Spain - Special needs education within the education system

The educational system will arrange the necessary resources for pupils with temporary or permanent special educational needs to achieve the objectives established within the general programme for all pupils. The public administrations give pupils the necessary support from the beginning of their schooling or as soon as they are diagnosed as having special educational needs. School teaching is adapted to these pupils’ needs. The schools develop the curriculum through didactic plans, which have to take into account the pupils’ needs and characteristics. They also develop an educational project, where the objectives and the educational priorities are established, along with the implementation procedures. In order to prepare this project, they consider the school characteristics, its environment and the pupils’ educational needs.

The Act on the Improvement of the Quality of Education (LOMCE, 2013) considers four types of specific educational support needs:

1. Students with special educational needs

2. High-ability students

3. Late entries into the Spanish education system

4. Specific learning difficulties.

Students with special educational needs

Students with special educational needs refers to those who require certain support and specific educational attention due to disability or serious behavioural disorders, either for a period or throughout all their schooling.

These pupils require specialised support in accordance with non-discrimination and educational normalisation principles, with the purpose of achieving their inclusion. These pupils are schooled in accordance with their characteristics, either integrating them in mainstream groups, in specialised classrooms within mainstream schools, or in special education schools, depending on the form determined by the professional teams, taking into account their parents’ and teachers’ opinions. The curriculum foresees many possibilities to adjust to these differences so that students may overcome any difficulties encountered. However, throughout their school career and, perhaps to a greater extent, during stages in which studies become progressively more complex, there will be certain students who, for very different reasons, find it more difficult to reach the objectives and contents laid down for everyone in the common curriculum. These students will consequently need another type of more specific adjustments.

Among the ordinary measures (offered to all pupils) contemplated by the educational system for attending to diversity, the following must be mentioned: successive levels of curricular formulation, involving the progressive adaptation of the official curriculum and optional areas and subjects, which constitutes a resource for students to enhance and develop their personal preferences; the organisation of reinforcement and support activities in educational establishments, a very generalised measure of attention to diversity which is usually aimed at the instrumental areas (mathematics and language); and specific grouping. Once ordinary measures of attention to diversity have been applied and have proved to be insufficient to respond to the educational needs of an individual pupil, the education system considers a series of extraordinary measures. These include repeating a cycle or school year, significant curricular adaptations, support measures for pupils with special educational needs, curricular diversification and, as a last resort, social guarantee programmes.

Curricular adaptations are made for one specific pupil. When the learner has special educational needs that, in view of their permanent nature, source or type, require modification of central features of the curriculum followed by the majority of the learners of that age, significant curricular adaptations may be carried out. The application of these extraordinary measures involves the change of contents, objectives and assessment criteria of the ordinary curriculum. The necessary point of departure for such measures is a previous psycho-pedagogical assessment (performed by the specialised guidance services) and an on-going follow-up that allows the learner access to the standardised curriculum whenever possible.

Learners with special educational needs can attend both special education and mainstream schools. Schooling should preferably be provided in mainstream schools, adapting such programmes to each learner’s capacities.

Hence, in ordinary infant education, primary education and secondary education, these pupils are enrolled as part of the mainstream pupil body. These schools should adapt the physical and material conditions to the needs of the pupils enrolled there, have the necessary resources available (special teachers, qualified professionals, etc.) and must likewise take the pedagogical, organisational and operational measures for accommodating pupils with special educational needs within their programmes. Furthermore, all the autonomous communities consider the possibility of appointing preferred centres for the enrolment of pupils with specific special educational needs, who may require a particular type of environment or a professional specialisation difficult to find in many places. In this way, suitable educational attention may be guaranteed for such pupils.

The schooling of pupils with special educational needs in non-compulsory education stages, if the requirements are met, will be one form of inclusion with the necessary curricular adaptations or the total or partial exemption of subjects. The establishments providing such education must have the necessary physical and material adaptations in order to guarantee the principle of equal opportunities.

Specific support measures

Appropriate school building facilities

All educational establishments must meet the hygienic, acoustic, habitability and security conditions stipulated in the current legislation. The places devoted to instruction must have ventilation and natural lighting. They will also have the necessary architectural conditions to facilitate access, movement and communication, in accordance with the legislation regarding the promotion of accessibility and elimination of barriers.

