Skip to main content
European Commission logo


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: 2 April 2024

In order to take into account the individual circumstances of the pupils as well as the parental right to choose the place of learning at school, pupils with special educational needs can also be educated at special educational establishments (e.g. special schools, special needs centres, schools with a special educational focus, special educational and advisory centres).

The structure of the special school system may vary from Land to Land. Special education institutions must be able to provide the required technical equipment and special teaching aids. In addition, therapeutic, nursing and social support from other non-school institutions can also be included. Special education institutions vary according to the type of special education on which they focus and the educational courses they offer. They provide support to pupils in any developments which may lead to their transfer to a mainstream school and to training.

The aim of special education centres (sonderpädagogische Förderzentren), either as regional or supra-regional institutions, is to meet individual special needs or a range of different needs (e.g. physical and motor development, hearing and sight, and so on) and to guarantee special education in inclusive or specific forms. This form of education is based as near to the home as possible and provided by specialists. Within the scope of the responsibility of special education centres for preventive measures, support can be provided even before the determination of special educational needs has taken place, sometimes as early as Kindergarten.

Definition of the Target Group(s)

For the definition of the target groups of special educational support at special schools, the information in the section on special education needs provision within mainstream education apply.

Admission Requirements and Choice of School

Children and young people with disabilities or special educational needs are required to attend school, just as are their non-disabled peers.

When compulsory schooling begins, the legal guardians register their child at a school with primary level. The school with primary level usually organises the transition to school attendance together with the day care centre. When a child reaches school age, his/her parents or legal guardians register their child at a school with primary level. The school with primary level usually organises the transition to school attendance together with the day care centre.

In principle the parents or legal guardians decide whether their child attends a general school or a special school. If their preference is not acceded to, they can seek redress out of court or through the courts.

Age Levels and Grouping of Pupils

Special education institutions can be classified according to educational courses, grades and year groups. Various types of special education institutions (e.g. for those with sensory impairments) combine the educational courses of the Hauptschule, Realschule and in some Länder also the Gymnasium and lead to the qualifications normally awarded by these schools. As at mainstream schools, these educational courses are divided up into the primary and secondary levels and organised in grades according to age, although instruction may be spread over more years than at mainstream schools.

Special education institutions with a special educational focus on learning are organised in grades according to age or performance levels. Special education institutions with a special educational focus on mental development, as a rule, comprise three levels, each of which is made up of several grades, the last of which is known as Werkstufe, Berufsschulstufe or Abschlussstufe. These focal points can also be established at other special education institutions, e.g. at a special school for those with sensory impairments.

Curriculum, Subjects

Apart from special education institutions with a special educational focus on mental development and partly those with a special educational focus on learning, all special schools work on the basis of curricula or education plans which in terms of educational goals, lesson content and performance requirements match those of mainstream schools (Grundschule and the educational courses offered by the Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium) (so-called lernzielgleiche Unterrichtung). However, the didactics, methods and assessment of performance employed must take into account the specific conditions and effects on learning with regard to the special educational focuses. As a rule, special education institutions with special educational focuses on learning and mental development work according to their own guidelines which, like all other curricula or education plans, are issued by the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs of the relevant Land. In Thüringen, students with special educational needs in the area of learning have been taught according to the curricula of general schools since 1 August 2020. General information on the development of curricula can be found in the section on teaching and learning in the primary sector.

Teaching Methods and Materials

Special education institutions are often schools with all-day offers. They are sometimes also run as a boarding school. Comprehensive assistance for pupils with disabilities is part of the teaching concept and instruction and education complement each other.

Instruction is designed to particularly meet individual needs and some lessons are held in small groups or on an individual basis. As a rule, class sizes at special education institutions are lower than at general schools.

Depending on the type of disability, therapeutic measures such as physiotherapy, behavioural therapy, speech therapy, and so on, may be added to lessons at special education institutions.

Progression of Pupils

Continuous assessment of performance takes place in special education institutions in a similar form to that of mainstream schools. In the case of pupils with intellectual disabilities or severe intellectual disabilities, the assessments take the form of reports on their cognitive, social and emotional development.

Special education institutions examine regularly whether the needs of the pupil can still be catered for there and in which grade he or she should be placed or, alternatively, whether the pupil should move to another special school or to a mainstream school. The decision on which grade a pupil should be placed in is, as a rule, a matter for the school but it is the school supervisory authority that decides on a school transfer, following consultation with the parents or at their request and consideration of commissioned opinions or reports.


In so far as the type of disability or illness allows, special education institutions award the qualifications obtained from mainstream schools (Hauptschulabschluss, Mittlerer Schulabschluss and also Allgemeine Hochschulreife), provided that instruction was based on the curricula of the respective school type and the educational course was completed successfully. In some Länder, specific qualifications are offered for the special educational focuses Learning and Mental Development.

For pupils who were not taught using the curricula of mainstream schools, as a rule, the teachers' conference deems that an educational course has been successfully completed when the pupil has passed through all the stipulated school levels successfully.