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Eur. J. of Special Needs Education, Vol. 16, No. 3 (2001), pp.

193205

The Dutch policy of integration put to the


test: differences in academic and psychosocial
development of pupils in special and
mainstream education

SJOERD KARSTEN, THEA PEETSMA, JAAP ROELEVELD AND


MARGARETHA VERGEER
Division for Fundamental Research, SCO-Kohnstamm Institute, University of Amsterdam,
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Address for correspondence:


Dr Sjoerd Karsten, Wibautstraat 4,
1091 GM Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Tel: +31 20-5251232 (work); + 31 20-6380863 (private);
Fax: +31 20-5251500; E-mail: Sjoerd@educ.uva.nl

ABSTRACT

After several failed attempts to rein in the growth of special education, the Dutch
government made a start in 1991 with a policy to accommodate pupils with problems
in regular education and to put a stop to the growth of special education. This paper
examines a large-scale study conducted by our research group at the University of
Amsterdam which attempted to answer the question whether pupils with problems are
better off in special education where there are more resources and they can get more
attention than in mainstream schools. It was expected that the pupils in special
education would do better due to the specialist care and individual attention. However,
with a few exceptions, few differences were found when comparable at-risk pupils in
regular schools were compared with their counterparts in both types of special schools.
There was a conspicuously large measure of variability in both regular and special
education. All school types had both at-risk pupils who were doing well from an
academic and/or psychosocial perspective and pupils whose progress left much to be
desired. There is little evidence to support the idea that at-risk pupils make less
progress, in either their academic or psychosocial development, in regular schools
compared with pupils in special schools. The general assumption that at-risk pupils
will do better in special education does not seem to account for its attractiveness.
Contrary to the policy theory, the dual system, as it exists in The Netherlands, does
not appear to be an obstacle to the provision of adequate care for pupils with special
educational needs. However, the policy to equip regular schools to accommodate this
category of pupils appears not to be realized as simply as that. It has not proved

European Journal of Special Needs Education


ISSN 0885-6257 print/ISSN 1469-591X online 2001 Taylor & Francis Ltd
http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals
DOI: 10.1080/08856250110074364
194 European Journal of Special Needs Education, Vol. 16, No. 3 (2001)

possible to demonstrate the effects of the varying levels of specialist help provided by
regular schools on the development of at-risk pupils.

KEYWORDS

Policy of integration, special education, pupils at risk, academic development,


psychosocial development, study of matched pairs

INTRODUCTION

One of the most important issues that governments and educational experts have been
wrestling with for a long time is the question of where pupils with special educational
needs can best be educated. Do these pupils need a specic form of care in special
education or should they be accommodated in regular education as far as possible
and given extra help and attention?
Over the past few decades, there has been a worldwide trend towards greater
integration of pupils with special educational needs into mainstream schools. The UK
and the USA are international trend-setters in this eld, but there has also been a lot
of support for this policy in other Western countries in recent years (OECD, 1995).
After several failed attempts to rein in the growth of special education, the Dutch
government made a start in 1991 with a policy that goes under the name Weer Samen
Naar School (which translates as Back to school together again). The aim of this
policy is to accommodate pupils with problems in regular education and to put a stop
to the growth of special education.1 As the government cannot control the primary
process directly, it has attempted to use administrative, organizational and nancial
measures to support the process of mainstreaming or integration.
The mainstreaming movement, as Madden and Slavin (1983) rightly observed,
has its greatest impact in terms of numbers on the education of pupils with mild
academic handicaps or moderate special needs. These pupils also make up the lions
share of pupils who traditionally have been taught in special classes or special schools
and who are most eligible for mainstreaming. Other groups with more serious
problems or handicaps generally involve much smaller numbers of children or the
policy of mainstreaming is less suitable for them. It is hardly a surprise, therefore, that
the Dutch government started this policy in schools for children with learning and
behavioural difculties and at schools for the mildly mentally retarded. These schools
experienced spectacular growth in The Netherlands in the 1970s and 1980s, from
1.48 per cent of all pupils in 1975 to about 2.84 per cent in 1995 (Pijl, 1997). It is partly
due to this growth that The Netherlands joined Germany and Switzerland as countries
with the highest proportion of pupils outside regular education in Europe (OECD,
1995).
Central to the theory behind the Dutch governments Back to school together
again (WSNS) policy, is the idea that regular primary education has not managed to
give sufficient form and content to the desire to facilitate pupils continuous
development (Meijer, Meijnen and Scheerens, 1993). The growing stream of pupils
out to the less specialized forms of special education would appear to indicate that
regular education has not been able to give pupils with problems adequate support and
guidance. The main reason given for this has been the dual system as such, which
hinders effective care for at-risk pupils.
Integration policy in The Netherlands 195