Special adaptations to the curriculum

Schooling at the various levels and stages of the system for pupils with special educational needs (SEN) linked to personal disabilities will begin and end at the ages set down by the education regulations, with the exceptions listed below. The necessary adaptations or modifications within the established curriculum are carried out so that pupils with special educational needs may achieve the objectives and contents generally laid down. These adaptations may take two different forms: curriculum access adaptations (modifications or predictions related to spatial resources, introduction of new materials and use of additional communication systems) and curricular adaptations, such as modifications in objectives, contents, methodology, activities and assessment criteria and procedures, which are carried out within the classroom planning. Curricular adaptations may, in turn, be grouped into two large areas: significant and non-significant adaptations. The former do not affect the basic teaching, whereas the latter involve the elimination of certain basic teaching included in the official curriculum (objectives, contents and assessment criteria). Some of the latter adaptations require additional human and material resources to carry out adaptations which entail changes in the organisation of educational establishments and methodology, substitution or introduction of new areas or subjects, contents and objectives.

Furthermore, the possibility of changing the duration of compulsory schooling for highly-gifted pupils in primary education and compulsory secondary education, under exceptional circumstances, is also present.

The link-up and co-ordination between mainstream schools integrating pupils with special educational needs and in specific special education establishments is one of the principles guiding school integration. The aim is for special educational establishments to progressively become open educational resource centres for the professionals working in the local mainstream establishments.

Additional support provided by specialist teachers:

The decision to enrol pupils in a mainstream or special educational establishment, as well as the guidelines on the most suitable educational treatment to offer (types of schooling, curricular adaptations, etc.) is made subsequent to a diagnosis and is the responsibility of the services established by each autonomous community in order to respond to the educational and psycho-pedagogical counselling demands of schools, pupils and teachers.

Most autonomous communities have regulated and organised these services through sector educational and psycho-pedagogical interdisciplinary guidance teams and through the guidance departments of secondary schools.

Apart from the guidance teams working for the educational establishments of a district or area (zone or sector teams), specialised specific teams and early intervention teams have been set up in some autonomous communities. Regardless of the education authority to which they report, guidance teams have among their duties the detection, assessment and diagnosis of special educational needs as well as counselling, collaborating and participating in the educational process of pupils with special educational needs.

In most of the autonomous communities, guidance teams are still part of an external support network for schools. It is frequent for members of the teams to be part of the school staff (through the teachers’ council, the guidance department – when it exists –, the pedagogical co-ordination commission, etc.).

In almost all autonomous communities, guidance departments have been set up in secondary education establishments and, in some communities, in infant and primary education schools. The result has been a closer bond between specialised support services and schools, which has improved the response to special educational needs.

For pupils with serious developmental disorders who cannot attend school, pupils who are hospitalised, or pupils who must be absent from school for prolonged or repeated periods of time for medical reasons, the autonomous communities have formulated and implemented various organisational alternatives, which include: mobile special education teachers who go to pupils’ homes, so that they may receive their educational schooling; mobile attention on the part of special education centres for under school-age pupils with special educational needs or those who are enrolled in mainstream schools; and the setting up of mobile school support units and school support units in hospitals.

Special teaching methods and materials

There are more specific guidelines according to the pupil’s type of special educational needs. Therefore, in the case of those with sensory alterations (visual, auditory), priority must be placed on: strategies aimed at fostering and promoting alternative means; strategies which enable learners to relate, in an explicit way, learning experiences; spatial organisation; learners grouping, in order to make the most of their visual and auditory possibilities; and teacher-pupil and pupil-pupil interaction.

The reading-writing teaching methods for pupils with visual disabilities should be mentioned. Those pupils who cannot have access to the ink reading-writing method will have to use Braille. In this case, tactile sensory stimulation and space-time orientation will have to be fostered.

Pupils with auditory disabilities have to learn to communicate by alternative means: sign language, bimodal system, etc., which have their own methodological guidelines and that can be combined, in certain occasions, with oral re-education.

