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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Separate special education needs provision in early childhood and school education


12.Educational support and guidance

12.2Separate special education needs provision in early childhood and school education

Last update: 10 March 2023

Definition of the target group(s)

There are six state-owned special basic schools. These schools are primarily intended for pupils with hearing or visual impairments or with a physical or other impairment. 

The state-owned special schools are also national development and service centres, which provide expert services for municipalities and other schools. They offer temporary education and rehabilitation for pupils of compulsory school age from other schools, in order to support their studies.

In addition to these special schools, basic education is provided by six state-owned reform schools. The state-owned reform schools as children’s protection institutions bear responsibility for one of the most challenging group of children and youngsters. The pupils living in reform schools come from very problematic backgrounds and suffer from severe emotional disorders or social maladjustment. The activities of those schools comprise of education and care provided in multi-professional cooperation.

Pupils may need support in special circumstances, such as in connection with an illness or in difficult life circumstances. In such cases, instruction may be provided at hospitals and community homes for example. The local authority in whose area a hospital is located is responsible for arranging teaching for a pupil who is a patient to the extent that his or her health and other circumstances allow. Instruction for pupils placed in a community home is the responsibility of the school operating at the community home, provided that the community home is authorized to provide education. Responsibility for instruction for other children placed outside home rests with each pupil’s municipality of residence.


There are seven separate vocational special schools. They provide special facilities and services to promote the vocational education and training of students in need of special support. The education and training are intended for students with the most severe disabilities or chronic illnesses, but students with no such disabilities are also admitted to free student places.

Admission requirements and choice of school

The decision on the special support is made by the local authority. According to the Basic Education Act, it always requires consultation with the pupil and the parents or guardians. If the decision is made against the consent of the parents, they have the right to appeal against the decision. Each pupil is to be provided with an individual education plan (IEP), which is based on the curriculum and enables individualisation of the general syllabus if needed.

Age levels and grouping of pupils

Those pupils with the decision of special support start their education at the age of seven, similarly to children in general. They also proceed in their studies in the same way.

Extended compulsory education is possible due to disability or illness. Extended compulsory education starts when a child is five or six years old and lasts 10-11 years. Depending on the needs and abilities of the pupils, in need of special support may be placed in both mainstream and special needs education groups during pre-primary and basic education.

The realisation of the individual education plans is evaluated and monitored regularly in the transition points of education in particular, as pupils move from early childhood education to the school system, from one grade or school to another during basic education and from basic education to upper secondary level. In these cases, the responsibility for ensuring that activities comply with the plans belongs both to the sending and the receiving educational institution. In a transition point, the sending institution provides the receiving institution with the necessary information concerning the pupil’s previous studies, the support services used and the individual education plan.

Basic Education Decree stipulates that in education given to pupils with special support decision the teaching group may consist of a maximum of ten pupils, with some exceptions. The maximum size of a teaching group may be exceeded when justified in terms of the abilities of the pupils or the working method used in teaching and if the arrangement does not endanger the achievement of the objectives set for education. In education given to pupils within prolonged compulsory education, the teaching group may consist of a maximum of eight pupils. However, the maximum size for a teaching group consisting of pupils with profound developmental disabilities shall be six pupils. If a pupil is taught together with other pupils in mainstream class, the teaching group may consist of a maximum of 20 pupils.

Education after basic education is considered to be the right of the relevant age group as a whole, including pupils with special needs. Vocational institutions provide students with special needs qualification-oriented education and training. The duration of education and training may be extended by one year and, in special cases, even longer.

Pupils who are not admitted to or are not yet mature enough to continue in vocational education and training, may participate in additional basic education for one extra school year. If a pupil is very severely disabled and education and training leading to an upper secondary vocational qualification is not a purposeful objective, the pupil may participate in education and guidance preparing and rehabilitating for work and independent living.

Curriculum, subjects

Curriculum and subjects in basic education

The Government decides on the general national objectives of education and on the distribution of lesson hours for instruction in different subjects and subject groups and for pupil counselling. The Finnish National Agency for Education (EDUFI) decides on the national core curricula for each subject based on the educational objectives. The education providers must draw up the local curricula on the base of the national core curricula in cooperation with homes and partly with pupil welfare personnel.

The core curricula for basic education include two general syllabi: one of these is divided into subjects, while the other is based on functional domains. The most severely disabled pupils may, instead of following the subject-based curriculum, study in accordance with the functional domains, such as motor skills, language and communication, social skills, activities of daily living and cognitive skills.