Of course, this can also be argued the other way. Are pupils with problems better
off in fact in special education where there are more resources and they can get more
attention? It would be reasonable to assume that if the balance comes out in favour
of special education, there will be continued pressure to maintain the dual system and
the legitimacy of the most important principles of the policy will be undermined for
good.
This paper examines a large-scale study conducted by our research group at the
University of Amsterdam which attempted to answer this question (Peetsma and
Roeleveld, 1998; Peetsma, Roeleveld and Vergeer, 2000). The aim of the study was
to obtain information about differences in the academic and psychosocial development
of pupils in various forms of special schools and regular primary schools, as the
combination of problems with learning and psychosocial problems was the main
reason for referrals to special education. At the present time, as a result of the WSNS
policy, pupils with learning and behavioural problems are not being referred to special
education as quickly. So, more of them are being accommodated in regular education.
Consequently, the present situation can be described as a quasi-experimental
situation, in which comparable (at-risk) pupils are found in different types of schools:
(1) schools for children with learning and behavioural difficulties and schools for
mildly mentally retarded children (special education); and (2) regular primary schools
which use specialist care in the form of methods that effectively meet the educational
needs of special needs students, and regular primary schools with fewer adapted
provisions (regular education). This situation allows a variety of research methods to
be used to test a number of important basic assumptions behind the current policy.
The paper is structured as follows. First, we examine the underlying assumptions
and the design of the Dutch policy in comparison with other countries. Next we report
the method and ndings of our study. Finally, we discuss what those ndings mean
for current policy and the general debate on mainstreaming and integration.

DUTCH POLICY AND PRACTICES IN AN INTERNATIONAL CONTEXT

Policy-making is generally approached as a rational process, but it can also be seen


as a process of making sense of things and of persuasion. The policy of integrating
special education with regular education in The Netherlands and elsewhere has
been vigorously pursued on the basis of normative arguments (Pijl, Meijer and
Hegarty, 1997). Often both approaches play a role at the same time. For that reason,
the evaluation of legislation cannot be restricted to criteria on effectiveness in terms
of visible real effects. It should probably also include (changes in) value patterns,
and the like. Policy-making itself is based upon ideas that could be called a policy
theory. By also subjecting the normative assumptions on which a policy is based to
empirical tests, one is very likely to gain a better understanding of the correctness of
a policy.
First of all, one has to conclude that the WSNS policy, like most policies, has no
clear starting-point and end-point. It is a developing, shifting policy programme with
a long tradition. When the rst outlines of the present WSNS policy were sketched in
the early 1990s, central governments definition of the problem was endorsed by
almost all parties involved. The major villains were the divide in the system between
special education and regular education, existing legislation (especially on funding) and
the divisions of responsibility. These were felt to hinder effective care for at-risk pupils
and were said to have already wrecked previous attempts at integration. At the same
time, a negative picture was being presented to politicians, schools and the public at
large of the consequences of existing practice. For the pupils, it was said to interrupt
196 European Journal of Special Needs Education, Vol. 16, No. 3 (2001)

their development, remove them from their friends, lead to a negative school experience
and increase the risk of underachievement and behavioural problems. For teachers in
regular education, it was said to reduce the motivation to offer special care and, nally,
it was said to have negative consequences for the Treasury because the costs could not
be controlled.
The divide in the system is enormous in The Netherlands compared with other
countries. A recent study of trends in integration practice in 14 European countries
(Meijer, 1998) showed that the percentage of pupils with special educational need
who are in separate facilities (special schools and special classes) varies considerably
between countries in Europe. Some countries place less than 1 per cent of all pupils in
schools and classes for special education, others more than 4 per cent. The countries
of north-western Europe, in particular, have more extensive systems for special
education than the countries of southern Europe and Scandinavia. The European
average for pupils taught in separate classes or schools is 2 per cent. The report also
reveals that the laws governing education for pupils with problems have changed in
almost every European country during the past ten years. The most important changes
have been:

the explicit denition of special education as support for regular education;


parental choice is increasingly regulated by law;
countries with separate laws governing special and regular education are increas-
ingly developing one statutory framework for both systems. This development is
proceeding more rapidly in regular primary education than in secondary education,
but initiatives are being developed for secondary education as well;
in some countries the way special education is funded has been reformed.

