from less than 900 in 1987 to almost 20,000 in 2012 (Sources: Raising the Achievement of All Learners in Inclusive Education – Malta Country Report; National Statistics Office).
National policies for inclusive education
Several national policies try to improve the quality and effectiveness of the education system. They refer to ‘achievement’ as the educational effort that must be made to reach out to all learners:
- National Curriculum Framework (NCF) for All (2012)
- Early Childhood and Care in Malta (2013)
- National Literacy Strategy for All in Malta and Gozo 2014–2019 (2013)
- Malta National Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020 (2014)
- ‘Respect for All’ Framework (2014)
- Strategic Plan for the Prevention of Early School Leaving in Malta (2014)
- Framework for the Education Strategy for Malta 2014–2024 (2014), which aims to address all cycles of education from early years to adult learning. It aims to unify the previous frameworks and strategies
- ‘Education for All’ Framework, which was set up after the publication of Education for All: Special Needs and Inclusive Education in Malta – External Audit Report (European Agency, 2014)
- National Employment Policy (2014)
- National Youth Policy Towards 2020 (2015)
- Language Education Policy Profile (2015)
- Trans, Gender Variant and Intersex Students in Schools Policy (2015)
- Policy on Inclusive Education in Schools : Route to Quality Inclusion. This policy is coupled with a National Inclusive Education Framework (Source: Raising the Achievement of All Learners in Inclusive Education – Malta Country Report; CPRA – Malta Country Report)
- The My Journey: Achieving through different paths reform was introduced in lower-secondary schools from the 2019–2020 school year. It promotes the transformation from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ system to a more inclusive and equitable approach for all learners (My Journey: Equitable Quality Education for All).
Last updated 05/02/2020