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Inclusion vs special education

Choosing which is best for your child's needs.

Photograph: iStock

Text: Martina Popadakova / Sara R. Newell

When facing your child's education decisions, the first priority is to find a school that will support your child's development and learning. We introduced special education in mainstream schools (Folkeskolen) and what to expect in the last issue. This month we talked to Flemming Nielsen, head of special needs school Ådalskolen in Ringsted. We discussed the school's approach to students with special needs and how to navigate the admission process.

Goals and values

If a child attending a mainstream school needs special pedagogical assistance, the school headmaster can decide to grant the child support for up to 9 teaching hours (12 lessons) per week, and teaching should be adjusted individually according to the child's abilities and needs. If a child needs more special assistance than a mainstream school can offer, then the child may be eligible for enrollment in a special needs school, where the focus should be on meeting the child's individual needs on every possible level of everyday schooling.

Flemming explains: "Parents want their children to do a lot of other things such as being able to communicate, to understand themselves and their special needs, and to be social with other friends. But, mostly, to be in touch with their own life as much as possible." In many cases, it can be a lengthy process when trying to find the most suitable school for meeting your child's needs.

Finding the best option for your child

The first part of the process is assessing your child by PPR, who then makes a referral that your child either should: be included in a mainstream class, attend a special class within the mainstream school (folkeskole), or attend a special needs school. In most cases, children are moved towards inclusion in a mainstream class. However, not all students benefit from inclusion. For example, some mainstream schools will not provide adequate assistance with everyday practical tasks, which means that some children's special needs will not be sufficiently met. However, in special needs schools assisting children with everyday practical tasks is its highest priority.

Does free school choice apply to special needs schools?

If you believe that your child's current school is not meeting your child's needs and development, you have the right to apply for another school. Flemming further explains: "Even though parents have the opportunity to use the freedom to choose a school if there is a space, it's not always a smooth process." The right to free choice is limited in practice since the municipality can decide that inclusion or a special needs class in a mainstream school is sufficient, meaning that parents will not be able to choose a special needs school for their child. In many cases, it can be difficult for parents, the municipality and PPR to reach a consensus on what is best for the child.

"If you believe that your child's current school is not meeting your child's needs and development, you have the right to apply for another school." - Flemming Nielsen, Principal

Changing from one special needs school to another

If you are in a situation where your child is already enrolled in a special needs school, but you think that a different special needs school would be better for your child, Flemming advises: "If parents consider changing schools, they should first visit the school they are considering, talk to the headmaster, and get a feel of the environment to make sure that this is a better option for the child."


If you disagree with the municipality's decision regarding which school your child should attend or how much special assistance your child should receive, you always have the right to appeal the decision. The appeal deadline is 4 weeks from the date the decision has been made, and your appeal must be sent back to the authority that made the decision. If the municipality upholds the decision, the case will be forwarded to the Complaints Board for Special Education, then re-assessing the decision. Therefore, we strongly advise that you: appeal in writing, make sure you get a written confirmation for receipt of your appeal, and follow up regularly with the municipality to ensure that deadlines for processing your case are upheld.

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