How Supportive of Special Needs Students is Your School?

specialneeds14563127Just days ago, ISR received a letter from The Next Frontier Inclusion (NFI). We’re delighted to learn NFI is committed to supporting Special Needs Students in International Schools. This is the first such organization of its kind of which we are aware. A copy of the letter from Gill & Ochan Powell of NFI is posted below.

You’ll notice the letter includes a list of schools already affiliated with NFI & it looks like they’re off to a strong start. Of course, we all know there can be a huge chasm between word & deed, & for International Educators seeking positions at new schools, it may be useful to know to what extent individual schools actually do support Special Needs Students.

Reviews on ISR reveal scenarios in which Special Needs Students are tossed into the mainstream student population & potentially left to sink or swim. Without question, this approach drastically impacts everyone, students, families, teachers, admin & classmates, alike. Surprisingly, some schools consider this sink or swim “method” their full commitment to services for Special Needs Students.

Also to be considered are cultures that  keep Special Needs Students in the background & out of sight as if  they are a source of embarrassment. How Special Needs Programs would function in these societies should be of concern to International Educators, as schools may simply pay lip service to Special Needs Programs as a means to collect exorbitant fees from unsuspecting parents.

Of course, there are many schools earnestly implementing programs to meet the needs of Special Needs Students. But before considering an International school for your child or your International teaching career, everyone should be aware of the extent to which Special Needs Students are supported at that school. Is this a sink or swim school, or a supportive environment in which to grow & develop as a teacher &/or a student?

To help identify schools committed to the unique requirements of Special Needs Students, we invite ISR readers to share their knowledge about the dedication to Special Needs Programs made by schools on the Next Frontier Inclusion list, below. If you have experience with a school not on the list, please also feel free to inform colleagues on that particular school.

Together we can identify & support the schools truly helping Special Needs Students.

Letter from The Next Frontier Inclusion to
AISHnet (Academy of International School Heads), Headnet & ISR

Dear All,
We hope the school year has started well for you. From a reading of the “roll call” on AISHnet and Headnet, it would seem that international schools are flourishing, with many seeing record levels of enrollment and expansion.

The purpose of this news release is to keep you abreast of some of the developments in The Next Frontier Inclusion, Thinking Collaborative, EAF Staff Development Center and some new publications that may be of interest. Please feel free to share this newsletter and any of the attachments.

The Next Frontier Inclusion (NFI) is a non-profit organization that supports international schools in becoming more inclusive of students with special educational needs and exceptional talents. NFI membership is now over fifty international schools and growing. We are a collaborative group that meets periodically to share knowledge and experience with respect to inclusive education. Please visit our web site: Next Frontier Inclusion

The following schools have joined NFI:

American Int’l School of Dhaka
American Int’l School of Jeddah
American Int’l School of Johannesburg
American Int’l School of Rotterdam
American Int’l School of Vienna
American School of Brazzaville
American School of Chennai
American School of Dubai
American School of The Hague
American School of Yaounde
Anglo-American School Moscow
Bangalore Int’l School
Beacon Hill School, Hong Kong
Beijing City Int’l School
Berlin Brandenburg Int’l School
Bonn Int’l School
Casablanca American School
Colegio Gran Bretana
Concordia Int’l School Shanghai
Concordian Int’l School, Bangkok
Copenhagen Int’l School
Ecole Nouvelle Suisse de la Romande
Hong Kong Academy
Int’l Community School Addis Ababa
Int’l Community School, Amman
Int’l Community School, London
Int’l School of Ho Chi Minh City
Int’l School Basel
Int’l School of Bangkok
Int’l School of Beijing
Int’l School of Berne
Int’l School of Brussels
Int’l School of Dhaka
Int’l School of Havana
Int’l School of Kenya
Int’l School of Kuala Lumpur
Int’l School of Manila
Int’l School of Tanganyika
Int’l School of Zurich
Jakarta Int’l School
Kongsberg Int’l School
Metropolitan School of Panama
Nagoya Int’l School
Nanjing Int’l School
Phuket Int’l Academy Day School
Singapore American School
SJI Int’l School, Singapore
UNIS Hanoi
UNIS New York
Yokohama Int’l School

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19 thoughts on “How Supportive of Special Needs Students is Your School?

