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Finnish Special Education - Principle & Policy

Updated: Sep 3, 2018


Under the new amendments to the Basic Education Act (642/2010), Finnish students have more possibilities of getting necessary support for their learning disabilities within their neighbourhood school.

A special class at Alhoniity school, Nokia, Finland led by teacher Johanna Hanka (Photo by Kimmo HäkkIlä)

Finnish teachers are required to provide support under a 3-tier support system and are accountable to monitor progress and document the effectiveness. As soon as special education needs are observed, no formal diagnoses are needed for early intervention, resembling the US system's RTI (Response to Intervention).



Inclusion Policy

Only when part-time special education does not work, then students are provided with special needs education in a special class or school.
  • The inclusion policy with movement to integrate students with special education needs into normal schools started in Finland in the 1960s. The goal is to increase students' motivation and interest in attending school (Pulkkinen and Launonen, 2005)

  • Part-time special education allows students to remain in mainstream schools and classes while receiving part time temporary support, such as two-hour weekly class in a eight-week period.

  • Only when part-time special education does not work, then students are provided with special needs education in a special class or school. At this stage, children are funded 1.5 times more for special needs by the Finnish Ministry of Education. (Takala, Pirttimaa, Törmänen, 2009) The Finnish Basic Education Act requires that an official decision to transfer a student to special needs education is made by the school board with the mandatory consultation with parents and examination statement by medical and psychological professionals (psychologists, doctors, special needs teachers, speech therapists, occupational therapists)

  • If Finnish far-reaching goal of full inclusion is achieved, all children with special education needs will be educated in normal settings. There would be no segregated special schools or special classes. The progress of full inclusion has been in progress



Early identification

The majority of students receiving special education support in Finland is based on observed difficulty, not on formal medical diagnoses of disability.
  • Early identification and intervention that allow success in mainstream schools show commitment to the inclusion policy.

  • Identification for special needs education in its first stage does not require specialised formal diagnosis, thus avoiding stigmatising labels. Observed learning difficulty is a sufficient reason to get special education support. No medical or psychological diagnose is needed. This come from the principle of equity - all children can get support in the least restrictive environment. In fact, the majority of students receiving special education support in Finland is based on observed difficulty, not on formal medical diagnoses of disability (Jahnukainen, 2011).

  • Special education teachers provides support to any student in need of support, but mainly in reading, writing, mathematics and foreign languages.

  • The idea of collective ownership is evident in a sense that parents and teachers jointly determine if additional support is needed, and can consult with special education teacher and school psychologist. Teachers are required to take a look at their teaching, and help students before or after school if needed.

  • That being said, early identification for developmental problems can also be done for pre-school children by doctors, psychologists, and speech therapists at health clinics that provide assessments of physical, mental and social development.

  • The result is that Finnish special needs students are statistically majorly accommodated in mainstream schools with part-time special education. Of all students with special education needs, 55% stay in normal class of mainstream schools, 30% attend special classes of mainstream schools, and 15% attend special schools.(Statistics Finland) Early support lessens the chance that academic difficulties become worse.

  • Early identification and intervention reflects Finnish strategy of repairing the problem as early as they occur.


Teachers Collaboration

Main class teachers are also trained in special education, which is included in their undergraduate program requirement.
  • Special education teachers are present in every school. They work closely with main class teachers to identify children in need of support, and plan, carry out and evaluate intervention programs, mostly in reading, writing and mathematics.

  • Special education teachers also collaborate with class teacher, student advisors, school psychologist, and social worker in student welfare groups. These groups monitor progress of students in part-time special education according to their IEP.

  • Special education teachers also work with parents in planning of curriculum and assessment of educational instruction.

  • Main class teachers are also trained in special education, which is included in their undergraduate program requirement.


In conclusion, with the revised Finnish policy, Finland aims to blur the boundary between comprehensive schools and special education by making special education an integrated part of pedagogical method in the schools. For more information on Finnish's special education system, please refer to our blog's article.

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