domingo, noviembre 05, 2006

Special Ed in Spain

I wanted to say a few words about how the Special Ed system works here in Spain, from what I've learned so far in my class. When I saw that the class (Psychopedagogical Bases for Special Education) was required for all of the teaching specialties (Early Childhood, English, Speech and Hearing, Elementary Ed, Special Ed) I thought, "Well, that could be interesting, but it doesn't really affect me very much since I'm not doing Special Ed." But it turns out that it affects every teacher, and especially those who like me will be working with a series of different classes throughout the day. Here the concept of Special Ed has moved from a model of deficit to a model of "Specific Educational Needs" which, among other implications, means that students with special needs are to be integrated to the greatest degree possible given their individual situations into a regular classroom. So it's very likely that I will come across "special ed" students and I'll have to make the necessary curricular adaptions to serve them.

First I should say that a new education law was passed last May (it seems that a new one gets passed every time there is a change of government...) and the details have yet to be worked out, so currently everything is still being governed by the previous law from 2002. Each Comunidad Autonoma (like states or provinces) has a certain amount of freedom to govern their own schools, but the big things are set at the national level. Here is a very brief overview of the legal framework.

In 1985, the law signaled a move from a Deficit model (with an emphasis on diagnosing the deficiencies of the student, and without really expecting much development or change) to a focus on analyzing what types of pedagogical support are needed to help the student progress according to their needs and their particular educational objectives. Basically this means that instead of having the student adapt to the general school environment, it is the educational community that must adapt itself to best meet the differing needs of all of its students.

In 1990, a new education law was passed, with some changes. First of all, the term "Special Education" was replaced with the term "Special Educational Needs." However, the term is very general and fairly ambiguous, as the law doesn't spell out exactly who and what needs it refers to.

In 1995, the new law specified that SEN may also be transitory or temporary, and distinguishes between three groups: SEN due to serious behavioral disorders, SEN due to mental, motor, or sensory diabilities, and SEN of intellectually gifted students.

In 2002 the current law was passed, and here they also include some other groups as having Special Educational Needs. On one hand is the concept of Equal Opportunity, which means support for students who need to compensate for disadvantageous social situations. In part this refers to students living in rural areas who perhaps don't have access to schools where they live (assisting them with transportation, free boarding if necessary, etc.) Also students in migrant worker families who don't stay in one place all year, and students who have to spend extended periods in the hospital, etc. In the most recent law, it looks like this category will be taken out of the "SEN" designation and treated separately.

Another category of SEN, in response to the rapidly changing demographics of Spanish society, is that of immigrant students, many of whom don't speak Spanish. Support here includes programs to help them learn the language and programs to help parents understand the Spanish school system.

This law also emphasizes that students with SEN are to be integrated into normal classrooms to the greatest extent possible.

The newest law (May 2006 but still under development) presents new terminology, preferring "students with specific needs for educational support."

In general terms, for the past several years there has been a strong emphasis on what is called "attention to diversity in the classroom." This refers not to multiculturalism but to the range of differences in academic capabilities and needs. Basically, it means that not all students progress at the same rate or with the same degree of ease, and it is up to the teacher to account for the different needs and possibilities of all students, rather than merely aiming their teaching at the level of the average student.

Here we can introduce the concept of Learning Difficulties. This does not necessarily refer to what we in the US call learning disabilities. It can be any student who is unable to follow the established pace of instruction in a particular area or in more than one area. It can be a temporary situation or one that is present throughout the student's schooling. The difficulty may be due to biological, sociological, psychological, or educational factors.

When faced with a student like this, the teacher must begin with ordinary corrective measures (for example, changing the seating arrangement, giving that student extra help, even having the student repeat a grade) and move up from there, along a continuum which goes from "slight Learning Difficulties" to "Special Educational Needs."

Upcoming topics in my class will cover exactly what "ordinary corrective measures" are as opposed to "extraordinary measures" and how the teacher and other professionals go about determining what interventions are necessary in each case. I'm looking forward to learning more.

As usual, I don't know if anyone is reading this, but if you are, I'd love to hear about your experiences with or knowledge of the special ed system where you live.

8 comentarios:

Gaijin Mama dijo...

Educational reforms are underway in Japan, too, including reforms concerning special ed. There is talk of integration, but in reality, regular public schools seem ill-equipped to deal with special needs kids. I visited a couple of public schools that supposedly have deaf education tracks, but the teachers were not trained in special ed, and didn't know how to do sign language. Conversely, because teachers are rotated every several years, sometimes teachers with no special ed credentials wind up at the School for the Deaf that my daughter attends. They learn to sign as they go, but I can't help feeling that their inability to fully communicate with the students is a disservice to the kids.

kate dijo...

I was just reading about how they decide what kind of school kids go to here-- to the extent possible it is a regular school (not Special Ed Center), but in choosing which one they consider the extent to which the school is equipped to take that student's needs into account. It seems as though it is more likely for deaf kids (than for certain other special needs students) to end up at a center or program specifically equipped for them, instead of a regular school.

Right now there are a lot of teachers certified in Special Ed, but the problem is that there are few spots allocated for them in the schools. Supposedly in the future this will change, but now, for example, there's a woman in my program who is certified for both Special Ed and Speech and Hearing and now she is doing the English teaching degree because she hasn't been able to find a job in either of those areas. Not because the need isn't there, obviously.

Carami dijo...

Hello Kate,

I am from Las Vegas, Nevada. I am enjoying your blog - thank you for sharing. I am looking into teaching in Spain for one year, next school year. I have a few questions to ask you. Your experience is valuable to me, and I do not have anyone else to contact. If you get a moment will you please email me?

Thank you for your time,


Judith Szakaly dijo...

Hello everyone, I am hungarian, a fully qualified teacher, also specialized on special needs, especially Celebral Palsy. A do speak english fluently, as i was working in the UK for 15 years. I am looking for any kind of teaching job in spain, teacher or classroom assistant or just a helper. Can anybody adise me please? My e-mail: , i am avaliable on msn on that address, Thank you Judith

Anónimo dijo...

Thanks so much for this informative blog. I'm a special ed teacher in the U.S. I have students that would love to study abroad. Any chance schools in Spain would honor an American IEP?

If you have time, I would love to email you other questions.



Anónimo dijo...

Hi Kate,

I'm a graduate student in the US enrolled in the teacher certification program to teach Spanish in the states. I'm writing a paper on special education in spain and would love to hear your perspective about Special Ed. services there. If you can contact me through my email I would truly appreciate it.


Anónimo dijo...

Hi, Kate. I realize that you wrote this a long time ago, and I'm wondering where life has taken you since. I came across your blog, because we are also from the States and living here in Spain. We have a son with Cerebral palsy who is extremely high functioning and in a regular public school, but we have come across some issues this year and find that he may need more help than we are finding in our public school. Anyway, there are a million details, but was wonding if your experience has continued in the world of special educational needs here in Spain? It is a bit difficult to navigate it all. We may be re-locating to a larger city in Spain in order to get better help for our son. If you are still active in this topic, I would love to ask you some questions if you have the time. Please send me an email at if you are willing to answer some questions. Thanks so much!


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