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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: 27 November 2023

Definition of Target Group(s)

Under the Federal Constitution and on the basis of federal law and the Intercantonal Agreement on Cooperation in Special Needs Education (Special Needs Education Agreement) all children and young people (0-20 years of age) with special educational needs living in Switzerland are entitled to special education measures. Under the Special Needs Education Agreement special educational needs exist

  • for children before starting school where it has been established that their development is limited or jeopardised or that without specific support they would in all likelihood not be able to follow classes in mainstream schools,
  • for children and young people where it has been established that without additional support they can no longer follow or only follow the mainstream school curriculum in part or not at all,
  • in other situations in which the competent school authority has established that children and young people have great difficulties with social skills and learning or performance problems. Their personal context is taken into account in the assessment to determine the special educational needs.

Under the Federal Act on Equal Rights for People with Disabilities the cantons promote, as far as possible and where this serves the wellbeing of the child or young person with disabilities, the integration of children and young people with disabilities in mainstream schools through corresponding forms of schooling (Article 20(2)).
The Special Needs Education Agreement specifies that integrative solutions should be preferred over segregation, taking into account the welfare and development opportunities of the child or young person and taking into consideration the school environment and the school organisation (Article 2(b)).

A child or young person with special educational needs may be integrated into a mainstream class on a part-time or a full-time basis (integrative schooling). This integration is supported by special education measures from the school programme. If the measures carried out before starting school or in the mainstream schools prove inadequate, then a decision must be made as to whether enhanced measures are required. The assessment of individual needs for enhanced measures is carried out through the standardised evaluation procedure to assess individual needs (SAV) by the disabilities assessment agencies entrusted by the competent authorities (e.g. school psychological services).

Standardised evaluation procedure (SAV)

The decision as to whether a child with special educational needs will attend a mainstream school (integrative schooling) or a special school is taken not on the basis of uniform national rules but using the standardised evaluation procedure (SAV). While in the past the focus was on Invalidity Insurance criteria, which were based on limit values, in the case of needs assessment the focus is now on the development and educational objectives of the children and young people. The SAV records information systematically and gives users (school psychological service, disabilities assessment agencies) a comprehensive, multidimensional needs assessment. The procedure is used if the locally available special education resources are not adequate and additional resources need to be made available for the education of a child/young person. It serves the cantons primarily as a decision-making basis for the arrangement of enhanced special needs measures.


Specific Support Measures

Remedial education in early childhood addresses children with disabilities or developmental delays, limitations or risks and can provide support from birth to up to two years after starting school through disabilities assessment, preventive and educational support, and appropriate support in a family context.

As part of the process of educational integration, children with and without disabilities are taught together in classes. The necessary educational, special education, therapeutic and nursing care is provided on site in order to meet specific needs. Special schooling is provided by special needs teachers (specialising in remedial education teaching), who work together with skilled personnel in mainstream schools and with other specialist staff (speech therapists, psychomotor therapists, audio education, social education, etc.).

The special educational needs of the child integrated into mainstream schooling determine how that integration is carried out. The following aspects should be mentioned in particular:

  • a pupil with an intellectual disability who is integrated into a mainstream class usually benefits from an adapted curriculum. This individual support plan consists of a written plan based on the individual strengths and weaknesses of the pupil and containing the objectives to be achieved, means, strategies and deadlines,
  • a pupil with a physical or sensory disability is usually able to follow the same curriculum as his or her fellow pupils. The learner benefits, however, from the adjustments needed to compensate for the disability-related disadvantages. The person concerned is entitled to compensation of disadvantages such as special aids, a support person, adaptation of the learning or examination media, etc.

Special classes are a type of schooling falling between mainstream and special schools. Special classes (e.g. small classes) take a reduced number of learners, whose development is limited or jeopardised or who in all likelihood would not be able to follow classes in mainstream schools due to their difficulties (e.g. behavioural or learning difficulties). Special classes are, however, only offered in some cantons.


Supporting gifted and talented pupils

Supporting gifted and talented pupils has in recent years become an important focus of school development. The cantons usually have legal bases for supporting gifted and talented pupils. Support for gifted and talented pupils generally forms part of the core work of mainstream schools and is usually carried out as part of mainstream teaching. The schools set up suitable support programmes while teachers attend relevant continuing education and training.

The following measures exist for gifted and talented pupils, depending on the canton:

  • enrichment: through differentiated teaching within class highly gifted pupils can address the subject matter on a deeper, more intensive level, through individual tasks or projects for instance. Cross-class projects, support in groups and individual support are also offered,
  • acceleration: particularly gifted pupils can start school earlier, skip a year or attend some subjects in other classes,
  • schools with specifically structured programmes for highly gifted pupils: if measures within mainstream schools are not enough, pupils can attend classes or schools for particularly gifted pupils (in lower and upper secondary level especially in the fields of sport, music and art inter alia) or take part in so-called “pull-out programmes“ in which they receive special support. The Intercantonal Agreement on Schools with Specially Structured Programmes for Highly-Gifted Pupils governs the intercantonal access to the schools in question and the burden equalisation between the cantons which have signed the agreement.


Legislative References

Interkantonale Vereinbarung über die Zusammenarbeit im Bereich der Sonderpädagogik [Intercantonal Agreement on Cooperation in Special Education]

Bundesgesetz über die Beseitigung von Nachteilen für Menschen mit Behinderungen [Federal Act on Equal Rights for People with Disabilities]

Interkantonale Vereinbarung für Schulen mit spezifisch-strukturierten Angeboten für Hochbegabte [Intercantonal agreement on schools with specially structured programmes for highly-gifted pupils]