04 SES 03 E, How Inclusive Is Your School? Comparing Teachers’ and Students’ Perspectives
In the present study, the main aim is to describe the special education system in Finland – especially the place ofprovision of support – at national level, municipal level, group level and student level. In Finland, the special education system is referred to as Learning and schooling support and it has been based on three tiers since 2011 (Basic Education Act 628/1998 Amendment 642/2010). The three levels are general (Tier 1), intensified (Tier 2) and special (Tier 3) support. The support methods and tools are almost the same at all tier levels; however, the intensity of the provided support increases from one level to the next (FNBE, 2016; Thuneberg et al., 2013). The governance of Finnish basic education is decentralised. However, one national-level core-curriculum describes the overall objectives and guidelines of basic education (FNBE 2016). In line with the core-curriculum, municipalities (311 in the year 2017) have their own municipal-level curriculums to meet their own local needs and circumstances.
From a legislative perspective, all comprehensive school students are in the same education system (Basic Education Act 628/1998; FNBE, 2016). This is in line with the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006). Tier 2 support is provided as a part of mainstream education using flexible teaching arrangements. Thus, from a normative perspective, they should always be placed in regular groups. Tier 3 support is “provided, allowing for the pupil's interests and the facilities for providing the education, in conjunction with other instruction or partly or totally in a special-needs classroom or some other appropriate facility” (Basic Education Act 628/1998, 17 §). In 2016, 9 percent of comprehensive school students received Tier 2 support and 7.5 percent received Tier 3 support (OSF, 2017). Of students receiving Tier 3 support, 20 percent were taught fully in general education groups and for comparison, 28 percent were taught fully in special education groups in mainstream schools and 10 percent in special education schools (OSF, 2017). The idea of a least restrictive environment has been one of the guiding principles of basic education since 1970; nevertheless, totally inclusive schools are rare in Finland (Jahnukainen, 2015; Lintuvuori, Hautamäki & Jahnukainen, 2017).
This study has two aims. First aim is to describe the Learning and schooling support system in Finnish basic education, at national and at municipal level, based on the norms and official statistics of Finland (Basic Education Act 628/1998; FNBE, 2016; OSF, 2017). More specifically, we describe the place of provision of support at Tier 2 and Tier 3 level (statistical categories: teaching fully in a general education group, 1–20% / 21–50 % / 51–99 % of teaching in a general education group, teaching fully in a special group or special school).
The second aim is to deepen the perspective and study at the school level how Tier 2 and Tier 3 students are assigned to classrooms, using student-level data from 14 municipalities. Furthermore, we analyse how the proportion of Tier 2 and Tier 3 students in general education groups is related to group-level cross-curricular competences (quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning and formal thinking, see Hautamäki & Kupiainen, 2014).
For the first aim, the data used in the present study, are the time series data compiled by Statistics Finland, covering the years 2011–2016 (OSF 2012–2017). First, we describe the system from a national perspective. We also study the municipal (N=311) differences within the Learning and schooling support system and the place of provision of support. We use descriptive statistics (e.g. mean, dispersion and scatter plots). For the second aim, the data were drawn from the longitudinal study assessing students’ cross-curricular competences, conducted in lower secondary schools in 14 municipalities in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area (years 2011–2014). The support was measured by asking special education teachers to complete the questionnaire about information on whether student received Tier 2 or Tier 3 support (N = 6 261 from 359 classes in 96 schools). Students’ cross-curricular competences were measured with three different cognitive tasks (quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning and formal thinking, see Hautamäki & Kupiainen, 2014). Two-level regression model was specified in MPlus 7.2. In the model, the variance was divided to the student level and to the group level and both student-level and group-level variables were added to the model.
According to our results, based on official statistics, there were differences between the municipalities in the provision of Tier 2 level intensified support and Tier 3 level special support. In addition, the place of provision of support varied. For example, the national average of students receiving Tier 3 support taught fully in general education groups was 20 percent and in the municipal-level, the range was from 0 to 100 percent in 2015. From the perspective of the 11 largest (student population) municipalities, the range was from 4.9 to 38.3 percent in year 2016. (Lintuvuori, et al., 2017; OSF 2016, 2017). The longitudinal student-level data from 96 schools revealed that altogether in 58 percent of general education groups were Tier 2 and Tier 3 students. The average proportion of Tier 2 and Tier 3 students in these groups was 12.82 percent (SD = 8.07). The data showed also that the average performance level of the group was lower in groups with Tier 2 and Tier 3 students. Furthermore, the proportion Tier 2 and Tier 3 students predicted negatively the general performance level of the group. However, the effect was quite weak (Hienonen, Lintuvuori, et al., under review). In all, the Learning and schooling support system in Finnish basic education seems to consist of almost as many sub-systems as there are municipalities. According to the Basic Education Act (628/1998) every student has the right to receive support (Tier 1, Tier 2 or Tier 3) and the aim of education is to secure adequate equity in education throughout the country. Thus, further research is needed on what kind of Learning and schooling support is provided across municipalities and schools. Furthermore, it has to be studied, does the support provided in different places of provision of support actually meet the needs of different students.
Basic Education Act 628/1998. Amendments up to 1136/2010. Government of Finland. http://www.finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/1998/en19980628.pdf/ Accessed 15.04.2017. Basic Education Decree 852/1998. Amendments up to 966/2016. Government of Finland. http://www.finlex.fi/fi/laki/ajantasa/1998/199808527 Accessed 15.04.2017. FNBE. (2016). National Core Curriculum for Basic Education. Publications 2016:5. Helsinki: National Board of Education. Hautamäki, J. & Kupiainen, (2014). Learning to Learn in Finland. In R. Crick, Stringer, C. & Ren, K. (edits.) Learning to Learn: International Perspectives from Theory and Practice (170–195). London: Routledge. Hienonen, N., Lintuvuori, M., Jahnukainen, M., Hotulainen, R., & Vainikainen, M.-P. (Under review). The effect of class composition on cross-curricular competences – Students with special educational needs in regular classes in lower secondary education. Jahnukainen, M. (2015). Inclusion, integration, or what? A comparative study of the school principals' perceptions of inclusive and special education in Finland and in Alberta, Canada. Disability & Society, 30, 59–72. DOI:org/10.1080/09687599.2014.982788 Lintuvuori, M., Jahnukainen, M. & Hautamäki, J. (2017). Oppimisen ja koulunkäynnin tuen vaihtelu kunnissa – alueellinen tasa-arvo perusopetuksessa [Regional differences and equity within the support for learning and school attendance system in Finnish basic education]. Kasvatus, 48 (4), 320–335. OSF. (2017). Special education 2011–2016. Helsinki: Statistics Finland. http://www.stat.fi/til/erop/index_en.html/ Accessed 29.01.2018. Thuneberg, H., Vainikainen, M.-P., Ahtiainen, R., Lintuvuori, M., Salo, K., & Hautamäki, J. (2013). Education is special for all: The Finnish support model. Gemeinsam leben, 2, 67–78. United Nations. (2006). Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. A/61/611. http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/rights/convtexte.htm#convtext. Accessed 15.12.2017.
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