Swiss inclusive education policy bears fruit

Many children with special educational needs attend regular school © Keystone / Gaetan Bally

In Switzerland, more than half of children with special educational needs are taught in regular schools – part of a trend towards inclusive education. 

This content was published on October 29, 2019 - 13:52

Overall, 4.5% of pupils received support for special educational needs in regular schools in 2017/8. That’s 42,100 children out of 940,000 children in obligatory school (which ends at age 15), said a statement by the Federal Statistical Office on TuesdayExternal link. This is the first timeExternal link such detailed statistics have been published. 

There are differences among the sexes and nationalities. 

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This means that in total, 53% of pupils with special educational needs received learning support in standard classes, 6% attended a special class and 41% went to a special school in 2017/8. 

How it works 

Over the past decade, Switzerland has introduced an inclusive educational approach for children with disabilities and learning difficulties, meaning that they may attend regular schools. But there are regional differences: education is overseen by the 26 cantonsExternal link in Switzerland which each have their own special needs concept. This can lead to some cantons more readily accepting special needs children into mainstream schools than others, as can be seen in the example of Carmen below. 

n the classroom, teachers usually receive support from qualified special needs teachers and assistants who focus on integrating learners into the regular class programme. Sometimes pupils will follow an adapted school curriculum if they are not able to reach the regular curriculum goals. 

+ Read more about special needs education in Switzerland here 

Special schools – a minority 

In all, almost 97% of pupils attend regular school, with just 3.3% going to separate schooling, be it a pre-school class (extra year between Kindergarten and primary school), a school class for non-native speakers (for foreigners who need to learn the local language quickly, available in some cantons), another special class in regular school or a special school, according to Tuesday’s statistics. 

“Special schools now make up a minority in the Swiss school system (4.4% of educational institutions in obligatory education),” said the statement.  

Some critics of inclusive education maintain that the other pupils risk falling behind when children with disabilities are integrated into a regular class, but overall experts believe that the practice works well. They say the idea is to have as much integration as possible, but separation when needed. 

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