Pupils with motor problems have to be assisted in the specific needs of mobility and the manipulation of objects, favouring mobility in the classroom and access to didactic resources, as well as prioritising oral and visual explanations in order to help them understand messages.

In cases of pupils with serious developmental disorders, it is necessary to turn to specific methodologies aiming at the development of oral communication or alternative systems. Imitation learning, modelling and mediation (physical, oral aids, etc.) techniques, incidental methodology, and reinforcement are some of the most specific guidelines.

Furthermore, space must be arranged according to their needs and adapted to the instruments, equipment and technical aids required by these pupils, allowing for the possibility of creating different layouts and functional arrangements in order to promote interaction and communication with adults and among themselves.

Reduced class sizes

The number of pupils integrated in mainstream classrooms depends on the homogeneity and severity of their disability or dysfunction, their psychological problems and the required educational support. If they require continuous pedagogical reinforcement and specific treatments, the maximum number of pupils per classroom is two. In mainstream classrooms, where pupils are enrolled under an inclusive framework, the maximum number or pupils per classroom is 25, subject to obtaining the authorisation of the education administration.

In special education classrooms, whether in specific special education or mainstream establishments, the number of pupils will be reduced.

Special arrangements for evaluation or progress through education

What exactly is to be assessed? This is determined by the mandatory assessment criteria established by the autonomous communities. In the case of pupils with special educational needs, such criteria must be amended in conjunction with the objectives and curricular content adjustments made through curricular adaptations.

Assessment entails determining the most suitable tools and procedures on one hand, and the possible adaptations of these commonly used tools on the other hand. The use of varied and diverse assessment tools and procedures is recommended, since a single procedure, such as a written or oral test, entails serious difficulties for some pupils with motor functional difficulties or with problems in expressing themselves. Moreover, the exclusive use of this kind of testing for assessment provides only limited information on pupils’ comprehension of curricular content. Consequently, it is necessary to use other tools that provide information on various aspects that are difficult to assess by oral or written means, and which include observation, questionnaires, interviews, analysis of class work, etc. The use of testing and tools adapted to the real-life classroom is likewise recommended, such as, for example, pedagogical tests, observation records and follow-up sheets.

Furthermore, the educational context should be evaluated in terms of pupils with SEN and common criteria should be established to provide and receive information from parents and pupils, due to the diversity of professionals who work with them at times.

The issue is that assessment entails considering various key moments in the development of a given teaching/learning process. Three moments can be defined: initial assessment, formative assessment, and summative assessment.

At the end of the school year, the assessment teams evaluate the degree of achievement of the targets which were established at the beginning of the school year for those pupils with special educational needs. The assessment results are to allow the introduction of the necessary adaptations, including the most suitable modality of schooling depending on the pupil’s needs. This decision, if necessary, could even be adopted during the school year.

In relation to the process of promotion of pupils with SEN, the general regulation for infant, primary and compulsory secondary education is applied nationwide. Therefore, a pupil may spend an additional year in the second cycle of infant education when the counselling department considers that such a measure will allow the pupil to meet the objectives of that cycle or will be beneficial for their socialisation process. A pupil may spend an additional year in primary education, and one more in each cycle, or in any of the years of the second cycle of compulsory secondary education, only when the previous circumstances have not arisen. This means that basic schooling can be prolonged up to the age of 18.

In post-compulsory secondary education there is also the possibility of prolonging schooling for two years in Bachillerato (general upper-secondary education). In specific vocational training, pupils with special educational needs related to disabilities can take the programmed activities for the same module up to four times.

Decisions regarding promotion or repeating will always be made on the basis of the information obtained during the assessment process and in relation to pupils' progress as compared to the programmed objectives for them. The decision will be accompanied by complementary educational measures, in order to help pupils reach programme objectives. There is, however, no direct or automatic correlation between a pupil’s failure to reach objectives and non-promotion to the following cycle.

After completing compulsory secondary education and reaching the objectives planned, pupils with SEN are awarded the Compulsory Secondary Education Certificate, which enables them to gain access to non-compulsory secondary education and intermediate specific vocational training. In any case, all pupils receive a certificate indicating the number of years of study and the grades they have received in the different areas, together with non-prescriptive and confidential guidance regarding their academic and professional future.

