Inclusive education has been a leading principle for the management of education in Estonia since the Basic Schools and Upper-Secondary Schools Act was enacted in 2010. A recent research project, entitled ‘Inclusive education of SEN students and the effectiveness of related support measures’, mapped the situation around early detection of and support for learners with special educational needs (SEN). It found that more learners with SEN are attending mainstream schools, but they are mostly educated in separate special classes. Academic achievement is becoming more difficult for learners with SEN at higher levels of the education system.
According to the Estonian Centre for Applied Research, the number of learners with SEN has increased slightly. In 2014, there were almost 26,000 learners with SEN. Compared to 2006, the share of learners with SEN has increased from 13.9% to 17.1–18.5%.
The biggest increase is in pupils with SEN in mainstream schools. In 2014, 87.7% of pupils with SEN were studying in mainstream schools. However, between 2010 and 2014, the share of learners with SEN in special classrooms in mainstream schools rose from 18.8% to 21.2%. The number of pupils with SEN in mainstream schools has increased, but at the same time the number of pupils learning in special classrooms has increased.
On average, 94% of pupils complete basic school, but only 86% of special classroom pupils and 81% of special school pupils graduate. After basic school, 96.6% of pupils who graduated the national curriculum continue their studies, compared to only 59% of those who graduated according to a simplified, individual curriculum.
There is a relationship between the labour market outcomes of learners with SEN and their type of SEN. Learners with less complicated needs are as likely to find work after graduating from basic school as learners without SEN. However, those with SEN that require a lot of support are somewhat less likely to be employed. Pupils with SEN who graduate from a special class in a mainstream school have better chances of finding work than those who graduate from a special school. However, if we only consider pupils who did not continue their studies after basic school, these differences vanish.
The research project proposed changing the SEN categorisation system, so that it is based on the need for support and not on the disability itself. Moreover, it is important to increase thematic training for teachers on work with SEN. One of Estonia’s strengths is that legislation provides for inclusive education principles. These principles are increasingly recognised and valued, forming the basis for meaningful inclusion of learners with SEN.
The research report is online (in Estonian only), with a summary available in English. For further statistics on inclusive education in Estonia, please refer to the Agency’s Data web area. The Agency will publish a cross-country data analysis report on 30 member countries in the coming months.