  1. Dear sir.
    I am in child is 10 years old..he has mild motor difficulty that makes him need little assistance at the toilet for safety…he is mentally fine…he passed his grade 3 in massarat school…a very good school for inclusion very helpful and understanding..but unfortunately they haven’t boy section…so I looked for international school…all schools with boy section rejected my child for his toilet issue- needs a nanny for support at the toilet-only for his safety…so I looked for international mixed boys and girls to accept the attendance of a female nanny….
    This school was the American International school in jeddah….they unfortunately rejected us as well saying that he should be totally this could be said from a school with inclusion???
    I wrote to u hopefully you can help me..because we couldn’t find a decent school for my near normal child…hasn’t he the right to be in a decent place??to study to play to mingle and to be accepted ????
    Thanks for your time…but I think the American International school in jeddah doesn’t deserve to be in that list of schools with inclusion….


  2. As a parent of a child with learning challenges that need extra support and understanding, it saddens me that our time in international schools is over. I can’t find one that I would trust with my child. I have heard good things about American School of the Hague, Johannesburg, Hong Kong Academy and ISB in Brussels…but that’s only four schools. FOUR.


  3. I think that the process of becoming more inclusive is one that takes time. A philosophical shift is necessary and then logistical considerations need to be addressed and implemented. All schools are at their own unique point on their journeys towards inclusion. I applaud schools that are moving in this direction!


  4. I think it is important to realise that children with special needs are as diverse as those without. There is a tendency to think that children with special needs will hinder learning for other children. This is not necessarily the case. Often many of the practices that are applied to this specific group would benefit other children who have no diagnosed need. As a teacher with several children with special needs in a mixed ability class, I find that it is not those with special needs that hinder the learning but the behaviour of all children in general. Disruptive behaviour is no more prevalent in those with special educational needs than it is in the general school population.

    I confess that I have a child with mild learning difficulties and have been shocked at the look of terror that crosses the faces of teachers when I mention this. I see them shut down and envisage the horrors they would have to endure if my child was in the classroom. Some have made it plan that they do not wish to have such children associated with their school. It is at that point that I reflect on their mission statements and aims and wonder if they realise what it all means.


  5. I have yet to see an international school with an appropriate and acceptable Special Needs programme.
    It is not only ‘for-profit’ schools but ‘not-for-profit’ basically accept anyone who has a heart beat.
    I was appointed as SENCO at a British school in the Middle East and it was a very challenging job. Firstly, some of class teachers were either NQT’s without any clue how to even give me a register or list of students that might need extra investigation or help. Secondly, the school environment could not support a special needs child with just one special needs expert. I tried to make this clear but the school did not understand.
    Currently, I am in the most horrendous situation. There are fits fights and violent outbursts in and out of the classrooms. Students in all the classes get out of their seats, run over and punch a student. All of this is Unprovoked!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Unless the school is exclusively for Special Needs, I really do not think most of these ‘international’ schools are a suitable environment.


  6. There is no law where I work that says the school has to take children with special needs. Also the school I work at lacks the resources to accept special needs children. Thus parents who apply that have special needs children are told to look elsewhere.


  7. I’ve worked at 7 international schools and none of them had the least bit of services for special needs. In fact, the school did not identify these kids to us and left us on our own to figure out who was who. I had a child in high school who could never stop talking to his neighbor, even after reminding him repeatedly. One day I simply asked him to leave the class, which he did. Needless to say his father arrived the next day to have a talk with me. It was then I learned of the boys situation. Had the school given us any info on the students such instances could have been avoided. My basic thought is that most of these “international schools” are not organized enough to keep such records and share them with teachers.

    I have worked in the States and special needs kids received excellent support. Maybe these schools could learn something form the US model.