The law establishes that those pupils who do not achieve the objectives of compulsory secondary education, and who are therefore lacking a certificate and are consequently unable to continue their education, are entitled to enrol in specific social guarantee programmes. The aim of these programmes is to provide basic vocational training, which will enable these pupils to participate in the working world. Pupils with SEN may enrol either in the general social guarantee programmes under the integrative framework or in social guarantee programmes specifically designed for pupils with SEN.

Furthermore, pupils with SEN who have successfully completed any of the post-compulsory stages of the system will receive the corresponding certificate. Furthermore, a proposal may be put forward to issue the Bachillerato, Technician or Technical Superior certificate for pupils who have studied Bachillerato and specific vocational training with significant adaptations in some of their subjects.

Separate special provision

Special education schools are intended for pupils who are unable to be integrated into mainstream schools but who follow compulsory teaching. When there are no special education centres in the area, these pupils receive their schooling in special education units within mainstream centres. Pupils are enrolled in separate special education units or schools only when there is sound reason to believe that their needs cannot be suitably met in a mainstream school. There are also specific special education establishments that enrol pupils with special educational needs associated with a very specific type of disability.

These establishments provide basic compulsory education: primary education, for pupils between 6 and 12 years of age, and compulsory secondary education, for pupils between 12 and 16 years of age. These centres can also provide social guarantee programmes. Once basic education is complete, they can also provide programmes intended to facilitate the transition to adult and working life. These programmes last two years, with the possibility of adding one more; therefore, pupils here are aged between 16 and 19.

Teachers engaging in basic education in specific special education schools are generally teachers specialised in special education and/or hearing and speech. In complementary vocational training or programmes for transition to adult life, pupils receive instruction from technical teachers of vocational training, who teach technical-practical courses, as well as from the aforementioned basic education teachers.

Moreover, the autonomous communities provide special schools with additional support and guidance staff members. The number and specialisation of these professionals vary according to the autonomous community in question. The professional–pupil ratio varies depending on the number of pupils and the kind of curricular adaptations they may need.

General objectives

According to the LOMCE, the objectives for pupils attending special education establishments are the same as those for all pupils. Furthermore, schools must have the necessary school organisation and carry out the necessary curricular diversifications in order to allow pupils to achieve such objectives. Therefore, the general objectives of the different educational stages create the necessity for individual programmes or curricular adaptations for pupils with SEN, studying in mainstream or special schools.

Given the specific nature of the special education centres, compulsory education objectives will undergo more significant adaptations and the programmes for transition to adult life or complementary vocational training will fundamentally aim to develop abilities linked to professional occupations, personal independence and social integration.

The LOMCE states that the general objectives for pupils with special educational needs must be those generally established for all pupils, with the necessary curricular adaptations. For those unable to achieve the objectives, public administrations are to promote training programmes adapted to the pupils’ specific needs, aiming at facilitating their social and labour inclusion.

Age levels and grouping of pupils

In the case of specific centres for special education that provide education for pupils who cannot enter an inclusive framework, only two educational levels are carried out: basic compulsory education (6 to 16 years of age) and complementary vocational training or programmes for transition to adult life (16 to 19 years of age). Pupils in these centres may be enrolled up to the maximum age of 20. Notwithstanding, on an exceptional basis, and subsequent to obtaining the agreement of the pupil’s parents or legal guardians, the maximum age may be raised, allowing for enrolment up to the age of 21 and taking into account the serious circumstances that pupils affected by certain types of disabilities may suffer.

Schooling for pupils with SEN starts and finishes at the ages generally established for their corresponding level and stage. Exceptions can be made to the conditions and procedures in order to make compulsory schooling more flexible for pupils with special educational needs, but these have to be authorised. However, the upper age limit for schooling in a special education establishment is still 21.

Curriculum and subjects

The programmes for general studies in special education schools are those corresponding to the compulsory basic areas included in levels of primary education and compulsory secondary education. In order to organise them, the curriculum established for these stages is taken into account, particularly the primary curriculum with any necessary adjustments or adaptations made. Once pupils reach the age of 12, they are also taught subjects corresponding to secondary education, which are primarily related to pre-occupational activities.

