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What measures can one take to ensure the best learning experience for a child with special needs within an ordinary class?

In French speaking countries (and many others) the traditional approach has been to educate students separately in accordance with their skills. Some may have been integrated into mainstream schooling whereas others were not. This meant that students with handicaps were orientated to specialized establishments and students facing academic failure were quickly removed from the school system. Today, our society is evolving towards schools open to all students, inclusive school. For a considerable amount of time now, various laws ensure that diversity is found within classes (1989 in France, 1993 in Geneva). However, laws ensuring inclusion have existed for a much shorter period of time (2005 in France, 2010 in Geneva), and furthermore, mainstream schooling is no longer considered a privilege, but a right. On top of this the more one considers inclusive schooling the more natural and humane the concept becomes. Yet it is not always as straightforward. Schools were previously conceived to educate the largest number of students possible and now we are asking the same establishments to respond to very specific needs of certain students. This requires adaptations to the previous way of functioning, which must be developed and put in place by the educational team.

1. Evaluation of needs

The first tool is observation. However, in cases of significant and persistent difficulties, an evaluation of a student’s needs can be undertaken with specific tools (GEVA-SCO for France, PES in Switzerland, other cognitive assessments according to the individual’s needs). Depending on outcomes of testing, different levels of adaptations are available, ranging from the most basic to more specific adaptations.

2. Differentiated instruction

This occurs on a daily basis. According to Philippe Perrenoud (translated from French), “The act of differentiating is drawing away from didactic instruction, the same lesson, the same exercises for all; most importantly it is putting in place an organization and resources which place each individual in an optimal situation on a regular basis. This organization consists of using available resources and playing with all the available parameters to organise activities in a manner such that each student is constantly, or at least frequently, faced with the most fruitful didactic situations for him or herself.”1 The document “« adapting one’s teaching methods » presents the following paths in a summarized yet very complete manner:

-> reduce difficulties linked to sequencing (alphabet, days, months, multiplication tables...)
-> reduce difficulties linked to visual treatment
-> reduce difficulties linked to memories : working memory/ long term memory
-> reduce difficulties linked to attentive resources.
-> avoid the vicious spiral of a loss of self-esteem (love of one’s self, vision of one’s self, belief in one’s self).

According to the level and needs of the student, differentiated instruction can range from simply showing flexibility to more significant adaptations. This does not mean the student cannot follow the same program as his or her classmates. It simply means they must be followed in a different manner.

Sometimes, certain students have different objectives. In such cases it is beneficial for the pedagogical content as well as evaluations to be modified. The program is no longer the same as that of other students. In such a scenario the educational team and the family must be in agreement as this decision will impact the future academic path of the student in question.2


Pyramide Differenciation


Differentiated instruction (Illustation borrowed from the « Plan d’intervention et mesures adaptatives en primaire », Intervention plans and adaptive measures in primary education,




In Switzerland, many documents produced by institutional organisations, designed for teachers, recommend various adaptations to help with specific difficulties or disorders. These enable the access to an “official” policy of differentiated pedagogy, especially with regards to evaluations. These documents are available on the Geneva Cap Integration website ( or on the website of the Swiss Centre of specialized pedagogy (CSPS)  ( in Bern.

3. Referring to support structures

For students with difficulties, the intervention of existing support structures can be useful: personalised assistance, support teacher, co-teaching, help with homework... To ensure access to such support services one must consult the school or the educational networks (other schools, social services, municipality, associations...) that exists to ensure the students and the families receive the help best tailored to their needs. For example, in the case of a student who does not speak the language, an “FLE” class (“Français comme Langue Etrangère”, French as a Foreign Language) is available within the school or in another school. Furthermore, it can be of interest to invite the parents to participate in an information session promoting awareness of the host countries school culture, which are often animated by social partners of the city.

4. The development of an integration program


plan perso

Certain needs require a specific integration program. In the Swiss Romande a PEI (Projet Educatif Individualisé -> Individual Educational Plan) is a document, which synthesises the strengths and weaknesses of a student and determines the conditions required for optimal integration in an educational environment. In France, several programmes exist (PAI, PPRE, PAP or PPS – see illustration and translations above) which allow the appropriate responses to students’ specific needs ranging from dietary requirements to learning difficulties as well as handicaps. These plans propose medical protocols, reinforced measures of scholarly support, the presence of a personal caretaker (Assistant in Scholarly Integration, Auxiliary of Scholarly Life) or the establishment of specific teaching program.3 All of these measures are coordinated by persons who are able to unite different players required around the students.

Welcome plans specific to France – Picture of the National Education, Superior Education and Research Minister.


5. Compensation for disadvantages during exams

In Switzerland, official guidelines define the policies regarding “compensation for disadvantages”. This expression refers to the adaptation of conditions under which an exam takes place. The goal of the guidelines is to neutralise or reduce the limitations caused by the difficulty or deficiency of the student. Therefore they only concern the conditions of the exam, they do not concern the academic or schooling objectives, which remain unchanged. Thanks to such guidelines, a sign language interpreter can accompany a student with an auditory deficiency, another student can benefit from extra time, etc. For such compensations to be effective they must be requested through a precise procedure.4

6. The student and their parents at the centre of the plan

It is important to end this article with a reminder that a key element is to maintain the student and their parents at the centre of all measures put in place. In a majority of cases, parents are the primary caregivers for the child. Furthermore it is the parents who follow the child, without interruption, year after year and ensure, to the best they can, the continuity of the measures taken. They are often very well informed about the difficulties of their child and are able to communicate important information to the teacher as of the start of the academic year or even at the end of the previous school year. On the other hand, professionals assist and shoulder the parents, allowing them to fully understand the difficulties observed and the help, which is offered. The collaboration between families and professionals is unavoidable; it’s a real partnership. The final decisions regarding facilities put in place or the student’s orientation are the fruit of a consensus.5

For more information on the organisation of an inclusive class 
For more information on the organisation of an inclusive school

Examples of the schooling of students with special learning needs in France. Schooling of students with handicaps. EducationFrance.



1 Differentiated instruction. Wikipedia.

2 Three forms of differentiation in evaluations. The website for differentiated instruction.

3 Handicap, Besoins éducatifs particuliers, Quelle scolarisation ? Pour une école inclusive. ONISEP Basse-Normandie, 2014.

4 Compensation for disadvantages. The website of the Swiss Center of Specialized Pedagogy,

5 Guerdan, V. (2010). Vers de nouvelles formes d’engagement social unissant familles, praticiens et chercheurs. Brochure d’information, ART21.

For further information:


This Canadian website offers several differentiation tools for lessons and evaluations in a visual and accessible format:

The Department of Public Instruction’s website which proposes different ways of intervening with students with specific needs for educational professionals:

The website of Swiss specialised pedagogy, offers documents “of information to the attention of teachers on difficulties, the measures of pedagogical differentiation and compensation of disadvantages”:

The following website proposes many paths to be considered regarding the construction of an inclusive school in France: