European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education

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The European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education is an independent organisation that acts as a platform for collaboration for its 30 member countries, working towards ensuring more inclusive education systems. The Agency’s mission is to help member countries improve the quality and effectiveness of their inclusive provision for all learners.[1]

All European countries are committed to working towards ensuring more inclusive education systems. They do so in different ways, depending on their past and current contexts and histories. Inclusive education systems are seen as a vital component within the wider aspiration of more socially inclusive societies that all countries align themselves with, both ethically and politically.

The ultimate vision for inclusive education systems is to ensure that all learners of any age are provided with meaningful, high-quality educational opportunities in their local community, alongside their friends and peers.

The Agency has a mandate from its member countries to facilitate collaboration regarding country priorities that are in line with the European Council priorities as identified in the ET 2020 strategy [2] and in accordance with international agreements, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Agency was established in 1996 as an initiative of the Danish Ministry of Education. The Agency Secretariat is based in Odense, Denmark and the Agency has an office in Brussels, Belgium.[3]

Through its activities the Agency facilitates the collection, processing and transfer of European level and country specific information in the area of inclusive education, and it provides opportunities for sharing different types of knowledge and experiences.


At present the Agency has 31 member countries: Austria, Belgium (Flemish and French speaking communities), Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales). [4]


Agency activities work towards the ET 2020 strategic objective ‘promoting equity, social cohesion and active citizenship’. In line with this objective, the main focus of the Agency’s work is upon inclusive education and the characteristics of provision for all learners, in particular those who are vulnerable to marginalisation and exclusion, such as students with disabilities and/or special educational needs.

By analysing and identifying key factors that hinder or support positive developments, the Agency provides member countries with recommendations and guidelines for policy and practice and then shares information about the reality of inclusive education across Europe.

In its activities, the Agency focuses on priorities established by member countries within the framework of its annual and multi-annual work programmes. Annual reports presenting an overview of annual activities are available online.[5]

Project work

All thematic projects focus upon issues of common concern for policy makers for special needs and inclusive education. The topics to be examined within thematic projects are identified via a systemic collection of information on the priorities countries have.

Priority topics include early childhood intervention, assessment in inclusive settings, teacher education for inclusion, vocational education and training, ICT for inclusion, information accessibility and data collection in the field on SNE.[6]

This is a list of Agency projects categorised under thematic sub-groups:

Pre-school education

  • Inclusive Early Childhood Education (IECE) (2015-2017)
  • Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) (2003-2005) and (2009-2010)
  • Early Intervention in Europe (1997-2000)

Compulsory education sector

  • Raising the Achievement of all Learners in Inclusive Education (2014-2016)
  • Raising Achievement for All Learners – Quality in Inclusive Education (RA4AL) (2011-2012)
  • Organisation of Provision to Support Inclusive Education (2012-2014)
  • Teacher Education for Inclusion (2009-2012)
  • Mapping the Implementation of Policy for Inclusive education (MIPIE) (2010-2011)
  • Inclusive Education in Classroom Practice Indicators – Follow up project (2009-2010)
  • Inclusive Education in Action (IEA)[7] (2009-2010) in co-operation with UNESCO
  • Indicators for Inclusive Education (2008)
  • Assessment in Inclusive settings (2005-2006) and (2006-2008)
  • Multicultural Diversity and Special Needs Education (2006-2008)
  • Inclusive Education and Classroom Practice in Secondary Education (2003-2004)
  • Inclusive Education and Classroom Practice in Primary Education (1999-2002)
  • Teacher Support (1997-2000)

Post-compulsory education

  • Vocational Education and Training (2010-2012)
  • Higher Education Accessibility Guide (HEAG) (2001-2002) and (2009-2010)
  • Individual Transition Plans (2003-2005)
  • Transition from School to Employment (1999-2002)

Data Collection

  • European Agency Statistics on Inclusive Education (2012-ongoing)
  • Special Needs Education Country Data Collection – 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012

Key Principles

  • Key Principles for Promoting Quality in Inclusive Education – Recommendations for Practice (2010-2011)
  • Key Principles for Promoting Quality in Inclusive Education – Recommendations for Policy Makers (2009)
  • Key Principles for Special Needs Education – Recommendations for Policy Makers (2002-2003)

Information and Communication Technology

  • ICT for Information Accessibility in Learning (ICT4IAL) (2013-2015) in co-operation with European Schoolnet, the International Association of Universities, UNESCO, the DAISY Consortium and the Global Initiative of Inclusive ICTs
  • ICT for Inclusion (2012-2013)
  • Accessible Information Provision for Lifelong Learning (i-access) (2011-2012)
  • ICTs in Education for People with Disabilities (2010-2011) in co-operation with UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education/IITE
  • Information Society Technologies and Special Educational Needs-NET (SEN-IST-NET) (2001-2004)
  • ICT and Special Needs Education (1999-2001)

Cross-cutting messages

  • Early School Leaving and Learners with Disabilities and/or Special Educational Needs (2016)
  • Country Policy Review and Analysis (2013-ongoing)
  • Financing Policies for Inclusive Education Systems (2016-2018)
  • Financing of Inclusive Education (2014-2015)
  • Special Needs Education in Europe (Vol. 2) – provision in post-primary education (2006)
  • Special Education across Europe 2003 (2002-2003)
  • Special Needs Education in Europe (2002)
  • Financing of Special Needs Education (1997-2000)
  • Integration in Europe (1997-1998)

Information provision

Information from project activities is summarised on the Agency website and in printed form in various formats such as final project reports, summary flyers, country reports and study visit reports. Main project outcomes are translated in all the Agency official languages, a total of 25 languages. All materials on the Agency website are free to download.[8]

Detailed information on each Agency member country’s legal system, financing, the identification of special educational needs, special needs education within the education system, and teacher training is summarised in the National Organisation of Provision section [9] of the Agency website.