The Dutch Back to school together again (WSNS) policy that got off the ground
formally in 1991 is characterized by its large number of goals and interim goals. Meijer,
Meijnen and Scheerens (1993) distinguish social, educational and financial goals,
as well as goals at pupil level. Combining the two education systems, regular and
special schools, is no more than an interim goal in this process. The expectation is
that pupils will eventually benefit from the policy both academically and from a
psychosocial perspective, that pupils with problems will be able to make a more
continuous progress in their development, their school careers will be more effective
and the whole system will become more nancially manageable. Two measures have
been used to achieve these ends. First, an organizational measure affecting the way
schools are governed, namely the setting up of cooperative arrangements between one
or a few special schools and a number of primary schools. These groups of schools
have to collaborate in developing plans and measures to accommodate children with
learning and behaviour difculties in the regular primary schools as far as possible.
These groups of cooperating schools, in turn, are a condition for the second main
measure, namely a new funding system that supports integration. The most important
element in the new funding system is that the resources that used to be destined for
the special care provided by the special schools is now transferred to the groups of
collaborating schools.
Meijers report (1998) on the situation in Europe, referred to earlier, demon-
strates that the integration policy is highly dependent on the organization of the
existing education system. Countries that only have a small number of special schools
have naturally invested less energy in bringing special education closer to regular
education. In countries with quite a large-scale special education system, cooperation
between special and regular schools is an important element of the policy, as in
The Netherlands. The problem here is that integration policy can be a threat to the
Integration policy in The Netherlands 197

continued existence of special schools and so can lead to job losses among special
education teachers. In addition, the way the schools are funded can be another
signicant obstacle to integration. In some countries funding is not linked to pupils,
but to the place where they receive their education. In practice, this means that a
referral to a special school is rewarded. There is not sufcient incentive to keep children
with special educational needs in regular education or to move them back from the
special school to the regular school. This kind of funding system awards a bonus for
segregation, whereas integration is penalized nancially.
Despite obstacles in the form of fears about job losses, negative images, funding
methods and other potential obstacles, expectations about the integration process
are high in many countries. Although there has not been much research into the success
of the various policy programmes, there are studies which point to positive effects. An
example of such a study is the meta-analysis by Baker, Wang and Walberg (1995),
which reports that special needs students educated in regular classes do better
academically and socially than students in non-inclusive settings. Lipsky and Gartner
(1996) also report that evaluations of inclusive education programmes report positive
effects on academic, behavioural and social outcomes for students with disabilities,
while no negative consequences for the non-disabled students are reported; although
they also refer to other studies, which present a less positive picture. Several research
studies have indicated the importance of implementing inclusive learning carefully
(Baker et al., 1995; Scruggs and Mastropieri, 1996; Zigmond and Baker, 1996;
Waldron and McLeskey, 1998).
The Dutch education system was originally probably one of the most clear-cut dual
systems, but the current integration policy ts in with a general trend to work towards
greater integration and more inclusive education. The fact that this aspiration, often
backed up by normative arguments, is not exclusive to The Netherlands, is evident,
for instance, from The Salamanca Statement: Framework for Action for Special Needs
Education (1994), adopted by representatives of 92 governments and 25 international
organizations. This Statement expresses, for example, that regular schools with an
inclusive orientation provide an effective education to the majority of children and
improve the efciency and ultimately the cost-effectiveness of the entire educational
system (pp. viiiix).

DESIGN OF THE STUDY

Propositions

The general proposition, that educational policy must create the conditions that
guarantee the continuous and optimal academic and psychosocial development
of children with mild handicaps, is examined here using data on the PRIMA cohort
(we will come back to this later) on pupils in mainstream and special education. First,
we formulated some explorative questions:

To what extent do pupils in special education (differentiated into two types) and in
regular primary education differ in their academic performance and psychosocial
functioning?
To what extent are academic performance and psychosocial functioning related
and are there differences in this respect between pupils in special education and
regular education?