In order to implement a decision on special support issued for a pupil, the pupil must be provided with an individual education plan (IEP). The plan must indicate provision of education and other support in accordance with the decision on special support issued for the pupil. An individual education plan is a written pedagogical document based on the approved curriculum. The purpose of an individual education plan is to provide persistent support for the pupil’s individual learning and growth process.

Teachers draw up the individual education plans for pupils receiving special support. Pupils’ parents or other guardians and other experts are given the opportunity to participate in the preparation. The plan is to be drawn up in multidisciplinary cooperation taken into consideration the pupil’s learning difficulties. Where necessary, the preparation work also involves other members of the school community and other experts from social and health care services, youth work and day care. In addition to the objectives and contents of education and rehabilitation, this cooperation is to include the selection of teaching methods, the planning of pupil welfare services, the provision of support services and monitoring and assessment measures, as well as guidance and counselling for further studies for pupils.

The plan is a target plan relating to the pupil’s learning and school attendance and covering educational contents, pedagogical methods and other necessary support measures. If a pupil studies one or more subjects in accordance with an individualized syllabus, the individual education plan must include, in addition to the above-mentioned general points: a list of the subjects that the pupil studies according to individualised syllabi and the objectives and core contents of these subjects, monitoring and assessment of progress, the pupil’s opportunities to demonstrate his or her knowledge and skills in different ways, assessment methods and times, and the pupil’s self-assessment in those subjects that he or she studies according to individualized syllabi.

The plan must be revised as required, however, at least once per school year, to correspond to the pupil’s needs. The individual education plan is revised whenever the pupil’s support needs or teaching objectives change.

It must always be ensured that the interpretation and assistant services, and other special aid required are available. Also other support forms, pupil welfare services, rehabilitation needed and guidance and counseling have to be arranged.

The number of weekly lessons for pupils receiving special support is generally the same as in the corresponding year class in mainstream education. Individualisation of a syllabus is the primary solution, being preferable to exempting the pupil from completing the syllabus. Exceptionally pressing reasons are required in order to exempt a pupil from studying a syllabus. Such exemption is subject to an administrative decision referred to in section 18 of the Basic Education Act. A pupil who has been exempted from studying a subject, except temporarily, must be provided either with other instruction or some guided activity. Pupils in extended compulsory education do not have to study the other national language and a foreign language. In such cases, pupils must be taught other subjects from the curriculum instead of languages. Within extended compulsory education, such as in instruction of pupils with visual, hearing, motor or intellectual impairments, subjects may be combined into subject modules or functional domains.

Curriculum and subjects in upper secondary education and training

The national qualification requirement governing vocational education and training determine the objectives and assessment criteria of upper secondary vocational qualifications and their respective study programmes. In addition, they also include provisions for arranging education, training and guidance in general and specifically in terms of special needs education and training. Assessment in special needs education and training follows the same principles as in mainstream education. Where a student does not achieve the objectives required for the satisfactory grade, instruction will be adjusted and assessment is performed according to the adjusted objectives. Assessment criteria are also drawn up for adjusted objectives and the grading scale is as applied generally. A note on the adjusted objectives will be included on the qualification certificate.

Special needs education and training pay special attention to the transition phase from basic education into vocational education and training. Cooperation related to this transition point is carried out by special needs teachers, pupil/student counsellors and pupil/student welfare staff at the basic school and the vocational institution.

Based on the core curriculum, each upper secondary school draws up an annual plan for the practical arrangement of education for every school year. The students then draw up their own individual study plans on the basis of the upper secondary school curriculum and the annual plan. Instruction had to be organised in a flexible manner by providing students with special support as required. The curriculum was to be drawn up to provide students with the opportunity to make individual choices and also to take advantage of instruction offered by other education providers.

Vocational special needs education and training includes the field-specific. National qualification requirement and the curricula drawn up by the education provider. The national qualification requirement confirmed by EDUFI set an obligation on the provision, objectives and student assessment in special needs education. Objectives and contents are, as far as possible, the same as for other students. The objectives may, however, be adjusted. An individual educational plan is drawn up for each student.

The scope, objectives and content of rehabilitative instruction and guidance for the disabled have been defined more precisely than in other special needs education. This education may be provided by all vocational special institutions and, with permission of the Ministry of Education and Culture, by certain other providers of vocational education and training.

Preparatory and rehabilitative instruction and guidance provide students with skills of everyday life, help to clarify their future plans and support their placements in education or working life. This kind of preparatory education takes from 6 months to one year or even two years in some special cases. Education preparing students for working life and independent living is practically oriented education at special institutions intended for students with several severe disabilities. Its duration varies between one and three years.

