Updated: May 6
I’m an American trained public school teacher, my parents were both public school teachers, my father-in-law and my two sisters-in-law were also public school teachers. Public school service runs deep in my family. However, no matter if I was working in a public, private or international school, students moving to and from schools is inevitable. I’ve seen students move across town, across state lines, and around the world. In most cases, it seems that the narrative of student needs is often erased and the communication necessary for creating smooth transitions sounds more like a busy signal.
In the American public school system (and many others around the world), students of all ability levels are given free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. On the contrary, international schools are similar to private schools in that they can accept and reject whomever they choose. In addition, they are not required to provide special education services and can transition students out of their school if they decide they are no longer a good fit.
Transition supports at international schools are starting to be researched and implemented thanks to organizations like SPAN. However, these transition supports are focused on students that fall within the general education bubble. In order to make this research completely comprehensive, children with special needs, gifted children, and their families must be kept in mind as well.
As the number of globally mobile families increases, so will the number of students with needs that fall outside general education. Thankfully, international schools have begun to embrace students' unique differences and relative needs. Schools have begun to develop not only learning support departments but also recognize the importance of creating an educational opportunity for students with intensive needs.
Here in Switzerland, there are a few schools such as International School Basel, Inter-Community School, and The International School of Geneva that provide services to students of varying ability levels. Unfortunately, space is extremely limited and the criteria to be admitted into these programs are rigid. We need to call for additional schools in the international community to admit students of all ability levels and help create meaningful educational outcomes.
In order to promote the growth of special education in the international school community, we need to ensure that schools are not operating on an island. Creating system-wide standards for special education and communication between teachers will help establish a solid foundation for the successful inclusion of students with unique educational needs.
In order to meet this goal, I would first suggest that all international schools, worldwide, agree upon a single Individual Education Plan (IEP, or some school refer to it as an Individual Learning Plan) format. An IEP communicates agreed upon goals and objectives for a school year, progress, and other related services. This would provide a universal format and ultimately decreasing mistakes and wasted time when trying to create programs for students in transition from one school to another.
Second, creating a common language among learning support professionals in the international schools will not only help those working in the schools but parents as well. Often, parents are confused by the different terminology used from school to school and are not sure if potential schools provide appropriate services to meet their child’s needs. Creating an international learning support language will ease these confusions.
Finally, because there are a small number of special needs teachers in each school, it is imperative that we have a network for finding professional development opportunities, conferences, and collaboration. The Special Education Network and Inclusion Association, SENIA International has been around since 2001 and is expanding around the globe. I have been fortunate enough to help bring this wonderful organization to Europe. Please join our network on Facebook to stay abreast of new opportunities and information.
The natural outcome of these systemic changes is more time spent planning for the smooth transition of students with special needs. This is our goal for all students! Let’s ensure that we are including all students in our efforts to create safe passages between international schools.
April Remfrey is an American special needs consultant living and loving life in Switzerland. April helps globally mobile families as they search for the best school for their child with special needs. Please feel free to share this blog post by giving credit to the author and the website link: www.remfreyeducationalconsulting.com