Country information for Switzerland - Assessment within inclusive education systems


The Swiss cantons can call on the services of special agencies (including the school psychological services) in helping them to identify, diagnose, treat and advise on disabilities and special needs.

Identification of special educational needs (SEN) is followed by the provision of individual special education measures. Ordinary individual measures are provided at local level, in the school context. When these resources are insufficient and additional resources for the education and training of children and young people need to be provided, enhanced individual measures are deployed. The provision of these enhanced measures is based on a standard assessment procedure (SAP) for determining individual needs.

Phases of education

Early childhood education

Medical doctors or early intervention specialists often identify young children’s SEN. Given that early intervention is not mandatory in Switzerland, the parents’ agreement is required for initial assessment and possible intervention.

Compulsory schooling

During compulsory schooling, any of the parties involved may identify a child as having SEN and initiate a procedure. In most cantons, school psychologists play a central role.

Also important in this respect are parents, teachers, SEN specialists, special school head teachers, the school administration board (i.e. the school commission at municipal level) and cantonal institutions (e.g. the cantonal board for compulsory schooling).

Transition period

During this period, needs identification is mostly based on earlier educational identification procedures.

The Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP)

Objectives of the procedure

Within the framework of inter-cantonal co-operation for special education, some teacher education universities and the Swiss Institute for Special Needs Education (SZH) developed an SAP. It is used if the locally available special education resources are not adequate and additional resources need to be made available for a child’s education. It serves the cantons primarily as a decision-making basis for arranging enhanced special needs measures.

This procedure makes it possible to determine the individual educational and developmental needs of children and young people for early specialised education, mainstream schooling, reduced-size classes or special schooling. In autumn 2014, the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK) adopted the new SAP. It is mandatory for all the cantons which have ratified the Inter-Cantonal Agreement on Co-Operation in the Field of Special Needs Education. However, cantons which have not ratified it will also be able to use it, and mostly they do.

The SAP aims to create optimal (but not maximal) conditions for child training and development, taking into account international and national directives and local circumstances.

The SAP should make it possible to gather the relevant information systematically and so determine individual needs. It therefore adopts a multi-dimensional approach: a single criterion (e.g. one deficiency) is not a sufficient basis for taking measures. The aim is rather to determine what measures will be effective on the basis of transparent developmental and training objectives. This SAP should serve as a basis for targeted care in the place of care chosen for this purpose.

Theoretical bases

The SAP is based on the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF), in particular the version for children and youth (ICF-CY). The ICF describes health-related areas in terms of physical factors (bodily functions and structures), personal factors (activities) and, finally, factors relating to the person’s integration into social life (participation). The concept of ‘functioning’ links the medical/mental description of a disorder or problem and the potential that needs to be mobilised to promote the processes of development and training. The ICF is compatible with the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10 – an international statistical classification of illnesses and related health problems) and with descriptions of capacity present in both personalised support or development plans and in study plans or training standards. When the limitations and potential inherent in a person’s living conditions are taken into account, it is possible to make an assessment geared to their needs.

Description of the procedure

There are many causes for the obstacles and difficulties experienced by people with disabilities in their taking part in social life. Disability is a multi-dimensional phenomenon, so a multi-dimensional approach needs to be adopted in dealing with it. For this reason, information of different kinds is gathered from different sources and brought together as part of an SAP. This consists of two stages: a basic assessment and an assessment of special needs. Each stage comprises a number of factors and therefore information relating to different areas needs to be gathered.

1. Basic assessment: This assessment takes into account the child’s present condition and includes the following factors:

  • Personal circumstances (of the child and the persons exercising parental authority)
  • Information regarding registration for the procedure and the issues raised
  • Existing support network
  • Family background
  • Statement of functioning (brief list of activities, participation and bodily functions)
  • Statement by category (principal and related diagnosis, description of problems)

2. Assessment of individual needs: At this stage of the procedure, the measures to be taken are geared to the child’s present circumstances. The following factors are taken into account:

  • An assessment of the child’s development and training objectives
  • An assessment of the child’s needs (special education measures, counselling and support, care of the child, medical measures)
  • Recommendations (main care centre, measures)

A third stage, consisting of a needs assessment and the decision-making process, has been abandoned. As each canton has its own directives, the way in which the regulations are applied varies from canton to canton.

Future assessment procedures

The basis for the assessment procedures has been adopted from the World Health Organization’s ICF, in particular from the ICF-CY version for children and youth with disabilities, as well as other classification systems such as the ICD-10.

(Sources: International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health and International Classification of Diseases).

The assessment procedures will, in future, permit the Swiss cantons to allocate individual resources within the scope of the early childhood area, the mainstream schooling system and special classes or special schools for children and young people with disabilities, who require enhanced special educational measures. Under pilot trials for the development of standard assessment procedures, assessment instrumentation will be drawn up for the pre-primary, compulsory primary school and secondary school level ‘II’. The new standard assessment procedures will become compulsory for the cantons which have ratified the Inter-Cantonal Agreement on Co-Operation in the Field of Special Needs Education.


Last updated 12/03/2018

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