Educational Support and Guidance
The Act on the Affairs of Disabled People, passed in 1992, stipulates that all individuals with disabilities (defined as mental retardation, psychiatric illness, physical disability, blindness and/or deafness as well as disabilities resulting from chronic illness and accidents) are to be enabled to live and function in the community.
Integration of all students in mainstream education, as far as possible, is therefore the policy in Iceland and no separate legislation exists covering special education either at pre-primary, compulsory or the upper secondary education level. The general aims of the legislation on each school level apply to all pupils including those with disabilities and special needs.
Guidelines for services for special needs pupils in pre-primary and compulsory schools are given in an Ordinance on Special Education no. 585/2010 and an Ordinance on Municipalities ‘Specialist Services in Schools no. 584/2010.
At upper secondary level, pupils with disabilities and pupils with emotional or social difficulties are to be provided with instruction and special study support. Specialised assistance and appropriate facilities are to be provided as considered necessary.
Adult Educational Centres are also obliged to provide adult education to individuals with reduced educational and professional opportunities, considering their competences and unequal situation.
Special Education Needs Provision within Mainstream Education
Definition of the target group(s)
Health service, educational and social workers pay special attention to children’s mental and physical condition. If they discover that a child shows symptoms of a disability, they inform its guardians accordingly. If a preliminary assessment reveals the need for further diagnosis or means of therapy, the guardians are directed to the appropriate national agency. The four main National Agencies concerned are: The State Diagnostic and Counselling Centre, Icelandic organization of the visually impaired, the National Hearing and Speech Centre and the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Unit of the National Hospital. Each agency seeks adequate solutions of diagnosis and treatment in consultation with the parents.
This ensures that almost all children with severe disabilities are identified at pre-primary school age (0-5 years of age) by medical person, health visitors or pre-primary school teachers and advice and guidance is given to the guardians, the concerned schools and school service of the municipality concerned. Children with disabilities are entitled to attend a pre-primary school operated by municipalities.
Under the Pre-primary School Act, children who, because of their disabilities or because of emotional or social difficulties, need special assistance or training, are to be provided with such support, in their own pre-primary school in cooperation with the municipality. This is supervised by the head teacher of the pre-primary school in cooperation with the teacher, a developmental therapist or other specialist services such as a speech therapists or psychologist according to Ordinance on Specialist Services in Schools nr. 584/2010.
All children from birth to adolescence are given regular check-ups to monitor their health and development.
The Compulsory School Act stipulates 10 years of schooling for all children between the ages of six and sixteen. The ideology is that the compulsory school is to be inclusive and educational needs of each pupil met according to their abilities.
All children have the right to suitable instruction and care. Pupils have the right to attend school in the area where they live. Schools are to undertake systematically the integration of children with special educational needs, (emotional or social problems and/or physical or mental disabilities) into mainstream education.
Pupils with dyslexia or pupils suffering from long term illnesses and pupils with health-related special needs, also have the right to special study support, according to evaluation of their special needs. Pupils that are deemed unable to attend school according to doctor’s evaluation because of an accident or a long-term illness, have the right to special instruction because of their condition, either in their home or at a medical facility. Special instruction because of medical condition is the responsibility of the relevant municipality.
If a child’s parents, head teacher, teachers or other specialists believe that the child is not receiving suitable instruction in the compulsory school, the parents can ask that their child be admitted to a special class within general compulsory school or to a specialised school. Most of the larger municipalities have one or more special classes within their catchment area, inside mainstream schools, which provide appropriate services for various disabilities according to needs.
There are currently three segregated special school that provide services for the whole country at the compulsory level, one that serves pupils with severe disabilities and two for children with psychiatric and social difficulties.
Pupils with exceptional learning ability do have the right to a challenging learning experience but admittedly more organised effort is being put on meeting the needs of children with disabilities rather than children with exceptional abilities. However, this does not mean that little is done for exceptionally gifted children, only that the programs there are more on a municipal level or at particular schools rather than nationally organised.
At upper secondary school level, pupils with special needs, disabilities or emotional or social difficulties are to be provided with instruction and special study support. Specialised assistance and appropriate facilities are provided as considered necessary. A few secondary schools in the country have special programs or units for pupils with disabilities where they are taught according to individual curriculum. The units may differ from one time to another because they are by definition run on a temporary basis. Everyone is entitled to education for the first two years of the secondary school level (age 16-18) but pupils with disabilities are entitled to education for four years at the secondary level.
Specialist advice and suitable conditions are to be ensured. In their studies disabled pupils follow the ordinary curriculum and take courses with other pupils as far as possible.
There are no special schools at the upper secondary school level.