The educational needs of pupils enrolled in such schools, as well as those related to their health and personal well-being, are often so complex and variable that it is imperative to adopt an extremely flexible approach regarding curricular organisation and the necessary human and material resources for implementation. This organisation must be very different from the general arrangements prevailing in mainstream schools.

Reference should also be made to vocational training. This includes both the specific category of social guarantee programmes for pupils with special educational needs and official vocational training programmes which may be included within the training programmes for transition to adult life in special education schools.

Therefore, provision has been made for pupils with special educational needs who finish basic education without having reached the objectives of compulsory secondary education to continue their schooling under three different vocational training-related options:

  • Some pupils with special educational needs may be able to enrol on an integrative basis in social guarantee programmes that adapt to their personal circumstances as well as to their level of skills and development. Such programmes are available under integrative conditions.
  • Special social guarantee programmes are specifically designed for pupils with special educational needs wishing to continue schooling beyond compulsory secondary education. This does not prevent these pupils from participating in mainstream social guarantee programmes. The special programmes are adjusted to their personal characteristics, their degree of development and skills, as well as to their subsequent employment aspirations. They have the same structure as the social guarantee programmes run for the pupil population at large and are organised around the following areas: basic training, career guidance, vocational training, complementary activities and educational guidance. Vocational training is particularly important, taking into account the special needs shown by this group. It should address both the acquisition of skills and abilities of a general nature and training for practising a specific trade. These programmes are provided in secondary education establishments and in special education schools designated for this purpose, pursuant to agreements signed between the autonomous communities and other authorities, town councils or non-profit organisations.
  • Programmes are available for the transition to adult life, designed for pupils with special educational needs associated with more severe and permanent disabilities who, in light of the low degree of development and skill achieved after basic education, are unable to avail of the two training alternatives discussed above. These programmes are intended to last two years, but they may be extended to three, and are generally provided in special schools. The priority objectives are to help these pupils to develop the necessary conduct and habits to lead an adult life as independently as possible, to enable them to use the services that society makes available to all citizens and, wherever possible, to train them to undertake occupational activities related to very specific and clearly defined jobs.

Teaching methods and materials

Both in mainstream and special schools, methodological assistance for these pupils must comply with the educational principles established for the school-age population in general – taking the pupil’s level of development as a starting point. This means accommodating each pupil’s intellectual, communicational-linguistic, social-affective and motor characteristics, since here diversity prevails. The objectives are:

  • To guarantee significant learning. More than anyone else, pupils with SEN require learning to be applicable to their daily living skills and to serve as a basis to gain access to subsequent learning.
  • To enable pupils to undertake significant learning on their own (learning to learn). In order to achieve this, pupils with SEN must be provided with the necessary skills and procedures to be able to learn on an independent basis.
  • To promote both physical and intellectual activity. Such pupils must be active in their learning process in order to be able to assimilate and fully comprehend the activities and operations they are undertaking. This may be achieved with the aid of their teacher or their peers, although they will admittedly need more help and/or a different kind of help in order to do so. The implementation of the corresponding technical aids will be available when pupils’ special needs require them.

Pupil progression

The principles for assessing the progress made by pupils with SEN should be the same as those employed for the rest of the school age group.

What exactly is to be assessed is determined by the mandatory assessment criteria established by the autonomous communities. In the case of curricular adaptations for pupils with SEN, such criteria must be amended according to the objectives and contents amendments made through curricular adaptations.

The assessment criteria for pupils with special educational needs must meet the principles generally established for the rest of the school population.

In specific special schools, pupil progress will be assessed, according to the corresponding programme or curricular adaptation, by the form teacher (special education teacher) co-ordinated with the rest of professionals involved in each pupil’s programme. Such professionals include speech therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists, pedagogues, etc. Teaching teams act independently to establish the most relevant criteria guiding decision-making with regard to pupil promotion. Criteria should be of a different nature, so that decisions are made in accordance with the different variables which may prove to be decisive for pupils.

