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Special educational needs (SPE) certificates

The psychological and educational benefits of SPE certificates



As time goes on, the number of children with various developmental problems increases, so it’s important to detect them early and prevent them from getting worse. Modern psychology and pedagogy have ways of doing this. The key to implementing them in Polish educational institutions is based on a decision about a child's special educational needs, which parents will need to make.  continue reading...


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Many specialists now say there are practically no children who don’t have any special challenges: for instance, they might be hyperactive, unable to concentrate, listless and excessively withdrawn, unable to remember content, or have trouble with addition.

In the case of such students, teachers, and educators, public and private schools offer various forms of help. Often they suggest parents go to a psychological and pedagogical counseling centre with a child for a thorough examination to obtain specialized guidance on how to support the child that goes beyond school supports. This happens especially when the child has signs of physical or intellectual disabilities. Despite this, not every parent decides to take this path. Is this the right decision?

Should one be afraid of an SPE ruling?

There’s still a fear lingering in Polish society about visiting a psychologist and being labeled as someone with special needs. This means some parents refrain from seeking a diagnosis, and even if they do, they don’t reveal the results in preschool or school. This may be for various reasons: carelessness, or not accepting the child may have some problems. But above all, many fear the stigma, or fear being transferred to another class or—worse—to a special school.

Meanwhile, such a diagnosis of a team of specialists from a psychological and pedagogical counseling centre, and thus obtaining an opinion or a ruling on a child's special educational needs (SPE) in most cases doesn’t change anything in his school situation (of course, everything depends on the type of challenge), but it becomes the basis for further intensive work with the student. In cases of disability or threat of social maladjustment, this allows for additional support and care from a team of specialists: teachers, educators, psychologists. and therapists. It also may give your child access to facilities, equipment, or accommodations they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

There is one condition for receiving this help—the child must have an SPE certificate and the parents must inform the school about it. In Poland, the use of psychological and pedagogical assistance is covered by personal data protection, which is why counseling centres give all documents to parents or guardians, and only they have the right to decide about their disclosure.

The headmaster, educator, teacher, or school counselor—whether in a public or private school—even if there is no doubt about the need for special education for a child, has no right to it. These people can support the child's development only to a limited extent (e.g., remedial classes), and this is based on the consent of the parents. Disclosure of the decision of a specialist counseling centre is thus necessary to get support at school. This document is the basis for undertaking educational and therapeutic activities at school, and at the same time obliges the school’s director to undertake them and—importantly—unlocks additional public funds for them.

Who issues SPE judgements and in what situations?

Making a diagnosis and issuing a statement on the special educational needs of the child is the responsibility of the psychological and pedagogical counseling centre and, in the case of some diseases and disorders, such as sight, hearing, autism and Asperger’s syndrome, the responsibility of the superintendent of education of specialist counseling centres.

The diagnosis of an SPE triggers various forms of help, the most important of which are:

• the possibility of a child participating in therapeutic classes carried out inside or outside of the school—in specialized centres (such as psychological, rehabilitation, corrective and compensation therapy, and speech therapy centres);

• didactic and educational support, implemented at school during and after classes (the use of teaching and assessment methods that facilitate learning and social adaptation of the student);

• medical and social assistance.

Importantly, the SPE judgment is also the basis for learning in special departments and public classes created by public and private institutions, as well as special schools (and preschools). So if you want to send your child to such an institution, you must take the necessary steps to get a diagnosis.

The decision on SPE should not be confused with a decision on child disability issued by municipal Disability Adjudication Teams, which give the child and parents the right to benefit from material assistance, e.g., discount on travel in public transport, the right to free rehabilitation, or the right to care allowance.

Thus, even with a child disability certificate, parents must apply to a psychological and pedagogical counseling centre for an SPE certificate, for a simple reason: disability doesn’t necessarily mean learning difficulties, and thus the need for special education, just like the threat of social maladjustment isn’t the same as a disability.

Pursuant to the provisions, disabled children are deemed to be

A statement on special educational needs is issued to children because of disability, or the risk of social maladjustment.

The calculation above shows that a special needs certificate is not issued to all children who have learning disabilities. Polish regulations approach students with disabilities, social maladjustments or those at risk of social maladjustments differently. They also approach students with chronic diseases, mental disorders, behavioral disorders (e.g., ADHD), or those at risk of addiction differently.

This group of students no longer receives special education rulings, although the rulings issued under the old regulations have remained valid until the end of the period for which they were issued. Under the rules, such students receive help at kindergarten or school level.

“Currently, for students who have a problem with school functioning, e.g., school phobia, depression, etc., the principal organizes an individualized educational path as part of psychological and pedagogical assistance. This allows you to take part in class or individually,” we read in the explanations of the Ministry of National Education.

Psychological and pedagogical assistance both in preschool and at school is organized by the headmaster during the current work of a given institution and is activated when the need for a school teacher, pedagogue, or speech therapist is noticed. Psychological and pedagogical assistance is a broad term, which apart from the support given to children also includes, among other things, an individual learning path and assistance provided to highly gifted children, where additional activities are also included. It doesn’t require a special diagnosis of a psychological and pedagogical counseling centre, although its opinion and recommendations are of significant support here, but it requires the consent of parents who are immediately notified of the launch of such support.

