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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Special education needs provision within mainstream education


12.Educational support and guidance

12.1Special education needs provision within mainstream education

Last update: 4 March 2024

Definition of the target group

According to Organic Law 2/2006 on Education (LOE) as amended by Organic Law 3/2020 (LOMLOE), students with specific educational support needs are the ones who present:

  • special educational needs (pupils with disabilities or severe behavioural, communication and language disorders); 
  • developmental delay; 
  • language and communication development disorders; 
  • attention or learning disorders; 
  • a severe lack of knowledge of the working language;
  • a situation of socio-educational vulnerability; 
  • high intellectual capacities; 
  • a late entry into the education system; 
  • personal or academic background issues.

Specific measures for the attention to diversity

Attention to diversity is established in the LOE as amended by the LOMLOE as a fundamental principle that should govern all basic education, with the aim of providing all students with an education appropriate to their characteristics and needs. 

The appropriate educational response to all pupils is conceived on the basis of the principle of inclusion, on the understanding that this is the only way to guarantee the development of each and every student, to favour equity and to contribute to greater social cohesion. Attention to diversity is a need that applies to all educational stages and to all pupils. In other words, the aim is to consider the diversity of pupils as a principle and not as a measure corresponding to the needs of a few. 

In turn, the educational authorities regulate the appropriate measures for attention to students who have specific educational support needs at various levels. These measures are divided into ordinary and extraordinary care measures. 

In line with the guidelines established by the Ministry of Education, Vocational Training and Sports (MEFD), education authorities prepare Plans on Attention to Diversity. Their purpose is to implement education measures and actions allowing the maximum adaptation of the teaching-learning processes to the characteristics of all the students. These plans include both ordinary and extraordinary measures.

Ordinary measures for the attention to diversity

Measures of an ordinary nature are considered to be those that affect the general  organisation of the institution in order to attend to diversity without modifying the prescriptive elements of the curriculum. Therefore, they do not significantly modify the objectives, contents, assessment criteria, assessable learning standards or key skills. 

These measures do not require a previous psycho-pedagogical assessment, so they can affect the whole student body and modify non-prescriptive elements of the curriculum. They are included in the Royal Decrees that establish the basic curricula for the early childhood, primary education and secondary education stages. 

Ordinary measures or those with common resources include the removal of obstacles to movement or physical access, the provision of lighting and sound conditions, signage and the organisation of spaces so that they can be understood and made safe, the selection and adaptation of commonly used curricular materials in accessible format, and all those actions that do not involve alternative or augmentative communication systems, unique materials, specialised staff or extraordinary organisational measures.

Main ordinary measures for treating diversity in compulsory education:
The educational authorities are responsible for specifying these measures and they may include:

  • adaptations for access to the curriculum:
    • it allows personal and material changes or resources forecasts, so that those students with some access difficulties will be able to study the ordinary curriculum;
  • heterogeneous organisation of the groups of students;
  • universal design of learning favouring accessibility and allowing active and full students' participation in learning (access to spaces, curriculum and resources, host activities, promotion of actions aimed at students' socialisation and diversity appreciation;
  • organisation of support and supporting activities;
  • absenteeism and early school drop-out prevention;
  • tutor and guidance action;
  • use of spaces;
  • coordination and teamwork between the different professionals and collaborators at school and in the classrooms;
  • participation of external stakeholders in social and educational actions;
  • guidance, training and family mediation actions which favour the involvement of the families into the school environment allowing them to take part in their children's education process and, if necessary, their integration in the social context.

These measures also include the prevention and detection of learning difficulties, among which the following stand out:

  • implementation of reinforcement and support mechanisms;
  • individualised attention;
  • adaptation to the different learning speeds;
  • support in the classroom, group splitting and flexible grouping;
  • selection and implementation of different resources and methodological strategies;
  • non-meaningful curricular adaptations;
  • curricular material adaptation;
  • optional studies expected for compulsory secondary education (ESO).

Extraordinary measures for the attention to diversity

Extraordinary measures or those involving specific or singular resources are aimed at responding to specific educational support needs and they complement ordinary measures. The implementation of these measures requires a previous diagnose of the students educational needs, through the psycho-pedagogic evaluation carried out by the guidance specialised services. In addition, continuous monitoring is necessary for adapting the decisions taken and allowing the access of these students to the curriculum and the ordinary education to the greatest extent possible. These extraordinary measures are only applied in compulsory education (students from 6-16 years old) and are determined by the education authorities.