High-ability students

Regarding high-ability students, the LOMCE stipulates:

  • It is the responsibility of the education administrations to adopt the necessary measures to identify high-ability and gifted students and assess their needs as early as possible. Moreover, they should introduce appropriate action plans to meet these needs and curricular enrichment programmes to allow students to develop their abilities to a higher degree.
  • The government, after consultation with the autonomous communities, will establish the regulations to allow for flexibility in the length of each stage of the education system in the case of high-ability students, independently of their age.

Late entries into the Spanish education system

Regarding students who enter the Spanish education system late, the LOMCE stipulates:

  • It is the responsibility of the public authorities to ensure the incorporation into the Spanish education system of students who arrive from other countries or who enter the education system late for any reason. This will be guaranteed, at least, for compulsory school age.
  • The education administrations will guarantee that the enrolment of late entries into the Spanish education system is adapted to the circumstances, knowledge, age and academic record of these students to ensure they are incorporated into the academic year which is best suited to their characteristics and previous knowledge, with the relevant support to ensure that they will pursue their education as successfully as possible.
  • It is the responsibility of the education administrations to develop specific programmes for students who have serious language problems or lack basic competences and knowledge, in order to facilitate their integration into the corresponding academic year.
  • The development of these programmes will be simultaneous, in all cases, with the students’ attendance of normal classes, according to their level and progress.
  • It is the responsibility of the education administrations to adopt the necessary measures to ensure that the parents or guardians of students who enter the education system late receive the relevant information and advice concerning the rights, obligations and opportunities which incorporation into the Spanish education system implies.

Specific learning difficulties

Regarding pupils with specific learning difficulties, the LOMCE stipulates:

  • The public authorities will adopt the necessary measures to identify students with specific learning difficulties and to assess their needs at an early age.
  • The enrolment of students with specific learning difficulties will be governed by the principles of inclusion and normalisation and will grant non-discrimination and effective equality in the access to the educational system and attendance at school.
  • The identification, assessment and intervention of these students’ needs will be made as soon as possible and according to the terms established by the education administrations.

Development of inclusion

Since school inclusion began in Spain in 1985, a number of things have been achieved although some of them still require work.

The 1990 Organic Act on the General Organisation of the Education System (LOGSE) regulates and governs special education within the general plan of education, asserts the incorporation of special education into the mainstream system and also introduces the concept of special educational needs. Pupils with special educational needs can attend mainstream or special education schools. This Act also establishes that pupils with SEN should attend mainstream schools by adapting programmes to the individual capacities of each pupil. Their schooling in special education units or schools, or combined schooling, will only take place when pupils’ needs cannot be met in mainstream schools. This situation will be periodically revised in order to promote, if possible, increased inclusion.

Subsequently, the 2002 Organic Act on the Quality of Education (LOCE) established a new framework, which gives attention to those pupils with ‘specific educational needs’. This new concept covers highly-gifted pupils, pupils with SEN, foreign pupils and those who require educational compensation. This Act establishes that pupils with SEN can attend mainstream schools with specialised classrooms, or ordinary groups in special schools or combined schooling, according to their abilities. Education authorities, in turn, anticipate the existence of specialised mainstream schools in order to meet the needs of this latter type of schooling.

As regards the other groups which constitute the concept of ‘pupils with special educational needs’, the Act stipulates that the schooling of foreign pupils will be facilitated, by arranging specialised classrooms in mainstream schools for those who do not have knowledge of the Spanish language and culture or lack basic knowledge.

Coinciding with the European Year of People with Disabilities, on 2 December 2003, the Act on Equal Opportunities, Non-Discrimination and Universal Accessibility for People with Disabilities was passed. This Act complemented the 1982 Act on the Social Integration of People with Disabilities (LISMI).

The Organic Act on Education (LOE, 2006) states:

The education administrations will provide the necessary measures to ensure that all students reach their maximum personal, intellectual, social and emotional potential, as well as the objectives of a general nature established in the present Act.

It also adds:

In order to put into practice the principle of equality in the exercise of education rights, the public authorities will carry out compensatory measures with disadvantaged people, groups and regions and provide the necessary economic resources and support. The ultimate goal should be a school for all.

