Definition of the Target Groups
In Malta, learners having the below disabilities/conditions are educated in Resource Centres or Learning Support Centres.
1. profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) including multi-sensory impairment;
2. complex communication needs and/or intellectual impairment;
3. profound social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD).
There are cases when students may be identified by a team of professionals as benefitting more from attending Resource Centres (Special Schools) or Learning Support Centres (in the case of learners experiencing SEBD) rather than mainstream schools. This team advises the parents/guardians, who still retain the right to decide which provision is best for their child, particularly when students with severe special needs require specialised services and facilities that are difficult to make available in mainstream schools.
In Malta, there are four Resource Centres providing educational and professional services to such students, while there is also a special unit within one primary school on the smaller island of Gozo.
The aim of these centres is to provide the educational support that these learners need to have access to the curriculum and to be able to reach their full potential. They offer students the opportunity to proceed from one school cycle to another in order to experience the different phases in a learner’s life including the transition from primary to middle, from middle to secondary and from secondary to young adult education and eventually to further education/employment pathways whichever is best suited for the student.
These resource centres work in close collaboration with mainstream schools and other institutions/agencies for the full benefit of the learners. Besides offering their specialised services to learners in mainstream schools in all colleges, they also network between themselves for the dissemination of good practice and use of resources.
Six Learning Support Centres are also available for students experiencing profound SEBD. These centres offer specialised programmes for a definite period only. Learners are eventually included within their mainstream school after successfully completing this programme.
Admission Requirements and Choice of School
The admission to any one of the centres is through a multi-disciplinary assessment carried out by a team of professionals followed by a Case Conference with all professionals and parents/guardians of the learner. However, the parents’/guardians’ consent is required for learners to attend these centres.
One Primary Education Resource Centre and one Secondary/Young Adult Education Resource Centre cater for learners with profound and multiple learning difficulties while another Secondary Education Resource Centre caters for learners with complex communication and/or intellectual needs. Finally, a Young Adult Education Resource Centre caters for learners with complex communication needs and/or intellectual impairment who have finished the last year of secondary education. These students follow a six-year programme until the age of twenty-two.
Age Levels and Grouping of Pupils
Students as young as the age of 2years 9 months can be admitted to the resource centre catering for primary school children and continue attending primary school until age 11 years. From this centre, learners with PMLD move on to the Secondary/Young Adult Education Resource Centre which caters for students between the ages of 11 and 22 years.
The Secondary Education Resource Centre caters for learners with severe intellectual disabilities from the age of 11 to 16. From here the students may progress to the Young Adult Education Resource Centre or other post-secondary education provision as the case may be. The Young Adult Education Resource Centre is open to students who are 16 years of age and older and who would have completed their compulsory education in an education Resource Centre and/or mainstream school and who have been identified as being able to move on to further educational institutions or vocational training.
Movements of learners from one centre to another are recommended, approved and monitored by a team of professionals in close collaboration with the parents/guardians.
Learners attending Resource Centres have full access to and follow the mainstream curriculum as appropriate. This is in line with the Government’s inclusive policy to provide equal opportunities for all. Learners with individual educational needs follow their Individualised Educational Programme (IEP) which is based on the national curriculum. The IEP is reviewed and amended annually during an IEP conference with the participation of all the professionals working with the learner and parents and at times the learners themselves.
Teaching Methods and Materials
The special education programmes in resource centres are customized to address each individual student’s unique needs. Educators devise an individual specialised educational programme to address the learner’s goals developed in the Individualized Education Programme (IEP). In order to facilitate this arrangement, the learner-to-teacher ratio in such centres is kept low. The pedagogy adopted in Resource Centres is tailor-made to address the individualised needs of the children attending the centre.
Learners attending the primary education resource centre participate in a cognitive programme that aims at helping young learners to explore new ways of thinking about their environment while enhancing awareness, perception and comprehension of concepts and situations. In these sessions the individual child is exposed to games and exercises aimed at enhancing recognition, sense-awareness, problem-solving, remembering and imagining. Such a teaching methodology aims to lengthen the learner’s attention span and to enhance listening, observation and basic communication skills. The programme makes ample use of toys, a variety of tactile materials, games, songs, rhymes as well as self-initiated game routines.
Resource centres have special facilities to assist the provision of special education programmes. Such facilities include specialised rooms, equipment and aids as well as specialised personnel.
The Primary Education Resource Centre houses a hydrotherapy pool while the teaching staff and LSEs at this resource centre are trained to promote the Halliwick Concept of swimming and rehabilitation in water. Teachers use the pool to promote student socialisation, literacy, numeracy and music.
The Secondary Education Resource Centre houses a fully functional skills unit comprising an equipped food laboratory, a science laboratory, an IT laboratory, a Design & Technology laboratory and a multisensory room. These special resource rooms are used for activities/lessons in Home Economics, science, Design & Technology, IT, Physical Education and Music. A therapy gym is also available in the resource centre in Gozo.