    1. Let me tell you a true story.

      My first international school experience was at a school favored by Korean expat students in Qingdao, China in 2014. In one of my classes, there was a student with obvious Down’s Syndrome. The school had no support for this student whatsoever. He would sit in classes all day and draw pictures of ocean scenes all over his books.

      During conferences, I brought this up to his parents. Both of his parents were teachers. When I suggested that he be perhaps moved to a government school for support, I was told “no, we cannot do that. It would jeopardize our jobs.” When I asked how, they responded with “if he is in a public school, the parents of our students will find out about him. They will say to each other that if we did this to our own kid, imagine what we are doing to their kids. They will complain until we are both fired.” When I asked about how anyone could think that, with Down’s Syndrome widely known as a genetic condition, their response was “our parents will not understand this and will not care. They will just blame us for doing this to our son.”

      They were basically hiding their son to protect their careers and livelihoods.

      The moral of this story is that the cultural circumstances surrounding what goes on in many of these schools often prevents kids with special needs from getting services.

      I would think long and hard before accepting a position in an international school in China if you have a child with special needs.


  8. Last two principals and director at International School of Tanganyika (Tanzania) supported building a quality program, ensuring that we were able to provide support necessary for admitted students and trusted the judgment of the experts in this area. New director seems bent on filling seats regardless of student needs and school’s ability to provide appropriate (or any) service. Example: pressure was put on to admit a secondary student with NO English skills where there is NOT a program to teach English and only every other day curricular support. This may be because of budgetary needs; however, director has not been transparent if this is the case and seems to either be ignorant of student needs and school program or happily willing to warehouse students. This is in direct contradiction to statements he made last year that secondary students must have some basic level of English to gain from the program and is in direct contradiction to years of policy regarding admissions based on Online Placement Inventory test – guidelines for which were established by an educational psychologist who gathered and analyzed all the data to determine the baseline test results that corresponded to ability to gain from the program.


  9. I am a special needs teacher. In my career internationally it seems that the bigger schools, that are embassy connected, seem to be a bit more inclusive. That said they are really not inclusive because they exclude children with intellectual challenges, severe autism, severe behavioral disorders, mental illness, and severe special needs.

    Maybe more accurate to say schools are inclusive if a child requires minimal supports and is almost fully functioning in the regular classroom environment. Even at those schools once you move beyond the primary level you find few students with special needs unless they are very mild. I think this is because the learning gap grows exponentially as the curriculum increases in speed of pacing and difficulty level.

    In my home country it is a law that all children between the ages of birth and 21 receive a free and appropriate public education. (USA) International schools are under no such mandate. Many international schools do not have the resources necessary to support moderate to severely challenged students.

    Having a special needs student takes up homeroom teacher time, can be a distraction to other students, and requires more resources .Many parents of secondary international students are highly educated themselves, pay high tuition for their children to attend, and are really not too interested in having anyone in the classroom who impedes the learning process. I can argue that there are some students with special needs that do not impede the classes’ learning process but any educator can attest that there are just as many that do. These attitudes make me very sad. It is almost as if the parents want their children to be surrounded by perfect children which is not a reflection of real life. I have not seen these attitudes so much when children are in early elementary school but usually starting in middle school when families begin to think of universities and what their child must learn. know, and do to get into prestigious schools.

    I have taught at some of the schools who joined the organization advertised above and found their own special needs practices to be less than inclusive. But schools can change over time so perhaps they are moving towards more inclusiveness. My fingers are crossed for good luck that this is the case. I do feel dreadfully sad for parents who must return to their home countries because the international schools can not help them educate their child. I know of several cases like this including the case of my own brother. He has moderate special needs and by grade 7 we had to return to the USA because the international school where we lived would not accept him.

    I also feel dreadfully sad for the average student who has a special needs student in their classroom that is disruptive to the education process. Those other students have a right to learn in an environment that is focused, well paced, and comfortable especially in light of the high tuition cost of most international schools! Frankly if I were a parent I would resent any child, no matter which child, who caused a disruption to the educational process. Many parents I know in the USA in my homestate, who have the money to do so, select private schools because they do not want their native English speaking child to be in a class with a large ESL and special needs population. Some without money have decided to home school.