At present, the LOMCE (2013) follows the guidelines developed by the LOE, introducing small changes. It considers four types of specific educational support needs: students with special educational needs, gifted learners, late entries into the Spanish education system and specific learning difficulties. The principle of equity guarantees educational inclusion.

Historical overview

Initial experiments in special education in Spain can be traced back to the sixteenth century and were intended for children with sensory disorders. The same line of thought was followed over the next two centuries, although there were occasional experiments unrelated to general education with the deaf, blind, etc.

During the nineteenth century, schools and institutions of a purely charitable and aid-providing nature were set up for the education of children with sensory disorders and for the care of those with mental illnesses and ‘misfits’. The segregation of people with disabilities in institutions providing fundamental aid and medical care went on well into the twentieth century. The focus on rehabilitation and education was only introduced gradually. After the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), the development of special education was left in private hands, which fostered the setting up of specific centres.

The questionable results obtained by segregated institutions and international normalisation trends, as well as growing social awareness, led to a change in the concept of the educational treatment to be received by ‘socially maladjusted’ people and those with disabilities. The change was embodied in the 1970 General Act on Education and Financing of Educational Reform (LGE) which, for the first time, organised and formulated special education in Spain and stated its goal as the training through appropriate educational treatment of all ‘socially maladjusted’ people and people with disabilities for their inclusion into as full a social life as possible. Special education was to be provided in special centres, while at the same time the establishment of special educational units in mainstream schools was fostered whenever possible for those with minor disabilities. The creation of the National Institute for Special Education (INEE) in 1975 should be emphasised within the development of the LGE as regards special education.

The 1978 Spanish Constitution guarantees all citizens’ right to education and urges public authorities to implement a policy of planning, treatment, rehabilitation and integration of people with physical, sensory and intellectual disabilities in all social areas and, therefore, in education. The same year, the INEE drew up the National Plan on Special Education, where the standardisation of services, educational integration and individual attention principles are formulated for the first time.

The principles set down were embraced and legally embodied with the enactment in 1982 of the Act on the Social Integration of People with Disabilities (LISMI). The Act sets down a series of measures concerning personal, social and labour attention for people with disabilities. Among these measures are basic guidelines for the educational framework, with the aim of guaranteeing that these pupils may reach, as far as possible, the established general objectives of education.

According to the 1990 LOGSE, special education is no longer understood as education for a different kind of pupil, but begins to be understood as the set of material and human resources available to the education system in order to meet the needs, whether temporary or permanent, that some of the pupils may have. In this sense, the education system must have the necessary resources so that pupils with SEN may achieve the general goals set for all pupils. This Act lays down the inclusion of special education within the mainstream system and introduces the concept of ‘special educational needs’. The latter term covers anything from the most common and temporary of needs, to those of a more severe and permanent nature. All educational needs should be attended to within the framework of a comprehensive education system that is open to diversity. The principle of normalisation, with the aim of promoting school integration, underlies this Act.

The Organic Act on Education (LOE, 2006) changes the scope and the objectives on special education, which is no longer the concept, but rather specific educational support needs. It must take into account that education focuses on achieving respect for basic rights and liberties, equal rights and opportunities between men and women and equal treatment and non-discrimination for people with disabilities.

At present, the Act on the Improvement of the Quality of Education (LOMCE, 2013) follows the inclusive education criteria developed by the previous acts.

Quality indicators for special needs education

Evaluation covers all education areas governed by the LOMCE and applies to students’ learning processes and results, teacher performance, education processes, management, and the performance of schools, inspection and the education administrations themselves.

The evaluation of the education system is carried out by the National Institute for Evaluation and Quality of the Education System – renamed the National Institute for Educational Evaluation (INEE) – and by the equivalent bodies designated by the education administrations, which assess the education system in their area of competence.

