The Agency eBulletin presents updates and news on projects from the European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education

Dear Readers,

In 2012 the Agency finalised five projects, resulting in various outcomes and publications now available on the Agency website. Three of the five projects ended with a final project conference in 2012 involving experts from all Agency member countries and a high number of international stakeholders and policy makers: Teacher Education for Inclusion (TE4I) in February, Raising Achievement for all Learners (RA4AL) in June and most recently, the Vocational Education and Training (VET) conference in November.
The materials of the Mapping the Implementation of Policy for Inclusive Education (MIPIE) and the Accessible Information for Lifelong Learning (i-access) projects have been made available on the Agency web, while the latter project laid the basis for a new project on ICT for Information Accessibility in Learning.
This eBulletin provides a selection of updates on ongoing and outcomes of finishing projects. Thank you for your interest in the Agency’s work, for more information visit the project web areas and follow our news on

We wish you a happy holiday season and a prosperous new year!
Christmas decoration


Cor J.W. Meijer
European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education

VET project logo

Vocational Education is the key: European push to include people with disabilities into the labour market

In the last few years there has been a visible shift at the European level towards including people with special educational needs and disabilities into the labour market. This can be seen both as a rights-based development and as a sound response by European policy-makers to the globalised competitive economy and the economic crisis.

Both in individual member states and in the European institutions there is a consensus that vocational education and training is the key if countries are to succeed in including a higher rate of people with special educational needs and disabilities into the labour market – with clear personal as well as socio-economic gains as a result. 

The good news is that substantial funding is available via the European Structural Funds in the period 2014–2020, which education ministers – if they choose to do so – can use to support the development of more inclusive and efficient  vocational education systems.
photo of Andreas Theodorou, Per Ch Gunnvall, Kalomira Ioannou, Olympia Stylianou, and Cor J.W. Meijer at the VET conference
photo of Andreas Theodorou, Agency Representative Board member; Per Ch Gunnvall, Agency Chair; Kalomira Ioannou, Agency National Co-ordinator; Olympia Stylianou, Ministry of Education and Culture, Cyprus and Cor J.W. Meijer, Agency Director at the VET conference

On 12–13 November 2012, policy-makers and experts from 28 European countries met in Nicosia, Cyprus at a conference organised within the framework of the Cypriot Presidency of the EU to discuss the outcomes of a three-year project (2010–2012) conducted by the Agency on behalf of its European member states.

The focus of the project has been to investigate key aspects of initial vocational education and training (VET) programmes and employment opportunities for students with special educational needs aged between 14 and 15 years. In particular, the project has investigated ‘what works’ for students with special educational needs and ‘why’. The aim of the conference was to discuss the main outcomes of the project, draw conclusions and place the outcomes in the wider European and international context.

The opening address was given by Ms Olympia Stylianou, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education and Culture Cyprus. Ms Stylianou stressed the importance of the topic of VET, both for Cyprus and other European countries. She suggested that: ‘In this period where Europe faces significant economic difficulties, it must be our commitment that those citizens who are the most vulnerable are not left behind. In our attempts for recovery we must ensure that existing programmes are maintained and developed so that those who are least able to promote their rights are assisted towards finding a meaningful and productive place in society.’

Increasing employability is a smart investment 

This important message was echoed by Mr George Zissimos, Member of the Cabinet of Commissioner Vassiliou, responsible for Education. He stated that: ‘… despite such difficulties, education and training – including special needs education – should not be a victim of austerity and savings across the EU. If we are to be successful in a knowledge based economy, then our success depends on the degree that our education systems will offer to ALL our young people the right blend of competences. The cohesion of our societies depends on it. More simply put, our own future depends on it.’ He continued: ‘The message from the EU is straightforward: equipping young people and the working population as a whole – including people with special needs – with knowledge and skills that will improve their employability is a smart investment and reflects the needs of both the society and the world of labour.’

European structural funds available

In this context lifelong learning and especially vocational education and training is the key, and is considered one of the main instruments in addressing the new circumstances.
The good news is that in the coming months, the European Commission and the EU member states are discussing country-specific investment priorities that each member state can support through the use of the European Structural Funds (ESF) in the period of 2014–2020.  In this context, the education ministers have the opportunity – if they choose to do so – to earmark substantial resources from these funds to support the development of more inclusive and efficient vocational education systems. This is a tremendously important moment, an opportunity member states should not miss.

