Special needs provision in compulsory education
Pupils who do not benefit sufficiently from mainstream provision are entitled to special needs support. It has been a political goal for some time to improve adapted tuition in order to enhance learning outcomes in mainstream education and to make fewer pupils dependent on special needs support.
The proportion of pupils receiving special needs support is stable at 8 per cent
7.7 per cent of pupils in primary and lower secondary received special needs support in autumn 2019, equivalent to 49,800 pupils. Having risen over a number of years, the figure fell slightly in 2012 and has since remained stable at just under 8 per cent.
A total 11 per cent of boys and 5 per cent of girls receive special needs support. This means that 68 per cent of pupils who receive special needs support are boys. This figure has remained fairly stable over time. The proportion of boys receiving special needs support is somewhat lower in compulsory education than in kindergarten.
In Sweden the proportion of children receiving additional support is 5.6 per cent, slightly lower than in Norway. Yet the curve largely follows the same pattern as in Norway, with a relatively small percentage of pupils receiving additional support in Year 1 of school and then an increase over time.
The proportion of children receiving special needs support varies between 0 and 22 per cent from municipality to municipality. The greatest variations can be seen in the smallest municipalities in particular.
The extent of special needs provision also varies according to school size. At schools with 500 or more pupils the proportion of pupils receiving special needs support is on average 7 per cent, while at schools with fewer than 100 pupils it is 12 per cent.
7 in 10 pupils who receive special needs support are boys.
Almost three times as many pupils receive special needs support in Year 10 as in Year 1
The percentage of pupils receiving special needs support increases as the pupils get older. 3.7 per cent of Year 1 pupils receive special needs support, while the figure for Year 10 is 10.6 per cent – almost three times higher. On reason for this is that the academic demands become more rigorous year by year (Wendelborg, 2010). Any special needs may also become easier to spot as the children get older. The trend is broken in the transition between lower and upper secondary.
More special needs pupils in private schools
Private schools have a higher percentage of special needs pupils than public schools. In private schools the figure is 10.4 per cent compared with 7.7 per cent in public schools. The figure is broadly the same in Years 1 and 2, but from Year 3 onwards the percentage of pupils receiving special needs support increases more in private schools than in public schools. This trend is opposite of that seen in kindergartens, where there are more children receiving special educational support in municipal kindergartens than in private kindergartens.
There is little research to explain the higher prevalence of special needs provision in private primary and lower secondary schools compared with public schools. One reason could be that parents of children with particular needs or children with a statement of special needs are more likely to apply to schools that offer alternative teaching methods.
Steiner, Montessori and Christian schools stand out amongst the schools with a high proportion of special needs pupils.
Almost half of statements are for more than 271 hours a year
The statement of special needs should stipulate how many hours of special needs support the pupil should receive every year. Some pupils are given a few hours in certain subjects, while others receive special needs support in all subjects. Half of the pupils are allocated 271 hours or more during the academic year.
The total number of hours for a Year 1 pupil is around 700 hours a year, while a pupil in Year 10 receives just under 900 hours a year.
Significant variations in the amount of special needs provision given
The extent of special needs provision varies from municipality to municipality. In the ten biggest municipalities the proportion of statemented pupils receiving more than 271 hours ranges from 30 to 69 per cent. These disparities are an indication that special needs provision is interpreted and applied in different ways by local authorities.
At small schools with fewer than 100 pupils 64 per cent of statemented pupils receive more than 271 hours.
More pupils are receiving special needs support in their ordinary class
There has been a steady increase in the proportion of pupils receiving special needs support within their ordinary class in recent years. 43 per cent of pupils who receive special needs support receive it in their ordinary class. In 2013 the figure was 28 per cent. 44 per cent receive it primarily in groups, while 13 receive it mostly alone. 43 per cent of statemented pupils receive special needs support in class.
The resources available determine how the special needs provision is organised. In larger schools it is more common to provide special needs support in groups, which can be an appropriate solution when there are several statemented pupils in the same school. Group tuition is less common in smaller schools.
43 per cent of statemented pupils receive special needs support in class.
More than 4,300 pupils attend dedicated special needs schools or schools with a permanent unit for special needs education. There are 58 dedicated special needs schools and 298 schools with permanent units for special needs education. Special needs units are more common in lower secondary schools than in primary schools. In Oslo 22 per cent of statemented pupils either attend dedicated special need schools or permanent special needs units. By comparison, 8 per cent of statemented pupils nationwide do so. Most of the biggest municipalities in Norway run multiple special needs schools and permanent special needs units.
A further 1,800 pupils with statements of special needs are on placements in alternative learning environments one or more days a week with activities including outdoor pursuits, farm work or car mechanics, for example.
The quality of the teaching impacts the need for special needs provision
There is reason to believe that the quality of the mainstream provision has a significant impact on the need for and value of special needs provision for many pupils.
The better the mainstream provision, the less of a need for extraordinary arrangements. When the mainstream provision is good it also has a positive effect on the special needs provision (Haug, 2017).
Teachers want to learn more about pupils with special educational needs
The principle of adapted tuition poses a challenge to learning environments, methodologies and pedagogy in schools. It requires schools to give active consideration to variations between the pupils. One key political goal is that special needs education should mainly be provided by teachers or SEN specialists. In the TALIS 2018 survey one in six teachers reported a “high level of need” for professional development in relation to teaching children with special educational needs. This is highlighted further in that one in five headteachers considers the shortage of teachers with these skills to be a factor that prevents the school from providing quality instruction “a lot”.
A report by the Ombudsman for Children, the Nordahl Commission and the subsequent consultation all showed that many people agree that provision for children and pupils with special needs is often inadequate. Not all children and pupils receive the help they need. Many get help too late and are met with low expectations (Ministry of Education and Research, 2019).
A study has found that in fewer than half of cases where pupils receive special needs support it was provided by a SEN specialist. The study also revealed how the proportion of SEN specialists fell at the lower secondary stage despite an increase in special needs provision year on year (Haug, 2017).
One in six teachers say they need to improve their skills in teaching children with special educational needs.