Children with SEN (Special Educational Needs) can be described as children whose learning difficulties hinder their ability to benefit from the general education system without support or accommodation to their needs.
SEN can affect a child or young person’s ability to learn. For example, someone’s SEN might affect their:
- reading and writing, for example because they have dyslexia
- ability to understand things
- behaviour or ability to socialise, for example they struggle to make friends
- concentration levels, for example because they have ADHD
- physical ability to do things such as writing.
Special educational provision is any educational or training provision that is additional to, or different from, that made generally for other children or young people of the same age. This is a wide definition, and could cover a wide range of things, for example:
- having materials provided in a larger font
- needing one-to-one support
- communicating through sign language
- needing small class sizes
In Spain if a pupil has been assessed and been found to be in need of assistance, the child and parent may be sent to a Center for Special Needs (Centro de Valoración y Orientación de Discapacitados). At the centre, the child undergoes a variety of tests with a doctor and a social worker to determine the child’s level of need. Once the tests are complete, the professionals evaluate the child and discuss results with the parent.
Educational laws in Spain state that SEN should be fully integrated into mainstream schools where possible. The Spanish government requires public and concertado schools to attempt to educate students with SEN within mainstream schools if the facilities exist and schools are awarded grants if they have integration teachers (PT-Special Needs Teacher), speech therapists (Logopedia) and other specialists on the staff. Children with SEN (intellectual, physical or social) are not segregated into special classes, they are part of mainstream classrooms. Depending on the severity of their educational need they might follow a different or adapted curriculum or the mainstream one with support from a dedicated specialised teacher. However, finding a bilingual or international school in Madrid that offers SEN at more demanding levels is much more complex.
If inclusion is managed successfully there are lots of benefits for SEN students:
- Greater access to the mainstream curriculum
- Increased social opportunities
- Increased skill acquisition opportunities
- Improved reading levels
All students grow when schools include students with SEN in a mainstream environment. A mixture of mainstream and students with SEN in a school teaches all pupils to be mindful of the needs and requirements of those around them, and allows for all pupils to make friends with children with a range of abilities and needs and from a variety of backgrounds.
SEN inclusion works well when staff are well-trained in the specific needs of the students they are to teach. This often involves working with parents, who know their children best, as well as outside agencies who can help assess student need and devise plans to help meet this. Where inclusion has not been as successful, it has often been down to a lack of training for teaching staff, who have usually had little in the way of specific SEN input during their teacher training.
There can be a tendency amongst some school staff to view inclusion as meaning that all students should be treated equally. This clearly fails to recognise that students with SEN will need adjustments for their specific needs, in order to have equality of opportunity. The issue is, though, how do you ‘get it right’ if you have little opportunity for training? Proper training requires more investment.
In Madrid there exists a (very) small number of schools that offer a personalized style of education in smaller classes allowing the teacher to provide the level of support needed for children with SEN or disabilities.
The bad news is there are very few schools who offer this level of support which I know from first hand experience. Whilst in theory almost all international schools describe their school as inclusive, in practice it is not like that.
If you are interested in learning more about suitable SEN resources offered at schools for your child in Madrid, please do get in touch. We have visited most and are familiar with their SEN department and available resources. We would love to give you our honest and unbiased opinion and guide you in making this decision.
Get in contact to discuss your family’s unique needs and how we can best support you.
Sinéad Galvin is an educational consultant and founded Steps into Spain (a boutique educational and relocation consultancy located in Madrid) to help families find the right school for their child in Madrid. She uses her professional and personal experience of Spanish schools, the Spanish education system and the Spanish way of life to ensure that parents are knowledgeable and informed about what to expect and can secure the best school for their child.
Steps into Spain will take stock of your children’s educational needs and overall family requirements (housing, paperwork and general settling in). Our trusted and expert service is provided to families who are moving to Madrid from abroad. And also, to families that already live here and need some extra guidance and support.