Some European facts:

  • People with disabilities tend to only attend the lowest levels of education;
  • Only 63% of the 16–19 age group considered restricted in their ability to work participate in education and training, compared with 83% of non-disabled people;
  • The employment rate of disabled people is 50%, far below the rest of the population (68%) and only 27% of young people aged 16–24 are employed, compared with 45% of non-disabled people;
  • Following the publication of these statistics in 2010, the European Parliament decided to make addressing these circumstances an urgent priority. In a non-legislative resolution, it observed that the unemployment rate among young people is double compared with the overall rate of unemployment in the EU and is therefore one of the most important issues to be addressed, together with reducing the school drop-out rate;
  • Learners with emotional disabilities or behaviour disorders are those with the highest rates of dropouts, the lowest grades, the most course failure and a higher grade retention/repetition than any other group of learners;
  • Transition to work is especially difficult for learners with cognitive impairments, students with mental health issues and students with mobility impairments;
  • When learners with special needs complete their training, they often return to passive assistance programmes or receive disability benefits or pensions;
  • Increasing job insecurity: a diploma is not a guarantee for work anymore and transition to work has become a core issue for education systems;
  • Young people and low skilled are more likely to be exposed to long term unemployment, job insecurity, poverty and social exclusion from an early age.

For more information

The recommendations emerging from the three-year project will be submitted to the Agency member states by the end of the year. In the meantime, information on the VET project is available on the project web area.

RA4AL project logo

Raising Achievement for All Learners – Quality in Inclusive Education

The Raising Achievement for all Learners – Quality in Inclusive Education (RA4AL) project aimed to address the ways in which inclusive policy and practice can raise the achievement of all learners. The project, which ran from December 2011 to November 2012 was supported by the European Commission’s Lifelong Learning Programme Comenius funding.

A key activity during the project was the RA4AL project conference, which was held in colllaboration with the Danish Ministry of Education and the Odense municipal authorities in June 2012 and recognised as an event under the Danish Presidency of the EU.

The RA4AL position paper distributed before the conference drew on findings from a range of Agency thematic projects and recent research. Building on this, together with the conference inputs and seminars, the following six key issues have been prioritised to form the basis of a longer term project by the Agency:
  • Gather practical and cost-effective examples of networking and collaboration in classrooms, schools and local communities as well as at national/ international levels and examine the contribution that such practices can make towards raising the achievement of all learners;
  • Build on existing work on leadership to examine the specific competences needed for leadership in inclusive systems/ settings;
  • Conduct further work on appropriate accountability mechanisms for the education system and for schools that empower stakeholders and reflect inclusive values by measuring what is valued for all learners and providing concrete evidence of effective practice leading to more equitable achievement;
  • Investigate how education systems and services are organised, taking account of the roles of key stakeholders and the need to consider the voices of learners and their families to offer a truly personalised experience;
  • Undertake further work on the areas of competence needed by teachers to meet the diverse needs of all learners and investigate the best ways to achieve this in initial teacher education and on-going professional development;
  • Carry out research on pedagogical approaches and strategies that go beyond teacher-led ‘differentiation’ to learner-centred, personalised classroom practice.
 A project synthesis report and a summary of key messages are also available on the project web area.

RA4AL project conference, Odense
participants at the RA4AL project conference, Odense, Denmark

The new ICT for Information Accessibility in Learning project

The ultimate aim of the Agency’s work is to improve educational policy and practice for learners with special educational needs. This aim takes into account issues such as equal opportunities, accessibility and the promotion of quality of education, whilst recognising that there are differences in the countries’ policies, practices and educational contexts. Providing information on and for learning so it is accessible to all users is crucial, as non-compliance creates a barrier for learners with disabilities that compounds their special educational needs.
During 2010/2011, the Agency began investigating this area as part of the one-year Accessible Information Provision for Lifelong Learning i-access (i-access) project. At the end of the i-access project period project experts and country representatives saw the need to continue work in this field. One particular request was that the i-access recommendations should be developed into practical guidelines for organisations working in the sector.

image of girl at computer

To fulfill this request, the Agency is launching the ICT for Information Accessibility in Learning (ICT4IAL) project with the participation of a network of European and international organisations that represent both the learning and ICT communities supported by the European Commission under the Lifelong Learning Jean Monnet Programme, Key Activity 3. The Agency will act as project co-ordinator for the network and will work together with European Schoolnet, the International Association of UniversitiesUNESCO, the DAISY Consortium and the Global Initiative of Inclusive ICTs on all activities.

The ICT4IAL network activities will aim to:

  • Raise awareness and increase the visibility of the issue of accessible information provision and its relevance for equitable lifelong learning opportunities;
  • Support accessible information provision within organisations through the development, trialling and evaluation of guidelines that build upon already existing work in the field (notably the i-access project recommendations).

The project activities will begin in January 2013 and will run until the end of 2015.

people looking at Agency publications

Recent Agency publications available online 

image of Agency publication covers

A summary of the findings of four Agency projects can be read in the following policy papers:
The updated Publications Order Form provides an overview of Agency publications and information on how to order them.

The European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education is an independent and self-governing organisation, supported by Agency member countries and the European Institutions (Commission and Parliament). The production of this document has been made possible through support from the Agency member countries as well as the DG Education and Culture of the European Commission.
Copyright © 2012 European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education, All rights reserved.
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