This is How We Do It: Supportive Measures in the Finnish Comprehensive School

The main principles of supportive measures at comprehensive school

The support for learning and schooling is three-tiered according to the law – general support, intensified support and special support. A pupil can only receive support on one tier at the time. If the need for support changes, it is possible to move from one tier to another. It is in the best interest of the pupil that the need of support is monitored regularly.

It is good to remember that there is no need for medical diagnosis to receive support according to the basic education law. Comprehensive schools do not support pupils based on diagnosis but based on actual needs of the pupils. The school always works based on pedagogical solutions. This means that the school should provide all the needed support despite medical diagnosis. Elina Kivelä reminds the guardians about this:

“The supportive measures in health care are recommendations. Municipalities are required to take care of legal services. The professionals should always consult the family about the supportive measures so that the measures would be realistic and possible to carry out.”

According to the law of basic education, the pupils have the right for supportive measures as soon as the need arises. All measures can be provided in mainstream education if it is considered the most suitable for the pupil. The intensity of the supportive measures often defines the level of support. In general support, the measures are milder while in special support the measures are heavier. Only full time special support is provided in a special class by a special education teacher.

First tier – general support

General support is provided to all pupils by class teachers. Some pupils may need more support than others. There are also pupils that do not need remedial teaching or special education at all and this is also one thing that needs to be considered while planning the support. Support is always provided based on individual needs.

In the following section, I will present some supportive measures in general support according to Elina:

  • Using Wilma in co-operating with families. It is also important to inform the family about the positive things about the child.
  • Modifying the learning environment: the environment should be safe for everyone. There should also be very little distracting things in the classroom. For example, children with sensory hypersensitivity need special attention.
  • A well-structured school day. This also includes using pictures while teaching. For example, the daily schedule and homework can be pointed out with pictures. Some pupils need visual aid to pay attention and to remember things.
  • General support also includes part-time special education which means that the special education teacher can provide support in one subject even though the pupil studies in the mainstream class. The child can e.g. have dyslexia and therefore need additional support with reading.
  • This means that the pupil is provided with teaching and tasks that equal his/her skills. The tasks can be easier or more difficult. Differentiation with easier tasks can help children with learning difficulties while differentiation with more difficult tasks can provide more challenge to gifted pupils. The teacher should always modify his/her teaching so that it meets the individual needs of each pupil. Teaching everyone in the same way, is not suitable anymore.
  • Following each pupil’s individual development is also part of the general support. Teachers discuss with parents on regular basis and as often as needed.
  • Marking the homework is an important part of the support. Some pupils may have difficulties in marking their homework independently and therefore small post-it notes can be used to help them.
  • General support also includes remedial teaching and assistant services. For example, there can be special needs assistant in the classroom.
  • If needed, the pupils should also be provided with different learning aids like audiobooks or technical tools.
  • The pupils have the right to attend student welfare and guidance counselling services as well as other supportive services.
  • School transport should also be modified based on the special needs. Some pupils may need an escort in the taxi.
  • Also, the clubs that take place before or after school, can be supportive measures for pupils with special needs.
  • Co-operation between home and school is important and it cannot be emphasized enough. Parents must be informed about their children’s needs and if any support is planned.

Pedagogical evaluation is the first step to intensified support

The supportive measures included in the general support are also included in the intensified support. However, the measures on this tier are more intensified and regular. The main idea is that if the supportive measures provided in the general level are not efficient enough the pupil is offered more support. The pedagogical evaluation can include different evaluations from professionals but the most important information comes from the pupils’ guardians.

The pedagogical evaluation includes different sections. There are descriptions of the current situation of the pupil: learning, schooling, provided support and its effect, learning abilities, strengths and other special needs at school. It also should include a review about the pedagogical and environmental measures of support, student welfare and other supportive measures that are necessary for the pupil. Before offering intensified support, a learning plan must be written. The learning plan is a written pedagogical document that consists of teaching methods and the support that is individually planned for the pupil in focus. The learning plan can be part of general support but is mandatory in intensified support.

The highest tier – special support requires a pedagogical report and an individual educational plan

Special support is to be provided when the intensified support is not efficient enough. The pupil may need regular, multiple and intensive forms of support, including full time special education. In this case, it is reasonable to choose the most intensified tier of support; the special support.

A pupil can be taken or moved into special support.

  • If a pupil is taken into special support, it means that the difficulties have risen already before school age (e.g. disability) and the local education department has decided about special support before the first grade.
  • If a pupil is moved into special support, it means that during the school time a decision about the special support is made if the pupil needs more intensive support and e.g. full time special education. The pupil’s situation or the learning difficulties may become worse and therefore more intensive support is needed.

Moving a pupil into special support cannot be done without hearing the child and his/her guardian. Open discussion with the pupil and the guardian is the key to providing sufficient and suitable individual support.

When planning special support, a pedagogical statement must be written. In this statement, you can find previous supportive measures and their effects. It may also include an explanation about the supportive measures that show the need of special support. If needed a medical certificate from a psychologist can be included in the pedagogical report.

Special support guarantees a place in full time special education aka in a special class. This is not possible in general or intensified support. A pupil with special support can be integrated in a mainstream classroom if it is considered appropriate. In this case, the pupil will receive the support in the classroom from a special education teacher. It is also possible to individualize teaching if the pupil gets special support. The decision about special support is made in the local education department outside the school by the head of school development.

Special support always requires a written decision that is checked at least after the second and the sixth grade. By doing this, it is possible to ensure that support provided in the primary school is also provided in the secondary school. There must be the form of teaching and the services necessary for the pupil mentioned in the written document.

Individual educational plan

All pupils in special support must have an individual educational plan. The individual educational plan includes the special focus of teaching, the follow up and evaluation of learning, different ways the pupil can show his/her know-how, the ways the pupil is evaluated, pupil’s self-evaluation and other pedagogical solutions like flexible groupings, co-teaching, teaching methods, learning strategies, working methods, ways to communicate and learning materials. If the pupil studies according to an individualized plan in one or more school subjects, these subjects must be listed in the individual educational plan. The objectives, specific contents and follow up must also be written in the plan. And most importantly the strengths of the pupil!

A meeting concerning the individual educational plan must be held at least once a year. Both the guardian as well as the pupil are to be invited to the meeting. Many schools update the plan every spring and fall to make sure the support is efficient enough and the pupil is advancing. The guardian must receive an updated learning plan to be signed and he/she has the right to get a copy of the plan.

Dr. Erja Sandberg

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