Three learning support educators (LSEs) from St Jeanne Antide College’s Immaculate Conception School, Tarxien – Giorganne Cauchi, Lisa Schembri and Dorianne Vassallo – recently attended an Erasmus course in Bologna that focused on inclusive education and how it can be achieved. During the course, which was also attended by participants from Italy, Germany, Romania and Greece, the Italian model of inclusion was presented and explained in detail. The LSEs also had the opportunity to find out how other countries represented at the course are meeting the needs of special educational needs (SEN) students.

The Italian inclusion model

Italy abolished ‘special schools’ in 1977 and is the only country in Europe that has 99.97 per cent of SEN students attending mainstream schools. The remaining 0.03 per cent attend rehabilitation centres as they cannot attend regular schools due to their medical condition.

Italy is the only country in Europe that has 99.97% of special educational needs students attending mainstream schools

While Italy has no ‘special schools’, it has ‘specialised schools’ with all the resources needed to meet the specific needs of certain SEN students. Additionally, mainstream students also attend specialised schools. For example, a specialised school for blind students will have all resources needed to meet their needs, such as books in braille, but they learn in the same classroom alongside mainstream students.

In the Italian education system, ‘support teachers’ are qualified teachers who take part in planning, assessment and all other activities. Support teachers can choose to either work as class teachers or support teachers. This approach encourages co-teaching and during the course, several co-teaching methods were presented to the participants.

Moreover, certain SEN students may also be supported by educators who are not qualified teachers but cater for certain social and healthcare needs of the students with disabilities. These educators specialise in specific disorders, such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and may also conduct activities outside the classrooms.

In the Italian system, healthcare specialists and a ‘SEN reference’ – a teacher responsible to coordinate, supervise and evaluate inclusive actions – are also involved. Within the system, there are three inclusion working groups as follows:

  • The inclusive working group, which among other roles evaluates the inclusiveness level of the school and proposes the annual plan for inclusivity.
  • The multidisciplinary operating group, which is made up of teachers, support teachers, parents or guardians and other professionals working with the student. This group holds at least three meetings a year and discusses each student’s educational plan, as well as aims, ideas and proposals.
  • The inclusion territorial group, which is chaired by a headmaster, and consists of three headmasters and two teachers who are nominated by the regional education office. This group is responsible to quantify resources and teachers to be assigned to each school.

Activities and learning opportunities

During the course, the participants discussed the benefits and difficulties they encounter when seeking to create an inclusive classroom; how one can implement better inclusive teaching methods; the importance of differentiated instructions; the learning stations approach; and how to promote inclusive schools.

An online session was also organised with an Italian primary support teacher during which the participants had the opportunity not only to listen to the support teacher relate his experiences, but also to put questions to him.

The participants also visited the Instituto Tecnico Commerciale in Bologna to see the classrooms, school facilities and to speak with support teachers working there.

This course was very interactive and participants from various countries were teamed up and took part in several workshops.

The Maltese LSEs also discussed the possibility of organising a job-shadowing experience with a secondary school in Germany.

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