The next stage in our study was to investigate the academic performance and
198 European Journal of Special Needs Education, Vol. 16, No. 3 (2001)

psychosocial functioning of comparable pupils in different settings. To do this we


matched pupils from the PRIMA cohort database for risk factors, gender, ethnic
background, educational standard and, as far as possible, age. This method produced
over 400 matched pairs of at-risk pupils in special and regular education. We started
the analyses with two hypotheses:

that at-risk pupils in regular education would make less progress in their academic
development and/or psychosocial development than comparable pupils in special
education;
that pupils in regular schools which operate internal differentiation and have other
special provisions for at-risk pupils will make better progress in their academic
development and/or psychosocial development than pupils who have not
experienced these adaptations.

Finally, we selected a group of 34 pupils with varying degrees of development


to investigate the possible causes of clear developmental differences between pairs of
at-risk pupils who at rst sight seem to be very similar (for further details see Peetsma
et al., 2001).

Data

The PRIMA cohort is a multipurpose database containing longitudinal data from


every alternate year after 1994 on 40,000 pupils in Dutch (private and public) primary
schools: 5,000 pupils from special education and 35,000 from regular education. The
sample was nationally representative. The database contains information on pupils,
teachers, school principals and parents.
Using the PRIMA cohort data has a number of advantages. First, the denitions
are clear and commonly understood across settings. Secondly, large-scale and
representative analyses can be carried out. However, there is at least one disadvantage .
Analyses must of necessity be conned to the instruments used in the cohort.

Instruments

The instruments used in our studies were:

Tests on pupils academic functioning: language, arithmetic and non-verbal


intelligence, the same tests being used in regular and special education.
Questionnaires on pupils psychosocial functioning: academic self-concept, well-
being in school, social behaviour, motivation, health, family culture regarding
education, underachievement and need for individual treatment. For the younger
pupils we have only teachers assessments on these variables. For the older pupils
the teachers assessments were supplemented with the pupils own assessments
of well-being and academic self-concept. The psychometrical quality of the
instruments is satisfactory. The internal consistency (Cronbachs alpha) of the
different scales lay between 0.68 and 0.94. However, in special education we nd
a limited internal consistency on the two assessment scales by the pupils themselves
(0.560.58), compared to 0.62 and 0.73 in regular education (see also Jungbluth
et al., 1996).
Control variables: gender, age, ethnic background and SES.
Integration policy in The Netherlands 199

RESULTS

Explorative Phase

First, we investigated the extent to which pupils in different forms of special primary
education and regular primary education differ in their academic development. Pupils
in special education turn out, not surprisingly given the criteria for referring pupils to
special schools and classes, to be behind pupils in regular classes in academic skills
(language, mathematics and non-verbal intelligence). However, the pupils from schools
for mild mental retardation are much further behind pupils in regular education than
pupils from schools for learning and behavioural difculties. The lag is greatest in the
scores for non-verbal intelligence. This nding is consistent with the placement of
pupils in special education: pupils with learning difculties are referred to schools for
mild mental retardation if it is presumed that the main cause of their problems is
insufcient intellectual capacity. For all three aspects of academic performance in this
study (language, mathematics and non-verbal intelligence), the difference between
the pupils in both types of special education and regular education increases as the
pupils get older. We also found that the performance differences are greater in mathe-
matics than in language skills. Mathematical skills seem, therefore, to be more closely
connected to the difference between special and regular education than language skills.
Secondly, we investigated the extent to which pupils in special education and regular
education differ from a psychosocial perspective. For the young children we used the
teachers assessment only, and for the older children (from Years 6 and 8) we used their
self-assessments as well. Teachers in special education judged the childrens home
backgrounds, meaning the support they got at home for their schooling, less favourably
than teachers in regular education. This difference compared with regular education
is considerably greater for the schools for pupils with mild mental retardation than
for schools for learning and behavioural difculties. It is conspicuous that the teachers
reported far more underachievers in schools for learning and behavioural difculties
than in both other types of school. This can be explained by the fact that when pupils
are referred to this type of special education, there is an assumption that their poor
performance results from factors other than their intellectual capacity. The aim with
these pupils is to offer them an adapted learning environment, so that they make
progress and no longer need to be labelled as underachievers. We have not got there
yet, according to the teachers. Teachers in special education still judge their pupils as
doing less well in self-condence, social behaviour and attitude to work than pupils
in regular education. The teachers in special education also judge their pupils as being
less healthy than pupils in regular education. Finally, there is very little difference
between special and regular education in either the teachers assessments of the pupils
well-being or the pupils self-assessments. This means that special education is
succeeding in giving pupils a comparable experience at school to pupils in regular
education, often following experiences in regular education prior to referral which did
not give them a sense of well-being. The adapted provision or special schools or classes
seem to be fullling their purpose: pupils feel good (again) at school. The same can be
said of the pupils academic self-concept: there is not much difference between the
types of education. Regarding self-concept, schools for the mildly mentally retarded
seem to do exceptionally well in giving pupils a high estimation of their own abilities
despite their limited capacity to learn, compared with pupils from regular education
and schools for children with learning and behavioural difculties.
Thirdly, we investigated the connection between the pupils academic functioning
and their psychosocial functioning. In regular education there is a positive connection:
better academic performance goes hand in hand with a better assessment of
200 European Journal of Special Needs Education, Vol. 16, No. 3 (2001)

