Despite commitments by Member States to promote inclusive education, children with special educational needs and disabled adults are still getting a raw deal, according to a report published today by the European Commission. Many are placed in segregated institutions and those in mainstream educational settings often receive inadequate support, it says.
The report calls on Member States to work harder to develop inclusive education systems and to remove the barriers faced by vulnerable groups when it comes to participation and success in education, training and employment.
“We have to strengthen our efforts to provide adequately financed inclusive education policies if we want to improve the lives of children with special educational needs and disabled adults. It is time to deliver on the commitments which have been made. Inclusive education is not an optional extra; it is a basic necessity. We must put the most vulnerable at the heart of our actions to achieve a better life for all," said Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth.
Around 45 million EU citizens of working age have a disability and 15 million children have special educational needs. The report shows that in some cases, they are deprived of educational and employment opportunities altogether. Children with special educational needs frequently leave school with few or no qualifications, before moving into specialist training which can, in some cases, impair rather than increase their job prospects. People with disabilities or special educational needs are much more likely to be unemployed or economically inactive, and even those who are relatively successful in the job market often earn less than their non-disabled counterparts, the report states.
In all Member States, deprived children (especially boys) from Roma, ethnic minority and socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds are overrepresented in special needs schools. The report questions whether special education systems increase the isolation of pupils who are already socially marginalised, reducing rather than enhancing their opportunities in life. Research suggests that such children could be enrolled in mainstream schools if there was more investment in the development of their language skills and more sensitivity to cultural differences.
The report also highlights a wide variation between Member States as to how children with special needs are identified, as well as whether they are placed in mainstream or special schools. For example, in Flanders (Belgium) 5.2% of pupils with special needs are in segregated special schools, while in Italy it is only 0.01%. The report suggests that more needs to be done to harmonise definitions and improve data gathering to enable countries to compare their approaches more effectively and learn from each other's experience.