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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: 17 March 2023

Definition of the target group(s)

Article 73 of Organic Law 2/2006 on Education (LOE) as amended by Organic Law 3/2020 (LOMLOE) defines students with special educational needs as those who face barriers that limit their access, presence, participation or learning, derived from disability or serious behavioural, communication or language disorders, for a period of their schooling or throughout their entire schooling, and who require certain support and specific educational attention in order to achieve the learning objectives appropriate to their development. The education system shall have the necessary resources for the early identification of pupils with temporary or permanent special educational needs, and for them to be able to achieve the objectives generally established for all pupils. The educational administrations shall provide these pupils with the necessary support from the moment of their enrolment or when their needs are identified. 

The identification and assessment of the educational needs of these pupils will be carried out, as early as possible, by specialist professionals. The parents or legal guardians of the pupils will be informed as part of this process.

Admission requirements and choice of school

Article 74 of the LOE as amended by the LOMLOE establishes that the schooling of pupils with special educational needs in special education units or institutions will only be carried out when their needs cannot be met within the framework of the measures for attending to diversity in ordinary schools. In order to determine the type of schooling for these students, a psycho-pedagogical assessment must be carried out: 

  • the services responsible for carrying out the students psychopedagogical evaluation are also in charge of setting the most suitable educational modality, taking into account the parents and legal guardians' opinion; 
  • when parents or legal tutors do not agree with the proposal for school attendance from guidance services, the decision remains with the inspectorate services after listening to the family or legal guardians' opinion. 

The schooling of these students with special educational needs in specific separate special education needs schools is established with a transitory nature and it must be periodically checked, with the goal of favouring their access to a system with a greater degree of inclusion. Separate special education needs schools are nowadays conceived as an educational alternative when students with special educational needs would not benefit from ordinary schools. Their attendance to these schools must comply with the following criteria: 

  • special education needs related to a type of disability which cannot be attended in an ordinary school; 
  • highly meaningful needs for adapting; 
  • impossibility of integrating into an ordinary school; 
  • school attendance report from the specialised guidance service, recommending their schooling. 

At the end of each year, the degree of attainment of the objectives established for each pupil will be assessed. This assessment will allow for the modification of the planned educational attention, as well as the schooling regime. 

It is the responsibility of the educational authorities to promote the enrolment in early childhood education of pupils with special educational needs and to develop programmes for their appropriate enrolment in primary and compulsory secondary schools. 

The fourth additional provision of the LOMLOE, establishes that the Government, in collaboration with the education authorities, will develop a plan so that, within ten years, in accordance with Article 24.2.e) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and in compliance with the fourth Sustainable Development Goal of the 2030 Agenda, ordinary schools have the necessary resources to be able to provide the best possible care for students with disabilities. The education administrations will continue to provide the necessary support to special education institutions so that, in addition to providing schooling for pupils who require highly specialised attention, they can also act as a reference and support centre for mainstream schools.

Age levels and grouping of pupils

Students with special educational needs who are enrolled in mainstream schools.

Artcicle 74 of the LOE as amended by the LOMLOE, establishes that, in order to adequately assist pupils with special educational needs attending mainstream schools, the numerical ratio between teachers and pupils may be lower than the general ratio. 

In the specific special education institutions, three educational levels are developed, according to the Resolution of 25 April 1996 and the Order of 22 March 1999

  1. early childhood education (as it is not a compulsory stage, it is not provided in all special education centres). the reference document for this stage is the current Early Childhood Education curriculum of each educational administration; 
  2. compulsory basic education (from 6 to 16 years old). The primary school curriculum of each educational administration is the reference for this stage and adaptations will be made based on each of its areas. When a student needs it it is possible to include contents from early childhood education or ESO according to their level. 
  3. Transition into Adulthood Programmes (from 16 to 19 years old; students can continue being schooled until reaching the age of 21 as a maximum). The curriculum is open and flexible and it is structured in three different fields:
    1. personal autonomy in daily life;
    2. social and community integration;
    3. work abilities and skills. 

The organisation of groups is flexible, taking account of students' education needs, not students' age. The ratio teacher/student varies in the different Autonomous Communities, although it is about five.

Curriculum, subjects

Generally, students attending separate special education schools require some meaningful curricular adaptations in almost every area or subject of the curriculum:

  • curricular proposal in adapted compulsory basic education: 
    • it will take as a reference the objectives, basic skills and contents of the curriculum established for primary education in all areas, with the possibility of including skills associated to compulsory secondary education depending on the students' needs; 
  • training following adapted compulsory basic education: 
    • It is aimed at facilitating the development of pupils’ personal autonomy and their social integration into the community, with a career guidance and occupational training component; 
    • in these last years of schooling, more importance is given to skills related to professional performance and social inclusion. 