psychosocial functioning by both teachers and the pupils themselves. This link, where
it exists at all, is much weaker in special education, being even weaker in schools for
the mildly retarded than in schools for learning and behavioural difculties. Further
testing of the points of agreement in psychosocial and academic functioning show
that only in regular education is there a stable pattern that persists over the year groups.
In special education the points of agreement between psychosocial and academic
functioning are different from those in regular education, but there are also differences
between the two types of special education and between the (year) groups within
schools for special education. In short, there really is no pattern in the relationship
between the academic and psychosocial functioning of pupils in both types of special
education.

The Study of the Matched Pairs

After our explorative analyses of the differences in academic performance and


psychosocial functioning, we concentrated our investigation on comparable at-risk
pupils in regular and special education. Pupils are dened as being at-risk when they
perform badly in standardized language or mathematics tests, when they are judged
by teachers as having a poor attitude to work or a poor academic self-concept or when
a combination of these criteria apply. Central to this stage of the research was the
hypothesis that these pupils are better off in special education than in regular
education. In order to investigate this hypothesis, three types of education were
distinguished: (1) regular education classrooms, (2) special education for students
with learning disabilities and behavioural difculties and (3) special education for
mildly retarded students.
In the rst place, we investigated whether at-risk pupils in regular schools made
more progress in their academic and psychosocial development over a two-year period
than comparable pupils in the two types of special education we distinguished.
Few if any differences were found in the development of academic skills (language
and mathematical performance) or the development of psychosocial functioning of
at-risk pupils in regular primary schools and special schools. In both regular and
special schools, the number of pupils whose functioning improved was about the same
as the number of pupils whose functioning deteriorated in the period between the
assessments. There are some indications that the at-risk pupils in regular education
made more progress in mathematics than pupils in special education for students with
learning or behavioural difculties. The attitude to work of at-risk pupils in regular
education seemed to deteriorate more often than that of pupils in special education
for the mildly retarded.
In the second place, we looked at the relationship between methods for effectively
meeting the needs of students with disabilities and the development of the at-risk
pupils. To do this, we relied on teachers reports on the broad characteristics of the
education provision such as the extent that class teaching is differentiated according
to pupils varying needs, the presence of specialist help to assist the teacher with pupils
who have learning difficulties and the use of action plans to improve the pupils
functioning. Little connection was found between these characteristics of the education
provision and the progress made by the at-risk pupils. When connections were found,
there was certainly no systematic pattern. Only in special education for students with
learning or behavioural difculties did we nd indications of the following:

more internal differentiation in the class is associated with less progress of at-risk
pupils in mathematics, attitude to work and self-condence;
Integration policy in The Netherlands 201

teachers working more with specialist teachers and action plans is associated with
better development of at-risk pupils in language and attitude to work.

From this can be concluded that not all measures that are taken to help weak pupils
have a clear effect on the academic and psychosocial development of at-risk pupils in
special education and regular education. Some measures do seem to be effective, but
only for pupils in special schools and classes for students with learning disabilities
and behavioural problems.

