Definition of the target groups
Pupils with special educational needs (SEN)
The Compulsory Schooling Act stipulates that pupils have special educational needs (SEN) when, as a consequence of physical or mental disabilities, they cannot follow teaching in a regular class at compulsory school without additional support measures. Special educational needs must be in a causal connection with an identified physical or mental disability of the pupil. Insufficient school performance or insufficient command of German without the identifying feature of disabilities therefore does not establish special educational needs.
Before a pupil can claim SEN, an application has to be submitted to the board of education (cf. chapter 2.3.) for declaration of such needs. This can be done before school entry (if there is a serious disability), but as a rule it is done later if it becomes apparent during schooling that the pupils cannot follow lessons due to a disability. The application can come from the parents or legal guardians or ex officio. On account of the development of a child, it is necessary to check the introduced measures at regular intervals, in particular when transferring to other school types. Depending on the development of the child, it may be necessary to cancel or extend the special educational needs measures.
In the educational regions, specialist areas for inclusion, diversity and special education (Fachbereiche für Inklusion, Diversität und Sonderpädagogik or FIDS) have been established. These have the task of supporting the quality management of the schools with special technical expertise to promote “diversity management”.
Gifted and talented pupils
Similarly to children and young people with learning weaknesses, gifted pupils are also supported in Austria. They are offered learning contents that are adapted to their special abilities, interests and way of thinking. In addition to supporting gifted and talented pupils, there is also the promotion of excellence which helps pupils (and subsequently students) to enhance and perfect their already displayed outstanding achievements in a specific area.
Specific support measures
Pupils with SEN
Upon the parents’ or legal guardians’ request, instruction of children and young people can be held in
• integrative/inclusive classes at regular school (Integrationsklassen)
Integrative/inclusive classes are classes in which disabled and non-disabled pupils are taught together in regular classes and according to their level of development. This means that disabled and non-disabled children and young people are given the opportunity to learn together. Pupils are appropriately taught through the use of specific curricula and, where necessary, through the use of additional qualifications. Teaching in an integrative/inclusive class is done in the form of team-teaching by the corresponding compulsory school teachers and by a teacher with special pedagogical training.
• special needs school (Sonderschule) - appropriate for the respective type of disability the Austrian School Organisation Act distinguishes between different types of special needs school, which are geared towards the educational requirements of individual disability types. These are:
- General special needs school (for learning-impaired children or slow learners)
- Special needs school for physically disabled children
- Special needs school for speech impaired children
- Special needs school for hearing impaired children
- Special needs school for deaf children (Institute for Deaf Education)
- Special needs school for visually impaired children
- Special needs school for blind children (Institute for the Blind)
- School for children with behavioural problem
- School for children with special educational needs
Pupils are provided with appropriate special needs education by using specific curricula and also, if necessary, by using an additional qualified teacher.
Special schools comprise nine grades but, with approval of the school authorities, pupils can attend such schools for a maximum of twelve years. The last grade is the career preparation year. It prepares young people with special educational needs for professional life.
To promote the social and professional integration of people with SEN to an even greater extent, the development of an inclusive school system (i.e. going beyond compulsory school) was formulated as a goal in the “National Action Plan on Disability 2012 – 2020” (Nationaler Aktionsplan Behinderung 2012-2020).
The allocation of resources (teaching staff) – both for integrative/inclusive classes and for special needs schools – is regulated in the School Organisation Act. These are granted, among others, on the basis of the pupils’ need for support.
Gifted and talented pupils
Over a fairly long period of time, gifted pupils in Austria have been supported in measures which have been held separately from regular classes and could be accessed by a small proportion of students as an extracurricular additional offer. Meanwhile the school sector is increasingly developing towards supporting gifted pupils by individualisation and differentiation within the regular school system. The activity fields of support for the gifted and talented range from elementary education at kindergarten, onto school-based and non-school-based support for the gifted, to support of top performance in the university sector. Support is provided by the following establishments/possibilities:
- In order to support people, institutions and initiatives which promote the gifted and talented, the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research established the Austrian Research and Support Centre for the Gifted and Talented (Österreichisches Zentrum für Begabtenförderung und Begabungsforschung, ÖZBF) at the Salzburg University College of Teacher Education. It offers support in the areas of school and continuing and further education and training, as well as in the tertiary sector. The ECHA Austria association as the national organisation of the European Council for High Ability has, since it was founded in 1998, pursued the goal of organising nationwide activities and initiatives to promote giftedness and the gifted in Austria.
- Promotion of giftedness and excellence at school can take place at the individual level (early enrolment, skipping school grades, pupils at higher education establishments, etc.) and also at the class level (so-called “express train classes” (Schnellzugklassen), where the curriculum contents are taught during a shorter period etc.).