Country information for Malta - Systems of support and specialist provision
Development of inclusion
Special educational support and provision has a fairly long history in Malta, with substantial contributions made by the State, the Catholic Church and non-governmental organisations. However, since 1989, the government has embarked on an intensive programme to promote inclusive education. This has involved providing support services in schools, including the service of learning support educators (LSE) on a one-to-one or shared basis.
Before 2005, inclusive and special education were closely associated with primary education. Few learners with disabilities succeeded in attending secondary or upper-secondary education. However, the inclusion process in Malta has led to more and more learners joining lower-secondary schools, while a number of others are even proceeding to tertiary education.
In 2005, an Inclusive and Special Education Review was carried out. The Inclusive and Special Network and Centre were established. The Inclusive and Special Education Review Report, published in 2005, charted a map for developing inclusive and special education for the following years.
In 2007, the Directorate for Educational Services set up the Student Services Department (SSD), with the appointment of a Director. In 2008, the SSD appointed Service Managers to manage three sections – the Inclusive Education Section, Special Education and Resource Centres and the Psycho-Social Service (now renamed National School Support Services – NSSS).
In Malta, state schools are organised into colleges made up of a number of primary schools and a middle and senior school at secondary level. This college system facilitates networking between schools. As a system, it aims to support partnerships, sharing of resources and joint problem-sharing.
Early intervention aims to help children develop to their full potential, despite their needs. It also provides support to parents/legal guardians, tutors, teachers and LSEs in the child’s holistic educational development, paving the way for their future school experience.
The early intervention service is one of the services the NSSS provides. It caters for children from birth to five years who are experiencing developmental, medical, psychological, physical, learning and/or other difficulties. The family doctor refers the child to the Child Development Assessment Unit, which in turn refers them to the early intervention team. Referrals may also be made directly by the family. Each child is then followed in their family home, childcare setting or school (when they start kindergarten).
Kindergarten and compulsory schools
It is the government’s policy to include learners with disabilities within the mainstream education system, rather than in resource centres. However, parents can decide which provision they prefer for their children, particularly when learners with severe special needs require specialised services and facilities that are difficult to obtain in mainstream schools.
During the last decade, action has been taken to make schools’ physical environments as user-friendly and accessible as possible for learners with mobility impairments. Moreover, learners with disabilities may receive the services to cater for their physical, sensory, intellectual or other needs. A team of educational psychologists provides support to schools in catering for the education of learners with additional needs
Other developments with regards to inclusion in Malta include the Learning Outcomes Framework (LOF) as the keystone for learning and assessment throughout the different cycles of the education process. The LOF was introduced in 2015. It aims to free schools and learners from centrally-imposed knowledge-centric syllabi. It gives 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. My Journey is an equitable learning provision in secondary schools. It respects learners’ multiple intelligences and provides different learning programmes and different modes of learning assessments. In 2019, 77 new labs spread among 13 secondary schools aimed to offer facilities for the teaching of the new vocational and applied subjects.
Provision within mainstream education
Identifying the needs of learners at an early stage and supporting them in mainstream school settings has helped a number of learners to remain in mainstream settings. More work is currently being done to support schools to meet the needs of all learners. The current administration hopes to reduce the rigid forms of setting by ability with high flexibility based on principles of relevance and personalisation (Source: CPRA – Malta Country Report, p. 45).
Learners with additional needs attending mainstream schools may receive LSE support in class. This support has to be recommended by the Statementing Panel. This Panel is the state-recognised body which develops a statutory assessment of the support required to ensure a quality education for learners with impairments. From September 2019, Class Support LSE has been introduced in Kinder 1, with the aim of re-allocating LSEs from supporting individual learners to supporting teaching teams.
Learners with sensory impairments, in addition to LSE support, are also supported by a peripatetic teacher who visits the schools once or twice a week, depending on the learners’ needs. Learners who communicate through sign language have sign language interpreters. Interpreters also support these learners in post-secondary education.
Heads of Department (Inclusion) – formerly known as Inclusion Co-ordinators – support primary and secondary schools in implementing the inclusive education policy. The Heads of Department (Inclusion) support senior management teams, parents, teachers and LSEs. They help to co-ordinate service provision for learners with additional needs attending mainstream schools.
Individual needs support in resource centres
Educational programmes are carried out between mainstream schools and resource centres. Learners in mainstream schools and resource centres follow the mainstream curriculum with the necessary adaptations and modifications to ensure full access to the curriculum. It is highly emphasised in these schools that alllearners should have access to a common set of subject syllabi with the same quality of subject content. This should enhance equal learning opportunities and experiences for all learners to be educated.
