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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Special education needs provision within mainstream education


12.Educational support and guidance

12.1Special education needs provision within mainstream education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Definition of the target group(s)

Finnish educational legislation does not categorise learners according to disabilities or difficulties.  

The focus is on earliest possible support to prevent the emergence and growth of problems. The support must be flexible so that it changes according to the needs. It must also be based on long-term planning.

Support for learners is given at three levels:

  • general support
  • intensified support
  • special support.

When planning the level of support for a learner, their support needs are assessed. The needs may vary from temporary to continuous and from minor to major. One or several forms of support may be needed.

General support is the first response to problems

Every pupil has the right to sufficient support for learning and attending school as soon as problems emerge. General support is the first response to the pupil’s support need. Generally this means guidance and support as part of the everyday activities of the school. No specific assessment or decisions are required.

Intensified support prevents further problems

If general support is not enough, the pupil’s teacher or teachers together draw up a written pedagogical evaluation, with the help of other experts if necessary. After this a learning plan is drawn up in collaboration with the pupil and their parent or guardian. Intensified support is more robust, regular and individualised than general support. Several forms of support may be needed. Intensified support aims at preventing problems from accumulating and becoming more complex

Special support is provided for pupils who cannot achieve their learning objectives through other support measures

Special support is provided for pupils who cannot adequately achieve their growth, development or learning objectives through other support measures. The education provider collects information from teachers and the school’s student welfare body. Based on this information, the education provider makes an official decision concerning special support. The decision must be revised at least after the second grade and before the pupil is transferred to seventh grade.

Following the decision, an individualised educational plan (IEP) is drawn up for the pupil. To complement special needs education, the whole range of support measures available can be used. the support of the child’s parents or guardians as well as multi-professional cooperation are important. The main purpose of special support is to provide pupils with broadly based and systematic help so that they can complete primary and lower secondary education and are eligible to continue to upper secondary level. 

Specific support measures

The ideology in Finland is to integrate pupils into mainstream education whenever this is possible. According to the national core curriculum each pupil is provided with support at their own school through various flexible arrangements, unless its provision inevitably requires the pupil to be transferred to another teaching group or school. The place of provision is decided as part of the special support decision based on the assessment of the needs of the individual pupil.

The most common support measures are:

  • remedial instruction (all levels of support)
  • part-time special needs education (all levels of support)
  • individual learning plan (intensified and special support)
  • invidualised syllabus (special support)
  • lengthening or delaying basic education (special support).

Support is generally planned and implemented as part of multidisciplinary student welfare work. Learners and their parents must be provided with information about support measures and be given an opportunity to express their views on the provision of support.

The school management is responsible for decisions relating to the provision and implementation of support and for taking these into account in all year groups and subjects. 

Remedial instruction prevents pupils from falling behind

A pupil who has temporarily fallen behind in studies or otherwise needs short-term support in learning is entitled to remedial instruction. Remedial instruction must be given as soon as learning difficulties are observed to prevent the pupil from permanently falling behind. Remedial instruction may be provided at all levels of support.

Remedial instruction may be provided as team teaching in the pupil’s regular teaching group, in a small group, or completely individually. It is also possible to make use of various flexible group arrangements to implement remedial teaching during lessons. 

Part-time special needs education supports learning and school attendance

A pupil who has difficulties in learning or school attendance is entitled to special needs education alongside other instruction. Part-time special needs education is provided for pupils with problems relating to linguistic or mathematical skills, learning difficulties in individual subjects, study or social skills or in their school attendance.

Part-time special needs education is provided through flexible arrangements as team teaching, in a small group or individually. It is planned and pupils’ learning is assessed in cooperation between teachers. Part-time special needs education may be provided at all levels of support. 

Basic education can be lengthened or delayed

If a pupil cannot cope with the general and intensified support measures, their basic education can be lengthened. Pupils can also start their basic education one year later.

The syllabus of basic education is nine years. If necessary due to disability or illness, it starts one year earlier than for other pupils. Also pre-primary education can take one or two years. If the parent or guardian so wishes, the extended education can start at the age of five on a voluntary basis. In such cases, pre-primary education lasts two years and the second year, that is, the year when the child becomes six years of age, is part of basic education.

A child may also begin basic education one year later than stipulated, if it is deemed appropriate for the child on the basis of psychological or medical examination. This means that a child will start school during the year when they turn eight.

Table 12.1. Basic education pupils having received intensified or special support, 2018

Pupils having received intensified support.

Share of pupils in basic education, %
Pupils having received special support.

Share of pupils in basic education, %
Pupils having received intensified or special support. Share of pupils in basic education, %
Pre-primary education
Grades 1 - 6
Grades 7 - 9
Additional education

 Source: Statistics Finland.