OECD Urges Review of Ways of Helping Students with Special Needs


 20/11/2003 - Wide variations in the way countries assist students with disabilities and other special needs requiring extra resources suggest that this is a policy area in need of review, according to a new OECD publication. 

Education Policy Analysis 2003 reviews how three types of special need -- disabilities, learning difficulties and other disadvantages -- are handled in 20 OECD countries*.


While all countries are committed to ensuring that students with particular needs are given equitable access to educational opportunities and all make provisions for this, the study reveals significant variations in the way this is done.

  • In Belgium (Flanders), Canada (New Brunswick), the Czech Republic and the United States at least 3% of all school students attract additional resources because of recognised disabilities. In Mexico, fewer than 1% of students get such help.
  • In Belgium (Flanders), almost all students with recognised disabilities are educated in special schools, while in the United States almost all attend regular schools.
  • In Finland, 20% of all students receive additional resources because of perceived learning difficulties. In the United Kingdom the proportion is 14%, while in most other countries surveyed it is well below 10%. In four countries with data on this group - France, Luxembourg, Mexico and Spain - fewer than 2% of students receive such assistance.
  • Spain, Canada (New Brunswick) and the United Kingdom educate students with learning difficulties entirely in regular classes. In Germany and the Netherlands, by contrast over half such students attend special schools.

The extent to which students with particular needs attend regular schools rather than special establishments is an indicator of how well regular schools are able to accommodate diverse needs. In order to make school systems fairer to students with special needs and to help mainstream schools cater for them, the OECD report recommends staff should be given more coherent and targeted training than most currently receive. Education authorities also need to encourage staff to share expertise more effectively with each other, collaborate with psychological, health and social welfare professionals differently, and work closely with parents and others in the community.

This year’s Education Policy Analysis also reviews the radical reforms that have been made in some countries in recent years to higher education governance. Despite increased managerial autonomy for some universities and other institutions, government influence is being exercised through other means such as new evaluation mechanisms and by linking funding to the delivery of specific programmes. The internal running of universities has also changed fundamentally, with more focus on managing the whole institution as an enterprise.

A further section assesses the incentives and means for individuals, employers and governments to invest in adult learning beyond initial education. Under present arrangements, the incentives are unlikely to be strong enough, in many cases, to encourage either individual adults or governments to invest substantial time and money in life-long learning. Some countries have sought to encourage life-long learning programmes through mechanisms for "co-financing" adult learning, with individuals, employers and governments each making contributions. The schemes have provided individuals with more choice in pursuing learning opportunities. However, it has proven hard to reach the disadvantaged adults in greatest need.

Finally, this year’s Education Policy Analysis reviews the way in which the role of career guidance is widening in many OECD countries to become part of a process of lifelong learning. Rather than simply helping students to decide on a job or a course, there is a growing need for career advisers to assist in the broader development of career management skills and to make guidance more widely available throughout adulthood. For the moment, however, such assistance is used mainly by unemployed people accessing public employment services. To increase adults' access to career guidance the chapter recommends: new ways to finance adult guidance, including individual learning accounts and wider use of market mechanisms; reforms to public employment services to strengthen their role in supporting lifelong learning; and wider use of community-based and ICT-based guidance techniques.

To obtain a PDF file or paper copy of Education Policy Analysis 2003,  journalists should contact the Media Relations Division . For further comment on the report, journalists are invited to contact:

  • Overall enquiriesPhillip McKenzie (Editor) (tel. 33 1 45 24 92 27)
  • Students with special needs (Chapter 1): Peter Evans (tel. 33 1 45 24 91 66)
  • Career guidance (Chapter 2): Richard Sweet (tel. 33 1 45 24 16 61)
  • Higher education governance (Chapter 3): Richard Yelland (tel. 33 1 45 24 92 64)
  • Financing adult learning (Chapter 4): Gregory Wurzburg (tel. 33 1 45 24 92 95)

For more information on


* The countries covered by the analysis are: Belgium (Flemish Community), Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.



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