    It can be hard to find a balance between the needs of the student with learning challenges and the needs of the other students within the classroom. Perhaps I can sum up my experiences this way, students who can mostly pass for normal and require very little extra help can usually matriculate in most international schools. This means having only the very mildest of challenges. The remainder, unless they have strong compensatory skills, seem to get weeded out by 9th grade.


    1. This was also my experience of international schools in Kuala Lumpur as a teacher and parent. I think you have summed it up well with what you have written.


    2. You have clearly stated the situation that I have seen in regards to providing special needs services to students in international schools. Some schools that I have worked in hired special educators but continue to councel students with special needs out of the school under the guise that they could not possibly succede with the school’s curriculum.
      In the school for which I currently work, I was hired, in part, to be the special education coordinator and have served in this capacity for over a year, only to be told that the school does not accept students with special needs and that they do not provide support for these students. I have been told to just stop servicing these students. So very sad, and a huge step backwards!!
      My experience in international school is also that parents will lie or not disclose information on applications for fear that their children will not be accepted into the school. Really there needs to be me more options for families who work and live internationally and have children with special needs.
      I am very pleased to learn about this organization and to read the long list of school who are practicing inclusion in their schools. Let’s hope that this list of schools continues to increase and provide more families with better choices for their children.


    3. Hello Catherine, I have recently moved to Kuala Lumpur and I am searching for an inclusive international school with great learning support. Based on your experience which schools would you recommend.

      Many thanks



    4. You make some interesting points, but there is one link missing from your chain – the mainstream classroom teacher.

      What I have found is that, where provision for special needs students exists, there is an expectation that the mainstream teacher will be expected to differentiate lesson plans to meet their needs. This is, of course, entirely reasonable … until you realise that they are generally provided with no training, no time and no support. The difference between Learning support teachers and mainstream teachers can is distilled into workload. Where a well-resourced programme exists it can be a wonderful thing for all involved. Otherwise, spare some sympathy for the classroom teacher who is trying to meet not only the needs of the children with special needs, but everyone else in the class as well.


  10. I teach at a high school in Hawaii with quite a structured RTI program where students are supported in an inclusion setting by a co-teacher who offers assistance to all of the students in the classroom so as not to identify those with disabilities to other students. The primary teacher is supposed to follow the accommodations in the IEP. If the student is not successful there then they are moved to a resource class which is simply a smaller class with more support. And if they cannot do well there then a certificate program is available that teaches independent living, functional academics and work place readiness skills. This is a very effective model and I would expect the international schools to adopt an RTI model in the future. I hope to teach at an international school as a learning support teacher and I feel that international schools will benefit from what many schools stateside already are practicing. Much Aloha,


  11. I worked at a school in Khao Yai, Thailand and was asked to work there as a Special Educator. It was interesting, once I started identifying students in the program as possible Sped Kids, I was told my contract woud not be renewed….Oh yes this was after they got their certification first………


  12. At SCIS in Shanghai, students with special needs (e.g. autism, or Aspergers Syndrom)sit next to the other special needs students: the intellectually gifted. Teachers are never informed about any of these special conditions and therefore the challenge of teaching is just enormous. As mentioned on the article, this non selective method of enrollment creates frustration in teachers, students and parents. I hope enrollment could be regulated according to the real student´s needs to provide every kid with what they deserve: Quality education.


    1. Hi! I’m looking at SCIS Pudong for potential enrollment for my hyperlexic son who has some aspie traits… Are you still at the same school? I’m trying to dig thru their learning support program there – so far all I’m getting is the brochure and the price list… Seems rather difficult to get on hold of what is going on with learning support there. I also accidentally stumbled upon the job add for new director of support services. Please do contact me if you are still at the school or if you know of any developments that would help me in this correct school choosing process.


    2. I am sorry to tell you that I do not work anymore at SCIS. However, based on your comments on the price list, it seems to me that the SCIS still is ruled under the same philosophy: Getting as many students for as much as they can charge no matter what your kid´s learning need is.


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