Main extraordinary measures for treating diversity in compulsory education:

Extraordinary measures or those with specific or singular resources consist on the provision of augmentative or alternative communication systems, singular materials, support products, the intervention of a specialised professional or the establishment of differentiated organisational measures that affect space and time. The most common measures established by education authorities are: 

  • Meaningful curricular adaptations: 
    • In order to adapt the ordinary curriculum to the students' needs, the essential aspects are modified: objectives, contents and evaluation criteria. 
    • Support teachers in the educational institutions, school teachers with the specialities of Therapeutic Pedagogy or Hearing and Speech, strengthen the work of the teachers in charge.
  • Basic vocational training (BVT): 
    • vocational training cycles which can be accessed between 15 and 17 years of age having completed the first cycle of compulsory secondary education or, exceptionally, the 2nd year of compulsory secondary education. 
  • Curricular diversification programmes: 
    • The curriculum is modified and adapted from the third year of compulsory secondary education, for students who require so, after the appropriate assessment. In this case, the objectives of the stage and the corresponding skills are achieved with a specific methodology through an organisation of the curriculum into areas of knowledge, practical activities and, where appropriate, subjects, different to those generally established. 
    • They are oriented towards the attainment of the Compulsory Secondary Education Graduate certificate, by those who present relevant learning difficulties after having received, where appropriate, support measures in the first or second year, or those for whom this measure of attention to diversity favours the attainment of the certificate. 
    • At the end of the second year, those who are not in a position to progress to the third year may join a curricular diversification programme, once the pupil and his or her parents or legal guardians have been heard, following the appropriate assessment. 
  • Changes in the schooling pattern: 
    • There are three types of schooling modality: 
      • ordinary; 
      • in specific institutions for special education; 
      • combined, in ordinary and specific institutions. 
  • Provision of human resources for education: 
    • This support is possible inside and outside the classroom, individually or in small groups, depending on the students' needs and on the curricular adaptation made. Support is provided by: 
      • hearing and speech specialists; 
      • specialists in therapeutic pedagogy; 
      • educational technical assistants; 
      • guidance counsellors, etc.
  • Changes in the access elements of the curriculum: 
    • alternative communication systems; 
    • IT teams; 
    • removal of architectural barriers; 
    • adaptation of furniture or equipment, etc.
  • Curricular enrichment programmes for students with high intellectual capacities: 
    • extension or enrichment of objectives and content; 
    • Flexibility of the assessment criteria. 
  • Special education classrooms within mainstream education: 
    • they are group programmes aimed at students with serious physical, psychological or sensory disabilities, or serious personality or conduct disorders. The very significant adaptations required are implemented in a specific classroom within the ordinary school, and are compatible with their participation in some ordinary school activities, which favour their social adaptation and integration. 
  • Reduction in the number of students per classroom: 
    • when there are students with special education needs in a classroom, the number of students in the said classroom is reduced. 
  • Relaxation of the required stay at the educational level and stage: 
    • the schooling of students with special educational needs can be extended for another year. When repetition takes place, the curricular conditions will be adapted to the students’ needs and will aim at overcoming the difficulties identified. This measure will be accompanied by a specific personalised plan aimed at overcoming the difficulties identified the previous year. 
  • Relaxation of the moment established to enrol children in the second cycle of early childhood education for those with special educational needs or those who are behind in their development.
  • Extension of the allowed duration of the second cycle of early childhood education, to more than one year, for students with special educational needs.

Measures for the attention to students with special academic needs:

Article 73 of the LOE as amended by the LOMLOE, defines pupils with special educational needs as those who require, for a period of their schooling or throughout their entire schooling, specific support and specific educational attention derived from disability or serious behavioural disorders. 

When deemed necessary, measures may be introduced to make the different educational stages more flexible. The schooling of these pupils in special education units or centres, which may be extended up to the age of twenty-one, will only take place when their needs cannot be met within the framework of measures for attention to diversity in mainstream institutions. 