It should also be added that until the completion of kindergarten, disabled children—based on the opinion of a psychological and pedagogical counseling centre or a specialist counseling centre—have the right to free early development support (WWR). In this case, however, parents must apply for this support.

What does the SPE judgment provide?

Polish educational institutions have a whole range of tools to support students, both those who have learning difficulties, not necessarily resulting from intellectual or mobility disabilities (e.g., speech difficulties, hyperactivity, anxiety, aggression, aversion to school, etc.), as well as those who are extremely talented.

So why an additional special statement about the need for special education?

First of all, to allow children access to specialist support. On its basis, parents can postpone the child's compulsory schooling, send them to an integrated or special school (or preschool), and gain access to specialist psychological, pedagogical, and therapeutic assistance.

On the basis of such a judgment, a disabled child also gains the right to free transport to school. The decision on the SPE obliges the director of a school to implement the guidelines resulting from the diagnosis, while constituting the legal basis for such action. There is one condition— this judgment must reach him. The validity of the judgment is limited in time and may relate to a school year, an educational stage, or education in a given school. Understandably, the decision may be issued at any time during these periods and is valid from the time of its issue.

The judgment obliges the school head, regardless of whether it’s a public or private institution (operating under the rights of a public institution), to develop within 30 days of the parents submitting a decision on the SPE, an individual educational and therapeutic program (IPET) for the child and starting implementing its recommendations. Therefore, these institutions must:

It should be remembered, however, that in the ruling on the SPE, specialists from the psychological and pedagogical team formulate not only recommendations for schools (or other facilities) as to the most beneficial forms of stimulation, therapy, rehabilitation, improvement, and psychological and pedagogical help for the child with indication of specific classes and methods of working with the child and ways of integrating the child with peers. They also, importantly, indicate the preferred forms of education. First of all, thus, where your child should be educated —whether in kindergarten or school, or in departments or integrated facilities, or in special departments or facilities. Thus, these are recommendations not only for schools (educational institutions), but also parents, because they choose a school for their child.

What support can a student with a certificate receive?

The decision on the need for special education doesn’t mean, then, that your child has just received a certificate of intellectual disability, preventing him from further education in the current school. It only provides indications enabling him to adapt his educational requirements to the specifics of his disability in a public, integrated, or special school, or in a therapeutic setting.

The child will gain individual support from the teaching staff on the basis of a specially developed individual educational and therapeutic program (IPET), taking into account his predispositions and educational possibilities, as well as access to specialist assistance.

The type of support, however, depends on the type of school your child is sent to. If it’s public or private, then regardless of the type of disability and recommendations of the counseling centre, your child will receive support to the extent that this school is obliged by law.

For example, according to the framework curriculum for primary school, including special needs primary schools, the minimum weekly number of hours of remedial classes for disabled students in a public or integration department is two in each school year, and in a special department, twelve.

It should be emphasized that even a child with a mild intellectual disability, attending a public, integration, or special school, pursues the same core curriculum as other children. On the basis of the decision on the need for special education, however, he can count on the support described above and some accommodations, such as additional time for tests or assignments. It’s only in the case of a moderate or severe disability that a special school with reduced educational requirements is recommended, after which children can continue their education in the school for work up to the age of 24. However, the SPE determines the possibility of using this type of facility up to the age of 25.

SPE ruling: a brief summary

The SPE ruling is not a verdict: you shouldn’t refuse to diagnose your child, especially when school teaching staff suggest it. It should be remembered, however, that this decision belongs only to parents or guardians, which means that neither preschool, school, nor any other educational institution will do it on your behalf or alone. They don't have that prerogative.

Psychological and pedagogical counseling centres carry out the diagnosis with full discretion, and its results—including the decision—are issued only to parents or legal guardians of the child, and it’s up to them whether the given educational institution finds out.

The SPE certificate is a document that not only allows the school to launch the full range of pedagogical, psychological, and therapeutic assistance, but obliges it to do so. It also allows the school to launch additional public funds, e.g., the employment of an additional teacher or psychologist, both in the case of public and private schools operating on the principles of a public school. With this help, the child will be able to develop properly and his disabilities are unlikely to get worse.

The decision on the SPE obliges the school (educational institution) to undertake all tasks recommended by the clinic, but only in the scope of the regulations (mainly the core curriculum) that apply to it. This means that, for example, a public, integrated, or even special school will never organize as many therapeutic classes as a special school for children with moderate or severe disabilities. The differences will also occur in specialist equipment and in the number of children participating in primary and additional classes as part of psychological and pedagogical assistance.

Choosing a school for your child with the SPE is a difficult decision, but it must be remembered that the possibilities of supporting child development in public school or with integration classes are limited. Sometimes it’s worth thinking about a specialized educational institution—especially when it’s recommended by a psychological and pedagogical counseling centre.

All forms of psychological and pedagogical assistance require the consent of the child's parents or guardians.This support can’t be given without it.

An SPE decision is an administrative decision that can be appealed, both when it appears that the child needs specialist support and when it excludes such need. The appeal may also address the recommendations contained in the decision, and thus the type and scope of the support.

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