The challenge of putting “inclusive education” into practice

In Latvia, as in many OECD countries, the provision of equal access to the same “one size fits all” education is no longer seen as adequate. The focus is increasingly shifting towards providing education that promotes equity by recognising and meeting different educational needs (OECD, 2012). The Latvian government is committed to implementing the principle of “inclusive education” and focuses its efforts on two main target groups: 1) children and youth at risk of exclusion due to their development, abilities or health condition; and 2) youth at risk of exclusion due to social conditions (MoES, 2014). We agree that the concept of inclusive education is of particular relevance for Latvia considering its socio-economic and regional disparities within the country, and that child poverty and youth at risk of social exclusion provide formidable challenges to the country’s inclusive education ambitions.

Box 3.4. Targeted support to weak schools - examples from Ontario (Canada) and the Netherlands

in Ontario (Canada), the Focused intervention Program (oFIP, since 2006/07) provides targeted support to primary schools that have “experienced particular difficulties in achieving continuous improvement”, measured through results in provincial assessments of reading, writing and mathematics at Grades 3 and 6. oFIP funds are used for professional development, additional student and professional learning resources, literacy and numeracy coaches, and teacher-release time for collaboration and additional training. In 2006/07, schools qualified for oFIP support if less than 34% of students reached provincial standard in Grade 3 reading. In addition, since 2009/10, resources from the oFIP program were extended to over 1 100 schools in which less than 75% of students met provincial standards in the Grades 3 and 6 assessments. From 2002/03 to2010/11, the number of schools with fewer than 34% of students achieving at provincial standard in Grade 3 reading was reduced by two-thirds from 19% to 6%, showing significant success in reducing the number of primary schools in which students fail.

The Netherlands has put in place an innovative system to support the improvement of weak and very weak schools as quickly as possible. The Education Inspectorate plays a key role in identifying weak schools based on a number of (output) indicators. schools that are identified as weak or very weak receive a more intense follow-up inspection and those labelled very weak must improve or be closed down within two years. during these two years, the Inspectorate engages with school boards and monitors the implementation of its recommendations. The role of the Inspectorate during this time is one of supervision as well as advice. Alongside this top-down intervention, which is unique in an otherwise highly decentralised education system, weak schools are given specialised advice and assistance, mostly subsidised by the ministry and carried out by a range of organisations in the field. This system yielded promising results: from 2006 to 2010, the number of very weak schools has been reduced more quickly than the objectives originally set out.

Sources: oECD (2011), Lessons from PISA for the United States, Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education, oECD Publishing, Paris; van Twist, M. et al. (2013), “Coping with very weak primary schools: Towards smart interventions in dutch education policy”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 98, oECD Publishing, Paris,

One example of Latvia’s efforts to support youth at risk of social exclusion is the “Roma Teachers’ Assistants” project started in 2007. Through this project, 20 teachers’ assistants of Roma background were trained, as were 30 teachers in schools Roma children attended, to improve their capacity to work in a multicultural environment and apply the principle of inclusive education in practice. Evaluation of the project showed that the teacher assistants contributed to increasing the educational achievement of Roma children and helped change the attitudes of Roma parents towards education (MoES, 2015).

Another example is the creation of eight inclusive education centres that were established throughout the country during 2007-13, six of which still offer assistance to students with functional disorders and train educators.

Despite these and other efforts to promote the integration of students with special education needs, only 35% of students with special education needs were in regular schools, although this proportion is about 20 percentage points higher than five years earlier, which is a considerable improvement (Table 3.5). Latvia realises it needs to do more and has set itself several targets (see Table 3.3), including one to increase the proportion of students with special needs that are integrated into mainstream education. To achieve these targets the government will, among other measures, invest in improving the early identification of children with special education needs at all levels of the system (excluding higher education) which we agree is an important policy measure.

TALIs 2013 found just 12.1% of teachers reported needing further training on teaching students with special needs (oECD, 2014c), but several national studies paint a different picture. They point to teachers’ attitudes and lack of skills in working with students with special education needs as the main obstacles for implementing inclusive education in practice (Austers, Golubeva and Strode, 2008; Nimante, 2008; Nimante and Tubele, 2010). They suggest that teacher education programmes in Latvia are not preparing teachers sufficiently to work with special education needs. This message resonates with the call for action by the participants of the “Inclusive Society Starts with Inclusive Education” conference held in Riga on 2 April 2015 who asked for the review of “initial education and continuous education programmes for teachers to ensure the necessary knowledge about inclusive education, to broaden teachers’ knowledge about children with special needs, establish an accessible specialist support to consult teachers in order to improve the understanding of children’s needs and thus ensure an effective learning process that suits the abilities of the student” (Inclusive Society Starts with Inclusive Education, 2015).

Table 3.5. Integrating children with special needs in regular schools and classes (Grades 1-12)


Total number of students with special needs

Students with special needs integrated in mainstream schools and taught by:

Students in special education schools

Share of students with special needs

integrated in regular classes

Mainstream education programme in regular classes

Special education programme in regular classes

Special education programme in special classes


10 865


3 421

1 283

5 805



11 135


2 891

1 179

6 737



10 466


2 308

1 072

6 899



10 026


1 474

1 244

7 191



9 481



1 357

7 549



10 350



1 202

7 558


Source: MoES (2015), “Country background report Latvia”, unpublished, Ministry of Education and Science, Riga.