Each learner follows their individual education plan (IEP). This is agreed upon and revised annually during an IEP conference meeting. The meeting involves all professionals working with the learner: school administration, teachers, LSEs, parents and sometimes the learners themselves. Peripatetic teachers give lessons in drama, art and craft, music and physical education.
Learners with disabilities are generally included within the mainstream education system rather than resource centres. However, five resource centres cater for more demanding needs and satisfy the wishes and expectations of parents who feel their children can receive a better educational service in one of these centres. These centres cater for primary school learners, middle and secondary school learners, secondary/post-secondary learners and post-secondary learners, who may receive better educational provision in a centre than in a mainstream school.
It is estimated that only 0.5% of the total learner population attends resource centres. The resource centres are networked so that they can complement each other’s services and facilities and work more closely with mainstream schools. The centres aim to tailor education to the needs of the individual learner. The skills covered are cognitive, gross motor, social, language (both receptive and expressive), self-help, cooking, sewing and others. The centres promote and give utmost importance to good health, personal hygiene and training for adult life. A central unit provides educational and professional support to the resource centres.
Learning support centres support learners who are experiencing social and emotional behavioural difficulties.
Over the years, there has been substantial investment in special schools, turning them into resource centres that support mainstream schools and provide all the required facilities and services, as per the reform in 2010. As a result, learners with disabilities in other special schools or in mainstream schools can make use of the facilities and services provided at these schools.
There are no private special schools catering specifically for learners with special needs. However, learners with disabilities are accepted in church and independent mainstream schools. The support they require, including the allocation of an LSE, is generally financed by the government.
National School Support Services
The National School Support Services (NSSS) are responsible for all the services provided to learners with disabilities in both mainstream and resource centres. The NSSS offer:
- services for people with visual and hearing impairments;
- home tuition;
- hospital classes;
- an Autism Spectrum Support Team;
- early intervention;
- services for learners with communication difficulties.
All psycho-social services are the responsibility of the NSSS. These include:
- guidance and counselling;
- school social workers;
- the School Psychological Service;
- youth workers;
- the Education Medical Service;
- the Safe Schools Programme.
The Inclusive Education and Special Education/Resource Centres sections within the NSSS collaborate with:
- non-governmental organisations;
- the Child Development Assessment Unit;
- the Commission for the Rights of Persons with a Disability;
- various professionals within the healthcare services;
- mainstream schools;
- resource centres;
- other educational establishments.
The NSSS also houses the Statementing Panel and the Appeals Board.
Quality in inclusive education
Within the Directorate for Quality and Standards in Education in the Ministry for Education and Employment, the Quality Assurance Department (QAD) is responsible for evaluating effectiveness and quality in inclusive education for learners aged 0–16. A key function of the QAD is:
… in support of the evaluation and the internal audit of every school, [to] implement inspections and external reviews, and also so that children and students are helped so that they may obtain in the best possible manner the set learning targets and necessary skills (Education (Amendments) Act 2006, Art. 9 (2)).
In line with the Ministry’s inclusive approach, the QAD’s vision is to:
evaluate and promote the quality of holistic educational provision in Maltese general education, which seeks to enable all individuals, irrespective of socio-economic, cultural, racial, ethnic, religious, gender and sexual status, to achieve their own full potential and reach personal fulfilment through lifelong learning, participation in the world of work and active citizenship in a democratic society.
Educational/vocational guidance and education/employment links
Guidance is provided to learners and their parents, as is done in mainstream schools, taking the learner’s particular disabilities into consideration. The NSSS provides:
- Transition Co-ordinators to support learners with disabilities in finishing secondary school;
- Resource Workers to work with learners in resource centres and help to co-ordinate transition to adult centres or any employment links available.
Parents of learners with disabilities in resource centres generally play a greater role than parents of learners with mild special needs in mainstream education. A transition programme from one education level to another and from school to life or working life is formulated for individual learners.
The University of Malta and the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology have special provisions for people with disabilities who can successfully follow one of their courses. The University of Malta is committed to providing full accessibility to students, including students with disabilities, who wish to continue their studies. To achieve this, the University has set up the ACCESS-Disability Support Committee. In order to provide the best environment for the students, the ACCESS-Disability Support Unit (ADSU) is on campus and provides the services of a co-ordinator to assist the students with their needs. The ADSU has an equipped office that provides full services to people with visual, hearing and physical impairments.
Learners with additional needs are given assistance when they sit national examinations, depending on their specific needs. Specific guidelines have been formulated for the purpose. If learners are successful, they are awarded the same certificates that are issued to other learners. Resource centres only provide a school leaving certificate. The formative assessment as indicated in their individual education plan could be indicative of their achievements during their time at school.
Last updated 05/02/2020