The educational administrations shall provide these pupils with the necessary support from the moment of their enrolment or when their needs are identified. Some of these measures are: 

  • meaningful curricular adaptations; 
  • non-meaningful curricular adaptations; 
  • adaptations for access to the curriculum; 
  • relaxation of the start of schooling in the second cycle of early childhood education; 
  • extension of the stay of one more year in the second cycle of early childhood education; 
  • extension of schooling in compulsory education; - reduction of ratios; 
  • schooling in specialised mainstream schools;  
  • special units in mainstream schools; 
  • schooling in special education institutions; 
  • therapeutic educational units; 
  • specialised support staff; 
  • other similar measures.

Measures for the attention to students with developmental delay:

With the new law on education (LOMLOE), pupils with developmental delay are no longer included in the group of pupils with special educational needs, but are now included in the group of pupils with specific educational support needs.

Some of the measures that educational administrations propose for this group of pupils are: 

  • relaxation of the start of schooling in the second cycle of early childhood education; 
  • specialised support staff; 
  • non-meaningful curricular adaptations; 
  • adaptations for access to the curriculum; 
  • other similar measures.

Attention measures for pupils with language and communication development disorders:

Some of the measures proposed by the educational administrations for the care of pupils with language and communication disorders include: 

  • individualised programmes for the acquisition and functional use of communication, language and speech; 
  • support from specialised teaching staff in therapeutic pedagogy and hearing and language support; 
  • oral language stimulation programmes; 
  • non-meaningful curricular adaptations; 
  • adaptations for access to the curriculum; 
  • other similar measures.

Attention measures for pupils with attention or learning disorders:

The most common measures proposed by the educational authorities for students with attention or learning disorders are: 

  • non-meaningful curricular adaptations; 
  • meaningful curricular adaptations; 
  • adaptations for access to the curriculum; 
  • specialised support staff; 
  • other similar measures.

Attention measures for pupils with a severe lack of knowledge of the working language:

Among others, education authorities propose the following measures for pupils with a severe lack of knowledge of the language of instruction: 

  • actions and intensive teaching programmes in the official language of the corresponding autonomous community for newly-arrived pupils; 
  • relaxation of the required stay at the educational level and stage; 
  • support services for inter cultural mediation, and translating and interpreting services; 
  • information documents available in several languages; 
  • hosting programmes and plans; 
  • other similar measures.

Attention measures for pupils in a situation of socio-educational vulnerability:

Article 81 of the LOE as amended by the LOMLOE, establishes that education authorities must adopt the necessary measures to act preventively with students in situations of socio-educational vulnerability in order to promote their success at school. The most common measures established by education authorities include: 

  • study aids and grants; 
  • welcoming of families and encouraging their participation in the school; 
  • transversal actions in the field of intercultural education; 
  • programmes to develop basic habits of hygiene, nutrition and healthy lifestyle; 
  • reinforcement workshops; 
  • guidance for pupils in order to avoid school drop-out; 
  • collaboration with host families or institutions; 
  • coordination with social services and other services involved; 
  • coordination with child and youth intervention teams; 
  • specific health care; 
  • home teaching assistance; 
  • educational assistance in hospital units; 
  • other similar measures. 

Measures for the attention to students with high intellectual capacities:

Articles 76 and 77 of the LOE as amended by the LOMLOE, establish that schooling of gifted students can become more flexible by teaching contents and including skills of upper courses, as well as by increasing the contents and skills of the corresponding academic year, among other measures.

The learning speed and style of both gifted students and students that are particularly motivated to learn will be taken into consideration.

The most common measures established by educational authorities for the attention of students with high intellectual capacities are:

  • action plans and curricular enrichment programmes; 
  • flexibility in the duration of the stage; 
  • other similar measures.

Measures for the attention to students who enter the education system late:

The education authorities are responsible for supporting enrollment into the education system of the students that come from other countries or who are incorporated late in the education system for any other reason. Plans and programmes are designed and measures are developed which must ensure the schooling of these students. The adopted measures include: 

  • specific attention to students with major deficiencies in the official language; 
  • schooling in a lower grade; 
  • flexibility in schooling; 
  • specific reinforcement plans; 
  • other similar measures.

Measures for the attention to students with personal or academic background issues:

This category usually includes students who require educational support other than the ordinary due to their disadvantaged social, economic, or cultural situation, and therefore the most common measures adapted by the educational authorities are: 

  • study aids and grants; 
  • reinforcement workshops; 
  • support from specialist teaching support staff; 
  • other similar measures.