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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: 27 November 2023

Separate Special Education Needs Provision in Early Childhood and School Education

Definition of the Target Group(s)

There are three segregated special schools at the compulsory level that serve pupils with disabilities.  None of them offer boarding facilities. One is for multi-handicapped children and the others for children with behavioural or psychological difficulties. They provide service for the whole country if needed and provide advice and act as resource centres for mainstream schools. There are other special education departments in a few schools which also have the role of providing other schools with advice and acting as resource centres. These schools, like all other compulsory schools are run by the municipalities. 

There are facilities available for children who are hospitalised in two national paediatric wards. This is sometimes counted as segregated special education, but is more akin to short-term home support teaching for children suffering from a long-term illness.

Adolescents who are in detention are taught where they are placed, in prison, small group homes or individual placements with families. Adult prisoners have the opportunity of studying at upper secondary level through a special arrangement between the prisons and neighbouring upper secondary schools. This applies to a prison for men, the prison for mentally incompetent criminals, and a prison for women and a rehabilitation unit for addicts. 

Admission Requirements and Choice of School 

Most children with severe disabilities are identified at pre-primary school age (0 - 5 years of age) by medical personnel, health visitors or pre-primary school teachers. When children enter compulsory school, usually, at the age of 6, a report and evaluation are produced by the pre-primary school on handicapped pupils and those who require special support in school. 

Guidance counsellors are employed by upper secondary schools who deal with learning and personal problems presented by individual pupils. The secondary schools in the most populated areas have developed a certain amount of specialisation concerning special education and special units. Pupils are not guaranteed a place in the school of their choice but they all have the right of two years of upper secondary schooling (age 16-18).

Age Levels and Grouping of Pupils

Children at the compulsory level attending special schools or special classes are classified according to their primary disability; deafness, blindness, physical disability, mental and multiple disabilities and socio-emotional/psychiatric problems. Most children in special units located in mainstream schools are integrated for part of the time into regular classes and this makes the sizes, and composition of the groups variable over the day, ranging anywhere from 1 or 3 up to 20-27. Class sizes in mainstream schools are 20 on average and rarely exceed 27 pupils. 

Curriculum, Subjects

The National Curriculum Guide for Pre-primary schools states the educational and pedagogical goals to be achieved in pre-primary schools. The main curricular areas are learning through play about daily living; language and language development; visual art; music; movement; environment and society. The importance of inclusive education for all children irrespective of the children's disability, coupled with individual support. Children with special educational needs are to be occupied with tasks suited to their abilities. Care must be taken to ensure that a child is not isolated but adapts well to the group and enjoys normal social relationships.

The National Curriculum Guide for compulsory schools applies to disabled pupils and non-disabled pupils alike. Special education is not dealt with separately, but the National Curriculum Guide states the right of very pupil to receive suitable educational, according to her/his needs and abilities.  Individual education plans are made for each child with the focus on the individual’s strengths and interests. These are then signed and verified by guardians and teacher and usually revised at least once a year.

Under the regulation on special education, it is the responsibility of special education teachers to write individual education plans for pupils with disabilities and organise the teaching. These education plans are generally reviewed at least annually. This goes for compulsory special schools and special units within the compulsory schools and upper secondary schools. 

The National Curriculum Guide for compulsory school contains a provision concerning special instruction in Icelandic for pupils whose mother tongue is not Icelandic. The guide also contains a provision concerning special instruction in Icelandic for deaf and hearing-impaired pupils and for instruction in sign language for the deaf. Further guidance is given by the National Agencies concerned.

The National Curriculum Guide for special units in upper secondary schools was published in 2004. The special units operating in upper secondary schools define special curriculum to meet the needs of mentally disabled pupils. The programme offered by these units lasts four years. The curriculum guideline defines three different programs, but each school can define how its special unit is organised and the main emphasis is on individual curricula.  In the last two semesters the schools, in cooperation with the social sector, aim at finding a future job for most pupils, either on the job market or in sheltered workshops. 

Teaching Methods and Materials

Teaching takes place either in small groups or individually, with group sizes ranging from two to ten pupils according to individual needs. A great deal of personal guidance is provided in all schools and units to enhance pupil confidence and interpersonal skills and co-operation with parents is also intensive. 

Teaching methods vary a great deal depending on the type of disability and the schools concerned. Sign language is the major medium of communication and teaching of deaf children as indicated in the National Curriculum Guide for compulsory schools. The teaching of the blind and visually impaired relies mostly on Braille for the same purpose. The units for autistic pupils, base some of their work on the American "TEACCH" programme. Pupils at the unit for the physically disabled are involved in the Hungarian "Conductive Education". A school for adolescents with socio-emotional problems emphasises personal emotional support and the use of group discussion as well as direct teaching and the ART method. (Aggression Replacement Training). The schools for pupils with developmental disabilities use a variety of methods to suit the pupils' needs including direct teaching, project work, excursions, total communication, "Pictogram", "sign accompanied language", "Bliss", "Waldon" and many other internationally known methods and recently more data supported education. 

The Directorate of Education provides compulsory schools with educational materials, books educational software, video and audiotapes. All material is free of charge for pupils in compulsory schools. Schools can also obtain teaching material from other sources such as the open market or the Internet. Blind and visually impaired pupils and those with reading problems can at the upper secondary level obtain audio books from the Icelandic Library for the Blind.  

Progression of Pupils

Apart from age, no formal conditions are set at the compulsory level for the promotion of a pupil from one grade to the next. As a rule, classes are not repeated because the curriculum is tailored to the needs and abilities of the pupil. Formative assessment in special schools or units lays the foundation for the possibility to transfer individual pupils from one special facility to another segregated unit to a mainstream school or to total integration in a mainstream school. Decisions concerning such changes are reached after consultation with the schools, the parents, a special education administrator and a specialist such as a psychologist based on the assessment made by the child's teacher, a special educator and a psychologist. Guidance to parents and pupils in these matters is in the hands of any or in all these professionals, according to the parents' wishes. 


There are no specific rules concerning certificates for pupils with special educational needs. Those pupils who wish, and can take standardised Tests in Grades 4, 7 and 9 in Icelandic and Mathematics (in grade 9 in English as well) do so, but are not obliged to.  Pupils in special units at upper secondary schools are evaluated according to their individual curriculum. They are given statements by their school which certify how well they have fulfilled the requirements set forth in their individual educational plan. They have the right to attend a four-year course adapted to their personal and educational needs.