In addition to thematic projects, the Agency organises special events, dissemination conferences,[10] round table discussions,[11] thematic sessions[12] and other events. These events are an opportunity to raise awareness, share information on priority areas and facilitate networking for participants.

Two of the four Parliament Hearings for young people took place in the European Parliament in 2003[13] and in 2011,[14][15] and one in the Portuguese Parliament in 2007.[16] The last Hearing from October 2015 entitled ‘Inclusive Education: Take Action! Luxembourg Recommendations’ was an official event of the Luxembourg Presidency of the European Union. [17][18]

These events were organised for young people with and without disabilities in order to provide them an opportunity to express their views about inclusive education and to reach policy-makers. Results from the Hearings have been presented to key decision makers at both national and European levels for their consideration and further action.



The Agency was established in 1996 as an initiative of the Danish Ministry of Education, at the end of the EC programme Helios II.[19] Representatives from the ministries of education from the 15 member countries of the European Union, as well as Norway and Iceland, supported the initiative as a means of furthering their co-operation in the field of special needs and inclusive education.[20][21]

The first phase of the Agency’s existence was a three-year trial period that ran until the end of July 1999 and was largely funded by the Danish authorities. The Secretariat was therefore established in Odense, Denmark. The European Commission, through the Directorate General for Education, provided financial support to projects.

Ministries of education of the member countries ensured that the work of the Agency was beneficial for that country through the nomination of appropriate people appointed to work with the Agency. These are the Representative Board member, the National Co-ordinator and national experts.[22] Starting August 1999 all the member countries took an equal governance of the Agency. In 1999 another Agency office was established in Brussels. The European Commission continued to support concrete Agency activities aimed at analysing and disseminating key information in the field of special needs education across Europe as well as supporting and disseminating information relating to the Socrates programme.

Between 1997 and 2001 the Agency’s work focused on creating a platform for co-operation at European level through the national networks built up in all countries as well as through its website.


Increased budgetary support during 2002, mainly via the budget line approved by the European Parliament, facilitated more stable and long-term development of the Agency’s activities. The Agency benefited from an operating grant from 2002 until 2004.

In 2004, the Agency was included in the Decision No 791/2004/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council,[23] this decision provided a legal basis for the Agency and ensured the provision of an operating grant until 2006.

By this time the work was focused on firmly consolidating and strengthening the Agency’s position as the platform for co-operation at European level. Co-operation activities took place with European and international organisations. The Agency website was expanded and national networks were extended in all countries through the involvement of nominated national experts participating in the Agency projects.

Since 2007

The Agency now has 30 member countries. Since 2007 it has welcomed Slovenia and the Slovak Republic as member countries. The newest member is Bulgaria, who joined in 2017.

Since 2007 the Agency has been one of six European institutions supported with an operating grant under the Jean Monnet initiative within the EU Lifelong Learning Programme 2007–2013 and similarly under the Jean Monnet initiative[24] within the new EU Erasmus+[25] education programme (2014-2020).

In terms of thinking, implementation and language usage, the concept ‘special needs education’ has shifted towards ‘inclusive education’. Similarly, the way of thinking about learners’ needs has moved from the concept of ‘special educational needs’ towards ‘additional needs’.

In 2014 the Agency changed its name from European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education to European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education, as member country representatives believe that the new name represents better the Agency’s views and mission.

Co-operative relationships

The Agency maintains active working relationships with other specialist European organisations [26] working in the field of inclusive and special needs education as well as with key international bodies and organisations in the education sector, such as UNESCO [27] and its institutes (International Bureau of Education /IBE, and International Institute for Information Technologies in Education/ITTE[28][29]), the UNICEF CEE/CIS regional office,[30] the OECD, the International Labour Organization and the World Bank.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Education and Training 2020 strategic framework:
  3. ^ Agency offices:
  4. ^ Agency member countries:
  5. ^ Agency Annual Report 2015:
  6. ^ Agency projects:
  7. ^ IEA project website:
  8. ^ Publications are free to download:
  9. ^ National Organisation of Provision:
  10. ^ Examples of Agency project conferences: or
  11. ^ example of round table discussion
  12. ^ Example of thematic session
  13. ^ European Parliament Hearing 2003:
  14. ^ European Parliament Hearing 2011 web area:
  15. ^ Young Voices on Inclusive Education video:
  16. ^ Parliament Hearing in Portugal 2007:
  17. ^ Inclusive Education: Take Action! video:
  18. ^ Inclusive Education: Take Action! web area:
  19. ^ Helios II EC programme:
  20. ^ Agency history:
  21. ^ Agency history:
  22. ^ Organisational structure of the Agency:
  23. ^ Decision No 791/2004/EC:
  24. ^ Agency supported by the Jean Monnet Programme:
  25. ^ Erasmus + EU programme for education, Training, Youth and Sport for 2014-2020
  26. ^ Video on European co-operation:
  27. ^ Agency IEA project cooperation with UNESCO
  28. ^ Agency co-operation with UNESCO-ITTE:
  29. ^ Agency co-operation with UNESCO-ITTE:
  30. ^ UNICEF CEE/CIS Regional Office:

External links

  • Official website
  • Institutions supported by the Jean Monnet Programme
  • Inclusive Education in Action website: Empowering Teachers: Empowering Learners project page
  • Inclusive Education in Action (IEA) Agency project page
  • ICT for Information Accessibility in Learning project page
  • Erasmus+ the new EU programme for Education, Training, Youth and Sport for 2014-2020
  • The Agency's YouTube channel
  • Subscribe to the eBulletin - the Agency's newsletter
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