Perhaps in agreement, MoEs will use Eu funding during 2014-20 to invest in building teachers’ capacity to respond to the learning needs of students with special education needs (MoES, 2014). The Education Development Guidelines 2014-2020 (MoES, 2014) state that the government aims to develop and implement continuing professional development programmes for specialists (social workers, physiotherapists, etc.), but are less explicit about how initial and continuing teacher education programmes could build teachers’ capacity. Once again, the important work currently going on to develop teacher standards should be used to inform and help (re-)shape development programmes. Among other things, these standards should highlight the importance of teachers being able to identify and work with students with special education needs. This is of particular relevance as larger proportions of special education students are integrated into regular classes in the years to come.

The Education Development Guidelines also note that further changes at the community and policy level will be needed to make Latvia’s schools and society at large more inclusive. An earlier OECD report (OECD, 2014a) already noted that Latvia’s school funding model is not sufficiently sensitive to students’ special education needs. The model includes coefficients for students in special educational institutions, special educational classes in mainstream schools and social correction educational programmes. It however fails to adequately integrate the educational and other needs of individual students. Research evidence shows achieving equity in education requires funding strategies responsive to student and school needs. Students and schools have different socio-economic profiles and varying needs, and funding schemes should reflect these (OECD, 2012).

Many countries include needs-based variables in their school funding calculations to account for the additional resource needs of teaching students with learning disabilities or who come from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds (Fazekas, 2012). The revised school funding model that Latvia is currently piloting does ensure that additional funds are allocated for students with special needs. The formula includes a coefficient of 1.8 for students in a special education school and 2.0 for students integrated into a mainstream classroom. This differentiation is a positive development as it provides additional incentives for integrating children with special needs into regular classes. Careful monitoring will be needed to show whether this difference in coefficient is enough.

The piloted funding formula does not currently take into account students’ socio-economic backgrounds but may do so in time. Latvia could look towards countries like the Netherlands and the French Community of Belgium for examples (Box 3.5). Latvia is also considering providing separate grants to students at risk of social exclusion and may look towards the examples of England (the United Kingdom) or Wales, where a range of funding grants target specific students or schools. The experiences from these countries also show the need to prevent procedures from becoming administratively cumbersome (OECD, 2014e).

Box 3.5. Different approaches to funding and supporting disadvantaged students and/or those with special education needs

in Wales a range of funding grants target specific students or schools. special grants are allocated to schools to implement interventions that aim to improve the performance of these different groups of students, particularly low achievers. Among the different grants that local authorities and schools can access are:

  • • The free school meal entitlement that children and young people attending school on a full-time basis may receive if their parents/guardians receive certain benefits or support payments.
  • • The Pupil deprivation Grant (GBP 918 per student in 2014/15, GBP 450 in 2015/16) provides schools with targeted resources to improve achievement of disadvantaged students, i.e. those students that are eligible for free school meals and looked-after children.
  • • The school Effectiveness Grant, which is linked to the Pupil deprivation Grant, supports the three main education objectives of the welsh government i.e. improving student performance in literacy and numeracy, and reducing the impact of deprivation on student performance.
  • • The Communities First student deprivation Grant match Fund aims to encourage schools in areas of high poverty to form closer links with their communities through grants ranging between GBP 10 000 and GBP 75 000 a year for each Communities First Cluster.

The Flemish Community of Belgium allocates a portion of total funding on the basis of four socio-economic indicators: the mother’s level of education, the student’s qualification for a school allowance, the language spoken at home and the living environment of the student.

In the Netherlands, schools receive equal public funding based on the number of students (except for schools fully funded from private sources), as long as they meet certain requirements. Targeted funding provides additional resources to schools. The allocation of budgets varies depending on the level of education but often has a fixed part and a larger variable part. At the primary school level the allocated budget has a relatively small fixed component (5-10%) for school management and a large component based on the number of students, adjusted for the share of students from low-income households and students with disabilities. Schools with a high proportion of disadvantaged students effectively have on average about 58% more teachers per student and also more support staff.

Sources: Ladd, H. F. and E.B. Fiske (2011), “Weighted student funding in the Netherlands: A model for the U.S.?”, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol. 30/3, pp. 470-498, http://dx.doi. org/10.1002/pam.20589; OECD (2015c), Improving Schools in Sweden: An OECD Perspective, OECD Publishing, Paris,; OECD (2014e), Improving Schools in Wales: An OECD Perspective, OECD Publishing, Paris, Improving-schools-in-Wales.pdf.

Although research has shown the effectiveness of using needs-based variables and/or specific grants to distribute resources where they are most needed, it also points towards the importance of allocating funding in accordance with actual policies in order to reach the designated recipients (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2014; Levacic, 2006). However, in practice this does not always happen, including in Latvia. As already described, some municipalities reallocate funds to small schools that are no longer viable, for instance, and there are considerable spending differences between municipalities. These suggest municipalities should be held more accountable for the efficiency and quality of education they provide.

Partly in response to this issue, the revised funding model will transfer funds directly to schools, in principle preventing municipalities from reallocating funds. This feature of the revised model will very likely limit funding differences between schools and enhance the transparency of how funding is allocated to schools in Latvia.

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