The duties of this body are: to assess the degree to which the core curricula are mastered at the various levels, cycles and grades of the education system; to carry out research, studies and evaluations regarding the system; to assess the general reforms of the system, as well as the structure, effectiveness and efficiency of the system; to draw up a state system of indicators which will allow for evaluation of the system’s degree of effectiveness and efficiency; to draw up assessment systems for the different types of education and their corresponding establishments; to provide and exchange information with the education authorities to facilitate decision-making; to inform the various sectors of society about the functioning and outcomes of the education system; and to publish and disseminate the results of assessments carried out, as well as of innovations occurring in the field of assessment. The INEE is likewise responsible for proposing initiatives and suggestions that may contribute to quality and improvement in education and state co-ordination in international studies.

The assessment units of the various autonomous communities collaborate with the INEE in the different assessment activities of the education system, and are responsible for carrying out an assessment of the education system within their territory.

Assessment of educational establishments is of a dual nature: internal assessment carried out by the education community itself, and external assessment which is carried out by assessment specialists, normally the Education Technical Inspection. In any case, the autonomous communities are responsible for drawing up and implementing assessment plans in territories under their management. All of these plans are found to have the same objective and basic characteristics.

Given the decentralised nature of the Spanish education system, the educational evaluation of non-university levels is organised into three levels:

  • General evaluation of the education system is the responsibility of the state, which works in collaboration with the autonomous communities.
  • The autonomous communities are in charge of evaluating the education system and educational institutions within their respective territory.
  • Educational institutions develop internal evaluation mechanisms with the support of the education authorities.

In accordance with the decentralised nature of the Spanish education system, educational inspection is organised into two levels:

  • The Educational Inspectorate, which has the legal authority and duty to inspect and authorise the education system at national level. It is present in the 17 autonomous communities and has the power to supervise all types of education, both non-university and university, ensuring compliance with the regulations established by the state in all the autonomous communities.
  • The educational inspection of non-university education, which is organised, regulated and conducted by the education authorities of the autonomous communities in their respective regions.

The Education Act also regulates the evaluation of the education system and establishes procedures for the evaluation of its different areas and elements, obliging the relevant authorities and different agents to account for the current situation and its evolution.

Quality principles

The quality principles within the education system are:

  • Quality education for all students, regardless of their condition and circumstances.
  • Equity that guarantees equal opportunities for full personal development through education, inclusion, rights and equality of opportunities that helps to overcome any kind of discrimination and universal access to education that acts as a compensating factor for personal, cultural, economic and social inequalities, with special emphasis on those derived from disabilities.
  • The transmission and application of values that foster personal freedom, responsibility, democratic citizenship, solidarity, tolerance, equality, respect and justice and that also help to overcome any type of discrimination.
  • The concept of education as a permanent process, which is important throughout life (lifelong learning process).
  • The flexibility to adapt education to the diversity of students’ abilities, interests, expectations and needs, as well as to the changes undergone by students and society.
  • The educational and professional guidance of students, as a necessary way to achieve an all-round, personalised education, which incorporates knowledge, skills and values.
  • The individual efforts and motivation of students.
  • The joint efforts of students, families, teachers, schools, administrations, institutions and society as a whole. The recognition of the role played by parents or legal guardians as the people primarily responsible for their children’s education.
  • The autonomy to establish and modify the organisational and curricular measures within the framework of the powers and responsibilities corresponding to the state, the autonomous communities, local government and schools.
  • The participation of the educational community in the organisation, management and functioning of schools.
  • Education for the prevention of conflicts and for their peaceful resolution, as well as for non-violence in all areas of personal, family and social life, especially in cases of bullying.
  • The development of equal rights and opportunities and the promotion of real equality between women and men at school.
  • The recognition of teaching as an essential factor regarding the quality of education, the attention given to teacher training, up-skilling, professional promotion and the importance of social support for teachers and their work.
  • The encouragement and promotion of research, experimentation and educational innovation.
  • The evaluation of the whole education system, including planning, organisation, teaching and learning processes and results.
  • Co-operation between the state and autonomous communities in the definition, application and evaluation of education policies.
  • The co-operation and collaboration of the education administrations with local government in the planning and implementation of education policy.
  • Academic freedom, which recognises parents’ and legal guardians’ freedom to choose the kind of school and education for their children, within the framework of the constitutional principles.


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