On this page:
- Preschools and schools eligible to offer special education
- Poland's education system and kids requiring support
- Institutions authorized to teach children with learning disabilities
- Which children can receive support
- Our Kids recommends
The education of kids with special needs can be provided in both public and private schools, including preschools and regular schools. And, the content taught and the skills required must correspond to the child’s educational and developmental stages. So it doesn't matter whether a school is international, IB, bilingual, specialized, traditional, Montessori, Waldorf, or experimental—it must try to accommodate kids with learning difficulties.
In Poland, education is divided into four stages:
• Preschool: for kids aged 3-5 and compulsory school preparation for kids aged 6—the so-called zero year or zerówka, which can be conducted in preschool or regular school;
• Primary school: consists of early childhood education (7-10 years, i.e., Grades 1-3) and primary (10-15 years, i.e., Grades 4-8), and
• Secondary school: this includes general secondary schools - liceum (15-19 years), technical secondary schools - technikum (15-20 years) or vocational schools - szkoła branżowa (15-18 years).
These stages are compulsory for all students, including those with special needs, although in the case of moderate and severe intellectual disabilities, the regulations provide for some exceptions, extending the age limits for completing education at various stages to:
• 10 years of age in preschool,
• 20 years of age in primary school,
• 24 years of age in high school.
Preschools and schools eligible to offer special education
Schools entitled to offer special education are defined in the 9 August 2017 Regulation of the Minister of National Education. This outlines the conditions for organizing education, upbringing and care for disabled, socially maladjusted children and adolescents and those at risk of social maladjustment. According to this document, such support may be provided by:
• Preschools and mainstream schools;
• Preschools and schools with integrated classes or integrated preschools and schools accessible to all children, but at the same time adapted to the education of kids with disabilities;
• Preschools and schools with special classes and special schools, including schools preparing for work—available only to children with certificates of special educational needs, including mobility and/or intellectual disabilities,
• The following institutions may also provide this support: youth educational centres and social therapy centers, special education centers, and centers enabling children and adolescents with profound mental disabilities or multiple disabilities to fulfill their education obligations.
It’s important the choice of an institution for support depends primarily on the parents or guardians. It’s even more difficult because in the Polish system every public kindergarten and mainstream school is obliged to accept children with disabilities, or at risk of social exclusion, and to provide them with psychological and academic support.
However, parents receive advice in this regard such as suggestions from teachers, preschool or school staff, and above all, a specialist diagnosis of a counselling centre (containing recommendations on the forms and methods of education).
Poland's education system and kids requiring support
The Polish system assumes that:
• Children with mild intellectual disabilities may attend a mainstream school or a special school implementing a program for kids with a mild degree of disability;
• Moderately and severely disabled students receive education in special schools and educational-therapeutic institutions;
• Children with severe intellectual disabilities study in rehabilitation-educational centres, whose goal is, above all, to improve and shape their everyday skills as well as develop their communication skills.
For this reason, for children with mild intellectual disabilities, there are no special classes in generally accessible preschools/schools, but possibly only integration classes. Special schools preparing them for work are organized only for students with moderate or severe intellectual disabilities and for students with multiple disabilities. It’s also worth mentioning that in mainstream schools there are no special classes for socially maladjusted students and those at risk of social maladjustment.
Institutions authorized to teach children with learning disabilities
As we have already said, public schools are obliged to admit children with disabilities. However, this obligation does not apply to private schools , which may refuse to admit a child, especially if they’re unable to provide them with adequate learning conditions.
However, they’re obliged to provide their students with psychological and academic help, as defined in the 9 August 2017 regulation of the Minister of National Education on the principles of organizing and providing psychological and pedagogical support in public preschools, schools, and other educational institutions.
According to it, “psychological and pedagogical support provided to a student in a preschool and school consists in identifying and satisfying the developmental and educational needs of a student as well as identifying the psychophysical abilities of the student and environmental factors influencing their functioning in the preschool or school, in order to support the potential development of the student and creating conditions for their full active participation in the life of the preschool and school as well as in the social environment.”