Teaching methods and materials

Teachers themselves can choose the teaching methods they use in order to achieve the objectives stated in the curriculum and pupils’ individual education plans. The national core curriculum includes the guidelines for choosing the methods. In addition to the traditional and still common method led by the teacher, there are more and more teaching methods that focus on pupils.

According to all National Core Curricula starting with pre-primary education, teaching methods must also promote development of pupils’ studying skills. Teaching methods should be supportive and appropriate for different age groups. The methods should give the pupils opportunities for creative activities and play as well as experiences of success and joy of learning. In special needs education, teaching and working methods are selected using the same general criteria as when teaching other pupils of the same age. However, the teacher must also pay attention to each pupil’s personality and possible learning difficulties and select the working methods so that they are suitable for the pupil’s way of learning. The working methods are to be selected in accordance with the process-like and goal-oriented nature of learning.

Learning materials are mostly produced by commercial publishers. EDUFI produces materials with a small circulation for special groups like for differentiation and for pupils with the decision of special support. The schools and teachers themselves decide on the material and textbooks used. The same applies to the use of ICT. There are a lot of ICT based materials for remediation of learning disabilities e.g. reading disabilities, disabilities in writing skills and learning disabilities in mathematics.

Teachers cooperate with children's parents or other guardians, pupil welfare personnel and experts from social, health care or youth services of the municipality.  Pupils’ individual educational plans consist of the objectives and contents of education, the interpretation and assistant services, pupil welfare services and special aids required for participation in education. The plan determines also the teaching methods and learning materials. In connection with special needs education, the pupils are given educational guidance and rehabilitation to support their development and placement in further studies, society and working life as equal members of society.

Progression of pupils

The teachers and often the schools’ multi-professional pupil welfare team decide on the progression of pupils. Basically the progression follows the same principles as for mainstream pupils (see chapter 5.). The role of pupil assessment is to guide and encourage pupils in need of special support in their studies and to describe how each pupil has achieved the objectives set for them. The curriculum is required to determine the general and subject-specific criteria for assessment. In addition to reports and certificates, pupils and their parents or guardians must also be provided with sufficient and diverse assessment feedback on progress, strengths and those areas of learning that should be supported and developed.

Assessment of pupils within extended compulsory education is based on the mainstream curriculum for basic education or on individual syllabi, as determined in each pupil’s decision of special support. Assessment of a pupil whose instruction is based on functional domains is based on individual objectives set in the pupil’s individual education plan. Pupil assessment focuses on progress in each functional domain. The functional domains to be assessed are motor coordination, language and communication, social skills, activities of daily living and cognitive skills. Assessment must be based on the pupil’s growth and learning process, its starting points and objectives. Assessment of learning must take any obstacles to learning caused by the pupil’s disability or illness into account.

Progression in special supprot follows the same general principles as other education. Any pupils, who have received a numerical or verbal assessment in all assessed subjects and have completed the grade to an acceptable standard, are promoted to the next grade.


At the end of each school year, pupils receive a report, which includes their study programme and an assessment on how they have achieved the objectives set for them in each subject and, where necessary, also in subject modules or functional domains in extended compulsory education In addition, the report consists an assessment of the pupils’ conduct. The assessment may be given in a numerical and/or verbal form.

In certificates given to pupils in need of special support may be used numerical assessment at grades 1-7. However, verbal assessment may be used at all grades and in final certification for those pupils following an individualised syllabus, but only in those subjects. Confidentiality presumes that certificates may not include information or verbal assessment concerning pupils’ personal qualities. However, if the certificates for some special reason contain any such information, they may only be given to the pupils themselves or their parents or other guardians.

When a pupil’s individual educational plan determines that the pupil will follow individual syllabi in one or several subjects, this will be indicated. The assessment of a pupil in need of special support determines how the pupil has achieved the objectives of the syllabi in different subjects or functional domains as they have been set in the individual education plan.

Final assessment must be nationally comparable and pupils must be treated equally. Final assessment in each common subject must be based on the pupil’s achievements at the final grades (8–9) of basic education. If a pupil studies one or more subjects in accordance with an individualized syllabus or functional domains, the final assessment may also be verbal in these subjects. This will be indicated in the basic education certificate. The final assessment of a pupil whose instruction is based on individualized syllabus or functional domains is based on individual objectives set in the pupil’s individual education plan. Within extended compulsory education, verbal assessment may also be used in final certificates. Compulsory education has been completed once the whole basic education syllabus - either general or individual - has been completed.