The educational provision in separate special education schools is organised according to the following structure, in compliance with the Resolution of 25 April 1996

  1. Pre-primary education
    •  this stage is for children from 3 to 6 years old; 
    • as it is not a compulsory stage, it is not provided in all special education centres;
    • the reference document for this stage is the current Early Childhood Education curriculum of each educational.
  2. Compulsory basic education
    • it lasts 10 years, and students are allowed the same extension as that established for mainstream education;
    • it is organised in cycles constituting planning units;
    • a curricular planning is prepared, which takes into consideration the education needs of the different groups of students attending schools, which includes: 
      • the general objectives for every stage; 
      • curricular areas; 
      • contents; 
      • inclusion of cross-curricular subjects; 
      • methodological criteria; 
      • assessment and promotion criteria; 
      • criteria for evaluating the teaching function; 
      • didactic resources and materials; 
      • individualised curricular adaptations.
  3. Transition into adulthood programmes:

In accordance with the Order of 22 March 1999, these are intended for: 

  • students aged 16 having studied compulsory basic education in a separate special education school; 
  • students who comply with the requirement of age and whose special education needs make desirable the continuity of their training process through these programmes. In this case, the choice of this modality must be preceded by the psychopedagogical evaluation made by the relevant Educational and Psychopedagogical Guidance Services. In addition, students and parents' opinion must be taken into account and the corresponding mandatory report from the Education Inspectorate is required. 
  • they are organised in one single two-year cycle and they can be extended if the education process of the student requires it or when the work chances in their closest environment make it desirable. The objectives to  be achieved are the following: 
    • consolidate and develop the students' abilities in their physical, emotional, cognitive, communicative, moral, civic and social inclusion aspects, promoting the highest possible degree of personal autonomy and social inclusion; 
    • enhance students' participation in every context where adulthood takes place: home life, the use of community services and leisure and free time enjoyment, among others; 
    • promote the development of safety attitudes at work, positive attitude towards tasks and work basic rules, as well as the acquisition of work skills with an all-purpose nature; 
    • promote basic instrumental knowledge, acquired in basic education, consolidating communicative and numerical abilities, reasoning skills and problem solving in daily life, as well as the development of students' creativity; 
    • boost habits related to body health, personal safety and emotional balance, in order to develop their life with the greatest possible degree of well-being. 

Teaching mainly aims at the students' acquisition of communicative and motor skills. The curriculum is open and flexible and it is structured in three experience fields: 

  • personal autonomy in daily life; 
  • social and community inclusion; 
  • work abilities and skills.

Teaching methods and materials

Separate special education schools use the educational methodology established with a general nature and adapt it to the circumstances of this kind of students. The methodology takes into account the following criteria defined in article 17 of  Royal Decree 334/1985

  • take the level of the student as a starting point, in accordance with their intellectual, communicative and linguistic, social and emotional, and motor characteristics; 
  • assuring meaningful learning which can be applied in their daily activities and which can serve as a basis for accessing later studies; 
  • allowing students to learn in a meaningful and autonomous way; 
  • promote the principle of physical and intellectual activity both through teachers and/or other partners during the process of learning. 

When the students' special needs require it, the corresponding technical assistance is used. The teaching methods and materials include Information and Communication Technologies, mainly regarding aspects related to the acquisition of communicative abilities.

Progression of pupils

The evaluation of students attending special education institutions is carried out in accordance with article 9 of the Order of 22 March 1999

  • adapts depending on their characteristics. This way, the evaluation criteria are modified in order to fit in with the adjustments carried out regarding the education objectives and contents; 
  • the tutor, a school teacher with the specialisation in Therapeutic Pedagogy carries out the assessment foreseen in the corresponding curricula or curricular adaptations, which are very meaningful for students, in collaboration with the rest of the professionals responsible for developing each curriculum. Some of these professionals are: 
    • the Listening and Speech specialist school teacher; 
    • the physical therapist; 
    • the school counsellor (education psychologist, psychologist or pedagogue). 

The progression of students attending special education institutions is defined in accordance with article 4 of the Resolution of 25 April 1999. Teaching teams establish autonomously the criteria for taking decisions on students' progression: 

  • decisions on students’ progression;
  • decisions on students’ retention, which have an individual nature, and they are accompanied by other general measures which support them; 
  • the school methodology and organisation are variables which must be considered when making the most suitable decision for the student; 
  • another important aspect is to establish in which cycle or grade retention is more advisable and determine which studies are considered basic in each of them, in order to continue the learning process. 

After a psychopedagogical assessment, there exists the possibility for students to attend a combined inclusion modality, attending the ordinary school and the separate special education school. Students can attend school until the age of 21 at the most.


Students with special education needs attending separate special education schools may request for a certificate from the school at the end of their studies, which will specify the number of the years studied. This certificate is accompanied by some guidance about the students' academic and professional future, which is confidential and non-prescriptive.