This support in private schools may be slightly different and may be charged for, which is clearly specified in school regulations. Also, almost all private schools provide this help in some sense, including through an individualized approach to the child, appropriate teaching methods, additional classes that allow the child to catch up, although not always included in tuition fees.
Private schools have an obligation to accept students with a special educational needs (SEN) certificate. Only public psychological and pedagogical counseling centres appointed by the provincial education superintendent are authorized to issue a SEN certificate, which is indispensable when applying for a child to be admitted to an integrated or special school. It’s worth noting that the decision on the SEN is not a certificate of a child's disability, but only a decision about the necessity to provide special support for the child.
The mainstream school, when providing education for a child with SEN, appoints a team of specialists to develop an individual educational and therapeutic program (IPET) for them. The school has the option of employing a support teacher in the class where the child with SEN is enrolled and of using the services of the necessary specialists and therapists. In cases where, due to dysfunction or disease, the child can’t participate in classes with other children, an individual development path is created: the child participates only in selected activities with other children, and the remaining ones are conducted individually, sometimes also at home.
To sum up, Polish educational institutions offer a full range of support for students with challenges at all stages of education, both in mainstream schools and in institutions specialized in educating children with learning difficulties, including physical or intellectual disabilities. Support is also offered to kids who don’t attend preschool, as part of early development support (WWRD). The decision on the need for such support is made by authorized public psychological-pedagogical counseling centres. Such centres, although usually not the same as the decision-making ones, also organize it in most cases.
Which children can receive support
The following groups of children with special educational needs can count on exceptional treatment, consisting mainly in the adaptation of teaching methods and forms, and the elimination of architectural barriers:
• Disabled children: children who are visually impaired (and blind), those with hearing loss and deafness, with motor and intellectual disabilities of a mild, moderate or severe degree, those with autism and Asperger's syndrome, those with Down syndrome, as well as those with multiple disabilities;
• Socially maladjusted, and at risk of maladjustment: i.e,. children rejecting the social order, showing aggressive and rebellious attitudes.
Also, psychological-pedagogical support is available to all the above-mentioned groups of children and children with:
• Learning difficulties: dyslexia, dysgraphia, dysorthography, dyscalculia, difficulties resulting from developmental disorders, social maladjustment, problems in social functioning or improper educational process;
• Disorders of linguistic communication: problems with syntax, grammar, remembering vocabulary or consistent expression, as well as with speech, e.g., articulation, phonation, fluency of speech;
• Educational needs resulting from crisis situations or traumatic experiences from educational failures or environmental neglect;
• Adaptation difficulties resulting from cultural differences or a change in the educational environment, including prior learning abroad;
• Chronically ill: kids with asthma, hemophilia, epilepsy, depression, schizophrenia, with tic disorders, anxiety disorders, eating disorders (e.g., bulimia or anorexia), diabetes, and others; and
• Exceptionally gifted kids: both in a particular field and generally.
These students are offered support defined broadly as psychological-pedagogical assistance, which is mainly of the following types:
• Educational: through the use of individualized teaching and assessment methods, facilitating the student's learning and social adaptation;
• Therapeutic: individual or group support classes, corrective classes, revalidation classes, psychological therapy, speech therapy and others;
• Technical: by providing access to specialized teaching aids, medical and rehabilitation equipment as well as devices for improving the child’s functioning;
• Medical: by providing constant medical care, including the care of medical specialists.
To conclude, it’s worth emphasizing that the level of support depends on the child's needs and increases with the school's specialization. Above all, however, it depends on the diagnosis of a team of specialists from the psychological-pedagogical counseling centre. Such a diagnosis is made at the written request of the child’s parents or legal guardians, and decisions taken are binding for educational institutions.
The counseling centre may decide, for example, about the need for early support for a child's development or individual teaching, or about the need for rehabilitation and educational activities, and such activities will be organized in the school or another facility. At the same time, for every teacher—in a public or private school—these documents will constitute valuable guidelines for working with the child.
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