Special Educational Needs abroad
When you are moving abroad with children, choosing a school is difficult. If your child has special educational needs, this can be even more of a challenge. If you’re moving from the UK, the culture change can be a shock. Educational needs vary from country to country and often the quality of care can be compromised.
However, if you are careful with your research, you can find the right school for your family. Special needs education in certain countries can be poor, but certain allowances can be made to accommodate your child. We take you through some of the major countries for expat migration and the different options available to the parents of children with special needs.
The Middle East
In the compounds of Oman and Saudi Arabia, expatriate communities of those working in the oil industry may be difficult to arrange special educational needs for. If your job is located in a country in which you’ll be living in such a compound, ensure that you contact other expats via Facebook or forums to find out whether they have had similar experiences and can advise you. Your employer may also be able to advise you on how to cater to your child’s educational requirements.
The Middle East can be a difficult place to find the right facilities for your child with special needs; however, Dubai and other emirates of the UAE with more integrated communities have a wider range of options. As a Middle Eastern country with a large expatriate community, certain UAE schools will provide the support your child will need. Expat schools will be ready to cater to a variety of cultural and educational requirements, so disability and special education is no different. Schools such as Horizon School in Dubai have a policy of providing the right care for a variety of special educational needs, and there are plenty of these in existence – but waiting lists may be long. The UAE is often a preferred destination for expats moving to the Middle East due to its integration and more liberal policies, although you will often have to move based on where your employer requires you to go.
Although the South African constitution requires schools to provide special educational allowances to those who need it, but those without the necessary means will often find themselves without adequate care. Last year, Human Rights Watch stated that more impoverished South African children miss out on the right schooling if they have special educational needs, showing that a class divide is very much present when it comes to special education. This is less of a risk for expats, as parents will most often have moved with the security of a job behind them and are more likely to be living in better developed areas such as suburban districts or cities. However, it is worth researching the facilities in the area you’re moving to. If you are living and working out in the countryside, you might need to organise transport to ensure your children get the right education and special care they need.
Hong Kong has a much higher quality of special education than other areas of Asia, and some expats with special educational needs children will opt to move to Hong Kong as opposed to other parts of China. There are around sixty special schools in Hong Kong. Hong Kong schools will generally help you find the right facilities for your children, but it’s always worth to contact the schools in your area and speak to other expats via forums to find out how other families have coped. The general consensus is favourable though, and the majority of expat families in Hong Kong have had a positive experience when it comes to special needs education.
Students with more severe needs can go to special schools which can cater to their needs more effectively. Those with less serious special needs can be integrated into standard schools with help available for hearing and visual impairments, physical disabilities and learning intellectual disabilities. The Hong Kong education board prides itself in being a society which favours equal opportunities, and children can even get specialist assessments to ensure that they get the specialist care they need. This is all done with the parents’ consent though, so you needn’t worry about being excluded from your children’s care.
Special educational needs facilities in British schools can vary, but integration is generally the key factor of special needs education. By law, children with special needs have to have their needs catered for in a standard school environment. Special schools and colleges still exist, and these often provide accommodation and supervision to allow older children with special educational needs to gain independence and extensive education.
The free healthcare and education facilities in the UK will be a welcome change to those relocating from countries without these requirements. Those from the USA and South Africa for example will find it a welcome change to find free care and medical services provided with their visa or citizenship.
The Netherlands holds the reputation for equal rights and open access to facilities for all. Access to mainstream education for pupils with special educational needs is of a very high quality in The Netherlands, and the general aim is to find the right fit for education for every child, whatever their needs may be. Those from the UK will find the system not dissimilar to what they are used to at home, if not better. Special needs schools do still exist, but as in the UK, there is a focus towards integrating students with special educational needs into mainstream schools.
Dutch educational policy currently aims to reduce the number of children in special schools, but will still refer children with more severe needs to these specialist educational facilities. This allows the curriculum to be tailored to individual students, which requires much effort from the teachers and school boards. However, this means that you can be safe in the knowledge that your children are getting the best quality care.
Helen Claus at Inclusion4all writes:
Regarding the provision in The Netherlands for children with special needs. The ‘Passend Onderwijs’ provision is about finding the right school place for each child (as you say) and this is not the same as an inclusive approach, which can be confusing to families new to The Netherlands.
Although there is some provision for supporting children in mainstream education, this remains very limited and many children have to move into special education. There is just not the expertise (yet) amongst mainstream teachers nor the funds to always buy in this support.
The Dutch educational system is organised into Clusters and special schools are generally specialised Cluster schools.
- Cluster 1: Blind and visually impaired children;
- Cluster 2: Deaf, hearing impaired and language disordered children;
- Cluster 3: Physically disabled, cognitive disabled and chronically sick children;
- Cluster 4: Children with behavioural disorders, developmental disorders and psychiatric disorders.
There is a layer between mainstream and special education at primary school level called Special Primary School. These schools have more expertise, smaller class sizes and children with a range of different learning disabilities.
Families moving to The Netherlands with children with special needs should be prepared for the local school to refer them to special education.
Having said this, there are pockets of good practice and forward thinking, some schools are beginning to be more inclusive, especially in the younger years. Let’s hope this continues to develop!
Regarding International education, the majority of schools are (partly) subsidised by the Ministry of Education and they follow the same structure as Dutch schools as regards special education. There is only one English language special school in The Netherlands for expats. This is the Lighthouse Special Education School in The Hague.
Just because a school says it accepts children with special educational needs, it doesn’t mean a) they will, and b) they are able to accommodate your child’s particular needs.
You also need to know that International Schools are under no obligation to accept children with additional needs.
Reach out to the schools as soon as possible; speak to the person in charge of admissions and special educational needs. Find out how their support is delivered; ask how many SEN staff are available and explore their qualifications and experience. Keep pushing for the answers you need, and get an admissions acceptance in writing.
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