Special Needs Education

In depth information about the provisions for children with special needs: details on education, benefits, carer's allowances and getting about in Germany...

Due to Germany's decentralised educational system, the federal states deal with pupils with special needs in slightly differing ways. In general, each state has a range of special schools covering a variety of special needs, from mental and social to physical disorders, at primary and secondary levels. Recently, programmes have been introduced to encourage the integration of pupils with special needs into mainstream education. Further information can be obtained from the local educational authority (Schulamt).

German basic law (Grundgesetz) forbids discrimination on the basis of physical or mental disability. The Social Welfare Code IX (SGBIX), which came in to force in April 2001, is based on the idea of equal opportunities and participation rather than merely welfare.

Since 2000 the federal states have applied a joint definition of Special Needs Education. It makes a distinction between permanent disability and temporary learning difficulties (for example slow learners or those with reading and writing difficulties). There is a federal harmonisation agreement on special needs education; the principles of support for problem situations during the learning process and of integration with mainstream education wherever possible are the same nationally. However, each state applies the recommendations in slightly different ways to reflect their own educational structure so that the names of special schools and duration of schooling may differ.

Some states have introduced more recent legislation regarding the education of children with special needs within mainstream education facilities. The state of North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, passed a new law on daycare for children ("Kinderbildungsgesetz") which came into force on 1 August 2008.

Education embraces the principle of integration and, while there are special schools available for different special needs, an effort is made to ensure that children with special needs attend mainstream educational institutions wherever possible. This is often referred to as Inklusion, referring to the inclusion and support of children with special need in mainstream education. There is also an increase in joint activities between schools for disabled and non-disabled pupils.

The Youth Department (Jugendabteilung) of the District Office (Bezirksamt) in the place of residence of the disabled person offers advice and therapeutic and educational support for disabled minors (in special circumstances this can be extended up to the age of 27).

  • Note: Frankfurt also follows the principle of inclusion of those with special needs into mainstream schools but does also have special schools available. These go by the name of Förderschulen. The Hessen Ministry of Education provides more information about such schools (in German)
  • Note: Hamburg also has special schools (Sonderschulen) for specific needs. Hamburg.de provides a list of special schools across the state
  • Note: Munich offers Förderschulen and Förderzentren for those unable to attend a mainstream school
  • Note: North Rhein-Westphalia also offers schools for special needs and the state’s Ministry of Education website has an extensive search feature to help find special schools in the local area

Diagnosing a Child with Special Educational Needs

The initiation of diagnosis may come from the parents or the school and is subsequently authorised by the local education authority. A special needs teacher delivers an expert opinion on the type and level of disability, by observing the child's performance, as well as taking account of any medical certificates issued by school or specialist medical services.

If the situation is known to the parents before the child starts school, all relevant documents should be submitted to the education authority who will then allocate the type of schooling to be received or will begin the diagnostic procedure as outlined above.

Special Needs Education

In line with all children, young disabled children are entitled to day care. Where possible, they will attend a centre with non-disabled children. There are also special groups for children with a higher level of disability. More information on these can be obtained from the coordination office of the Child and Youth Socio-Paediatric Centres (Kinder- und Jugendambulanzen/Sozialpädiatrischen Zentren, SPZ).

  • Local SPZ centres can be found by selecting the relevant state under Adressenverzeichnis on the website’s homepage. (in German)

Pre-school

Wherever possible, very young children will be integrated within the mainstream kindergartens, or may attend special kindergarten (Sonderkindergarten) or support kindergarten (Förderkindergarten).

Special needs schooling

Special needs education means specific support for pupils with longer term disorders or learning disabilities. It is classified into the following categories (depending on pupils' educational requirements):

  • Blind
  • Visually impaired
  • Deaf
  • Hearing impaired
  • Mentally disabled
  • Physically disabled
  • Pupils with learning difficulties
  • Pupils with behavioural problems
  • Pupils with impaired speech
  • Sick pupils

Some schools work as day schools (Ganztagschulen), others are boarding schools.

Individual measures taken to support and develop children with special educational needs vary between federal states. Typically, special needs education is delivered in the following ways:

  • Joint teaching in the mainstream school
  • Schools with a special educational development focus (Schulen mit sonderpädagogischem Förderschwerpunkt or Förderschulen)
  • Temporary educational groups
  • In special pedagogical institutions and in collaboration with the private providers of youth services (especially for emotional and social development)

Deaf and blind children may participate in pre-school development classes in the relevant special schools from the age of three.

Special educational focus on mental development

Schools with the focus on Special educational focus on mental development (Sonderpädagogischer Förderschwerpunkt Geistige Entwicklung) have a different structure: unlike mainstream schools they are all day-schools with a 35-hour teaching week. Due to the differing stages in development of their pupils, the schooling is organised on five levels.

  1. Entry level: school begin to age 7
  2. Lower level: Age 7 – 10
  3. Middle level: Age 10 – 13
  4. Upper level: Age 13 - 15
  5. Final level: Age 15 –1 8

Dyslexia

All primary schools employ one specially trained teacher to recognise and support dyslexia (Legasthenie) sufferers. The teacher works in close collaboration with school psychologists and, in severe cases, a special learning programme may be worked out.

The following measures of support are offered at both primary and secondary level:

  • The child is given additional time at exams
  • Special working tools are provided or permitted
  • A part of the written examination is replaced by oral testing
  • A teacher reads the text of written exercises to the pupil

The school authorities have flexibility about when to apply these measures and to what degree. The child must be tested to ascertain their level of dyslexia or the parents have to produce a doctor's certificate, if the pupil's special needs are already known.

Looking for Learning is a German website with some information in English about dyslexia diagnosis and treatment in Germany.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)

Parents of children with ADD (Aufmerksamkeitsstörungdefizit - ADS) should contact their local school authority (Schulamt) about which school might be most suitable for their child.

Benefits and Allowances

Parents can claim a continued child benefit allowance (Kindergeld) for disabled children over the age of 25 if they are unable to care for themselves and the disability occurred before the age of 25. Should the disabled person receive income that exceeds €8,354(in 2014), they will no longer be entitled to this allowance.

Parents may also be entitled to care insurance (Pflegeversicherung) payments, if they can prove that caring for their disabled child is considerably more time-consuming than for a non-disabled child of the same age. Further formation can be obtained from the parents' health insurance organisation (Krankenkasse).

Nationwide Organisations

The following are some of the nationwide organisations for the main types of disorder.

Sociopaediatric centres (Sozialpädiatrische Zentren, SPZ) for children and young people offer specialised treatment for illnesses that may lead to psychological disorders or physical disabilities.

Further Information

  • European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education
  • Ploteus - an official EU website with specific reference to education and learning opportunities including those for the disabled
  • Berlin government information on special needs education (in German)
  • Behinderte Kinder - information for disabled children (in German)
  • Eltern im Netz is a website giving practical information (in German) to parents of children with special needs.
  • InTakt has practical information for parents and links to many laws associated with disability in Germany (in German). The site also offers legal advice and has a forum for parents (in English) with advice on how to get any legal entitlements due with regard to caring for and educating their child.