First evaluation of special needs support for vocational education and training – scope for improvement in division of labour, competence and resource allocation

Vocational education suvialatalo

The purpose of special needs support is to make studying for a profession possible for students who face more challenges in studying and learning than others. Students appreciate teachers’ and guidance personnel’s genuine interest and would like teachers to give them more personal support and time. Support is provided in cooperation between special needs teachers, teachers and guidance personnel. However, there is scope for improvement in the personnel’s division of labour, cooperation, competence and allocation of resources to support. Multiprofessional and transition point cooperation should also be developed.

The Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (FINEEC) evaluated special needs support provided in vocational education and training in 2020–2021. The evaluation produced information on identifying support needs, planning the support, forms of support and guidance, and the availability and accessibility of support.

Responses to a survey conducted as part of the evaluation were received from 92 education providers and 2,379 teaching and guidance personnel. In addition, fifty students needing special support from different parts of Finland were interviewed for the evaluation, and statistical and register data related to them were used.

Students have different support needs – genuine interest and encounters are the key to good support

The interviewed students’ experiences of success were often associated with doing well in practical tasks, including vocational studies and workshop activities. The areas which the largest share of students found challenging were theoretical studies, common units and written assignments.

– Some students said that mental health problems, coping or poor motivation hampered their studies. Some had difficulty concentrating due to such factors as large student groups and noise. For some students, the pace of study was too fast, says Jani Goman, Counsellor of Evaluation.

The most common support forms of which the students had experience were clear instructions and learning materials, support and assistance provided by the teaching and guidance personnel, studying in various workshops and small groups, and being allowed additional time to complete assignments. As positive aspects of the support they had received, students mentioned individual arrangements and teachers responding to their support needs. They had good experiences of teachers and guidance personnel being genuinely interested in their students.

– While students felt they had received assistance, they would have liked the teachers to give them more personal support and time. Some wished that teachers would have a better ability to take different learners into consideration and support them in a variety of ways. Some students felt that their support needs should have been recognised earlier, says Raisa Hievanen, Senior Evaluation Adviser.

Scope for improvement in personnel’s division of labour, cooperation and competence

Quite a large proportion of teachers teaching vocational qualification and common units felt that the responsibilities and division of labour related to special needs support were unclear. The roles and tasks of special needs teachers, other teachers and guidance personnel in providing special needs support should be clarified, and detail should be added to the instructions concerning it issued to the personnel. Personnel competence related to special needs support should also be reinforced. At present, competence development is not particularly systematic. In particular, the ability of teachers of common and vocational qualification units to identify special support needs and support students should be improved.

The recording of support measures planned for students in their personal competence development plans (PCDP) and students’ participation in agreeing on support measures were implemented well, whereas there is room for improvement in the planning of support for individual qualification units, the recording of implemented support measures, and regular assessment of how effective the support is.

– Those teaching and guiding the students should have sufficient knowledge of the support measures agreed for the students and the means by which the support is delivered. In this respect, there is clearly scope for improvement in the information flows and cooperation between the personnel, Goman believes.

Personnel find resources inadequate

The personnel also found the inadequacy of resources a challenge in delivering special needs support. Consequently, education providers should ensure that the personnel resources are sufficient and that teaching and guidance personnel have enough time for the special needs support tasks. Sufficient special needs teacher resources should be reserved for identifying support needs, planning, delivering and monitoring the support, multiprofessional cooperation, supporting the personnel in special needs matters, and developing special needs support.

At the level of education providers, the allocation of increased central government transfers for special needs support should be made more visible. Improving the monitoring of their allocation is also important in order to evaluate the adequacy of resources and to allocate them appropriately between fields of education, qualification types and operating units.

Multiprofessional and transition point cooperation should be developed

In addition to pedagogical support measures, some students also need other support. The importance of multiprofessional and multidisciplinary cooperation is stressed in the organisation of special needs support. While education providers’ and educational institutions’ cooperation with student health care and school social workers’ services is relatively effective, cooperation with psychologist, youth, and employment and economic development services needs to be developed.

Transition point cooperation between basic education and VET should also be developed further in the areas of student guidance and information exchanges, and information about special needs support in vocational education and training should be communicated more effectively to basic education.

– Transition point cooperation with basic education and secondary education should begin earlier for students who face learning challenges in basic education, says Hievanen.

Join us to hear more about the evaluation results and discuss them!

The concluding webinar of the evaluation will take place from 12:00 till 14:30 on Thursday, 9 September 2021.

The webinar is free, and there is no need to register. For the webinar programme, visit FINEEC’s homepage.

Evaluation report and development recommendations:

SPECIAL NEEDS SUPPORT AS A RESOURCE – Evaluation of the provision of special needs support in vocational education and training.

Further information:

  • Jani Goman, Evaluation Counsellor,, tel. +358 29 533 5505
  • Raisa Hievanen, Senior Evaluation Adviser,, tel. +358 29 533 5542