Poll on special educational needs - Results

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Special Educational Needs (SEN) describes the needs of a child who has a difficulty or disability which makes learning harder for them than for other children their age.

All the EU Member States have signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which affirms the right to inclusive education for all pupils and students with disabilities. Disabilities include physical disabilities like multiple sclerosis and epilepsy; sensory disabilities like visual impairment and limited hearing; emotional disabilities like attention-deficit disorder and hyperactivity; and developmental disabilities like autism spectrum and dyslexia.

Almost all (98%) students with special needs are now enrolled in mainstream education rather than in special school settings, according to the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education. In inclusive education learners are placed at the centre of a system that needs to recognise, accept and respond to learner diversity. This poses a challenge for teachers, who have stated that their greatest need is support for students with special needs (OECD TALIS survey, 2013).

Teachers in inclusive classrooms need to consider a wide range of teaching techniques and assistive technological tools that allow students with, for example, visual impairments to translate text to speech, or students with dyslexia to word-process assignments rather than write them by hand. Interventions can also entail a reorganisation of the learning environment to ensure access, as well as additional support in some cases.

Measures like these help students with special needs fulfil their potential at school and in their community, allowing full access to meaningful learning in an equal and equitable environment that will allow them to live life to the full.

The poll on special educational needs was open on School Education Gateway from 15 October until 2 December and gathered a total of 843 responses.

Results (N=843)

1. Thinking of your local area, which situation best describes the learning environment of SEN students?

Poll on SEN Graph 1

Of the 843 respondents to the survey, the majority (88%) responded that pupils with Special Educational Needs (SEN) are integrated into mainstream schools. Within this majority, more than half (53%) indicated that students with SEN follow an individually adapted curriculum and 35% that they follow a common curriculum in an inclusive mainstream school. For 12% of respondents, students with SEN follow an individually adapted curriculum in special schools.

2. Thinking of your school or a school you know, which of the following strategies are implemented for SEN students? (Choose all that apply.)

Poll on SEN Graph 2

Responses to this question show that schools apply a variety of strategies and approaches to support the teaching and learning of SEN students. The range of replies implies that some of these approaches are used in combination and complement one another. The methods and approaches that are in place probably depend on the nature of the special education needs as well as on national or regional policies and the school context.

It is evident that co-ordination with parents plays a key role in the support of SEN students (68%). Assessment procedures is an important parameter when adopting approaches and designing support strategies for SEN students. 65% replied that diversified assessment takes place in their school and 71% mentioned that the assessment procedures are modified for SEN students. Tutoring by a SEN teacher or an assistant in the class seems to be used in many cases (62%), while tutoring by a SEN teacher/assistant outside of school hours seems to be a less used approach (26%).

For 40% of respondents, encouraging innovative pedagogies, reorganisation or adaptation of learning spaces and extra aids were mentioned as strategies for students with SEN. Lastly, between 20 and 30% of respondents indicated that a structured ongoing review system, visits by specialists from local services, and a dedicated private space for students with SEN to undertake learning activities or relax are also strategies used for SEN in their school or a school they know.

3. What are the barriers to inclusive education in your school or a school you know of? Choose the main three barriers.

Poll on SEN Graph 3

The vast majority of respondents indicated that resource-related issues are the main barriers to inclusive education: insufficient training of teachers and staff (79%), lack of supportive personnel (76%) and lack of supportive equipment and access to such equipment (68%). Less of an obstacle are social barriers such as bullying by peers (35%) and resistance from the community to integrating students with SEN into mainstream education (24%). Lastly, only 8% of respondents indicated that there are no inclusive policies in their school or a school they know of.

4. In your opinion, to what extent will SEN students be integrated and included in your school (or a school you know of) in the next five years?

Poll on SEN Graph 4

Opinions are positive regarding the integration of SEN students in the next five years, as 96% of respondents indicate that students with SEN will be integrated in schools to varying degrees. 52% of respondents reported that students with SEN will be integrated either fully (12%) or to a large extent (40%) in their school or a school they know of. 44% indicated that SEN students will be integrated to some extent, while only 4% reported that SEN students will not be integrated in their school or a school they know.

5. To what extent do you consider yourself to be adequately prepared to include SEN students in your classroom?

Poll on SEN Graph 5

Over 40% of respondents consider themselves fully or to a large extent prepared to include students with SEN in their classrooms, while just over half indicate that they are prepared to some extent. Only 7% report they are not at all prepared to include SEN in their classrooms.


The results of the poll – which was completed mostly by non-specialist teachers (Q6) – show that whether they follow individually adapted curricula or the mainstream curricula, the vast majority of students with SEN (88%) are integrated into mainstream education (Q1), and only 8% of respondents indicated that there are no inclusive policies in their school or a school they know of.

The integration of students with SEN in mainstream education requires adaptations and adjustments. Among the various implementation strategies (Q2), the most frequently mentioned are those relating to assessment: modification of assessment procedures (71%) and diversification of assessment (65%), together with the support of and collaboration with parents (68%).

Despite the multiple strategies that can help students with SEN take part in mainstream education, a number of barriers hinder teachers and educational staff, from staff issues (lack of adequate training and of designated personnel) to social issues such as resistance from the local community and peers (Q3). As for respondents’ estimation of their own readiness to include students with SEN in their classes, only 40% reported they are adequately prepared for the task (Q5), and 7% said they were not prepared at all.

Nevertheless, despite the barriers, it seems that there is a positive shift in the integration and inclusion of students with SEN, as 96% of respondents indicated that students with SEN will be integrated in their school in the coming five years to a varying extent, and only 4% said they would not be integrated at all (Q4).

Annex: Role of respondents

Poll on SEN Graph 6