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Finnish Special Education - System & Trends (part 1)

Updated: Sep 3, 2018


Finland's education is often seen as one of the best in the world. When it comes to special education, it is the joint effort of teachers, parents, psychologists,... in supporting students.


A special class handicraft project, led by teacher Kati Savolainen

In general, Finnish teachers are required to be flexible by tailoring their teaching to respond to learning ability of each student. Support is provided in a way that other students do not know what kind of support that students with special education needs actually receive


3 Levels of Support

There are 3 levels or tiers of support for special education. One student can be at one level or tier at a time. The idea is never ever let students wait to fail to receive necessary level of support.

The idea is never ever let students wait to fail to receive necessary level of support.

Finnish Special Education 3 Levels/Tiers of Support (Caroline Perry & Jake Wilson, 2015)
  • General support includes individualised teaching by class teachers and occasionally, but not required, small group teaching by part-time special education teachers for students who have minor learning difficulties. Students remain in mainstream schools classes

  • Intensified support includes individualised teaching by class teachers, small group classes with part-time permanent special education teachers co-teaching session with full-time special education teachers, for students who have minor learning disabilities, handicaps, and developmental delays. Students may take a course in these special classes in a couple of subjects, but are still included in mainstreams school's normal class the rest of the day. The individual learning plan is created providing a plan for arranging special needs.

  • Special support includes all special education services of intensified support, but at this stage, students may be transferred to segregated settings, such as special classes, or special schools with full-time special education for students who have more severe learning disabilities, handicaps, developmental delays, and psychological and emotional disorders (Hausstätter & Jahnukainen, 2014). The curriculum is adjusted with the collaboration of parents, teachers and special education teachers, allowing them to not to have to take another language such as Swedish or some hardest sections of mathematics. Before making a decision for intensified and special support, class teachers have to carry out pedagogical assessment on the student's learning abilities, results of support provided so far on learning progress, any special needs and teaching arrangements. Once qualified for intensified or special support, each student will receive additional resource. It is required that teachers create an individual education plan (IEP) and adjusted syllabus if students need intensified or special support. + The IEP specifies the type of support (integrated, partly integrated, or segregated), individualised learning goals, content, and assessment. The IEP is collectively created by teachers, students, parents, and other specialists to increase the chance that students reach the curricula's goals. + The adjusted syllabus is based on the main curriculum and individualisation of student' needs. Students will be assessed based on adjusted syllabus and the IEP.


Trends & Statistics

In 2016-2017 school year, at least 29% (or 1 in every 3) of students in comprehensive school received special education support.
  • In 2016-2017 school year, at least 29% (or 1 in every 3) of students in comprehensive school received special education support. Of these, 22% received part-time special education (given as general, intensified and special support), and 7% received full-time special education (given as intensified and special support). (Statistics Finland). These ratio has remained stable for the past four years. Early identification partly explains the relatively high percentage of children with special education needs in Finland (nearly 1 in every 3 students). The majority of special education is given as part-time, not full-time support. Part-time means no requirement for formal diagnosis, and only for a short period of time. The fact that Finland has extensively used part-time special education in early school years whenever needed compared to international comparison can be one of the reasons that Finnish students score high in international achievement tests such as PISA test (on 15 years old students in 32 OECD countries), as there are few students with very low score. (Sabel, Saxenian, Miettinen, Hull Kristensen & Hautamäki, 2011)

Share of comprehensive school students receiving part-time special education in Finland, 2011-2017

  • In 2017, 17.5% of comprehensive school students receive intensified or special support. This percentage has been growing steadily in the least 10 years, and shows no sign of decreasing. Special support has a higher percentage of students than intensified support.

Share of comprehensive school students receiving special or intensified support in Finland, 1995-2017
  • In 2017, Kymenlaakso is the region that has the highest percentage of students receiving special or intensified support (23%). Lapland, Kainuu, North Ostrobothnia and South Ostrobothnia have the lowest percentage, all under 15 per cent.

Share of comprehensive school students receiving special or intensified support by region in Finland, 2017



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