Identifying special educational needs: putting a new framework for graded learning support to the test
Faculty of Social Sciences. Instructional and Educational Sciences
Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
European journal of special needs education. - Chichester
, p. 375-387
University of Antwerp
This paper reports a field test of a new system of Graded Learning Support Classification Matrix to determine special educational needs (SEN) in a more systemic way, proposed by the Belgian Ministry of Education (Flanders Region), to put a barrier to the trend of referrals to special education schools. It is not directly determined by a child's medical diagnosis, but suggests SEN to be a product of the needed level of curricular adaptation and classroom support, and the child's broad category (cluster) of functional difficulties. A sample of 8648 pupils (aged 2.5-18) from regular and special education was assigned into the new matrix by collaborators of all 73 Centres for Pupils' Counselling (CPC), according to new criteria. Data were compared with current allocations. About 20% of children of primary school age have some kind of 'special' needs. 12.5 % of primary school aged children (8.9% of secondary school) have mild intellectual impairment and/or learning disability; and 3.3% (3.4%) have a diagnosed behavioural or autistic spectrum disorder. Using the new classification matrix, the number of children with SEN is much higher than before, but this reflects more the actual classroom reality and it allows a better estimation of true needs and resources, by the government as well as by the school. A matrix presentation of SEN as a 'product' of child characteristics and 'levels of curricular adaptations' seems to be a better answer to special needs than the present linear definition. We propose this broad matrix definition of SEN as an international standard in order to make figures across countries comparable. All staff will have to be trained to adopt a more needs-based, dynamic, contextual assessment system, based on a more social model of disability, taking into account contextual factors such as family and school environment, rather than the currently widely used psychometric way.