The Qualitative Phase

As mentioned earlier, the nal part of the study looked in more detail at a selected
group of pupils of varying developmental levels, to investigate differences in
development between pairs of at-risk pupils who at first sight seem to have a lot
in common. As far as the psychosocial development of the pupils is concerned, the
focus was again on their attitude to work and academic self-concept and, as far as
academic development is concerned, we concentrated on language and mathematical
skills. What strikes one from this more qualitative phase of the study is that the more
advanced pupil of the pair usually made progress on all fronts, whereas there was no
pattern to be found among those lagging behind. We found improvements in some
areas, while they went backwards in others. No clear ndings emerged on the causes
of differences in development. Things that have a positive effect on the development
of one pupil can hinder another. Development seems to be determined by combinations
of factors that are unique to each pupil, consisting of characteristics of the pupil, the
home situation and the situation at school. We did find signs that pupils whose
problems are (almost) entirely conned to the problems in their academic development
usually do better than pupils with psychosocial problems or a combination of academic
and psychosocial problems. Pupils with problems in their psychosocial development
seem to do somewhat better in special education than in regular education.

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS

This paper reports on a research study which attempted to answer the question as
to what education policy should be pursued for pupils with special educational
needs. The explorative part of the study has looked at differences in academic and
psychosocial development at the level of the whole population of pupils in regular
and special education. It was found that pupils in special education do less well in
academic performance than pupils in regular education. It is noticeable that the
differences between special and regular education increase as the pupils get older. The
increasing lag in development observed among pupils from both types of special
education would seem to indicate that pupils learn less in special education than they
do in regular education. The existing lost ground is not caught up in special education,
and in fact the gap gets bigger as the years go by.
As far as psychosocial development is concerned, the self-concept, social behaviour,
attitude to work, health and support from home of pupils in special schools and classes
is clearly less favourable than that of pupils in regular education. Parents and teachers
usually expect that referral to a special school will have positive effects on the
psychosocial development and well-being of the pupil, but these expectations seem not
to be realized. The differences in the assessment of psychosocial functioning could,
however, be associated with differences in expertise between the teachers evaluating
202 European Journal of Special Needs Education, Vol. 16, No. 3 (2001)

these aspects. Sabornie (1994) has reported that special and regular education teachers
differ widely in how they perceive the social behaviour of students with learning
disabilities. Pupils from schools for learning and behavioural difculties turn out to
be assessed by their teachers as underachievers more often than do pupils in regular
schools and schools for the mildly retarded. This may be accounted for by the fact that
pupils are referred to schools for learning and behavioural difculties if the (learning)
difculties are not due to low intelligence. These pupils are expected to be able to
achieve a comparable standard of performance to their counterparts in regular schools
in response to the special education. However, a considerable number of pupils are
only referred to schools for children with learning and behavioural difculties after
spending several years in regular education.
Teachers consider that the parents of children in regular education support their
learning more than do the parents of children in special education. These assessments
are considerably less favourable for pupils from schools for the mildly retarded than
for pupils from schools for children with learning and behavioural difculties. It is not
surprising, given the fact that children from families with low socio-economic status,
including many migrant workers, are over-represented in schools for the mildly
mentally retarded. Parents are often unable to offer their children much help with
their school work if they have had little or no education themselves.
In contrast with regular education, there does not seem to be an unequivocal link
between academic and psychosocial functioning in special education. In regular schools
pupils academic performance can usually be predicted from their psychosocial
functioning, while this is far less often the case in special education. The importance
of psychosocial functioning for academic performance in regular education has been
demonstrated in other studies (Fad and Ryser, 1993; Sabornie, 1994).

The explorative phase of the research focused on characteristics and associations


in the general population of pupils in regular and special education. In order to gather
specific information on the target group for the WSNS policy, the functioning of
at-risk pupils in regular education was compared with a matched pupil in both types
of special education. It was expected that the pupils in special education would do
better due to the specialist care and individual attention. However, with a few
exceptions, few differences were found when comparable at-risk pupils in regular
schools were compared with their counterparts in both types of special schools. There
was a conspicuously large measure of variability in both regular and special education.
All school types had both at-risk pupils who were doing well from an academic and/or
psychosocial perspective and pupils whose progress left much to be desired. There is
little evidence to support the idea that at-risk pupils make less progress, in either their
academic or psychosocial development, in regular schools compared with pupils in
special schools. This concurs with the ndings of three meta-analyses into the issue
of the most effective setting for the education of special needs students conducted by
Baker, Wang and Walberg (1995), although it should be noted that the effects of
inclusive education they found were rather more positive than those found by this
study. They conclude that there is a small-to-moderate benecial effect of inclusive
education on the academic and social outcomes of special needs children. Lipsky and
Gartner (1996) also report, based on the ndings of the National Studies of 1994 and
1995 and other evaluation studies, positive effects of inclusive education on academic,
behavioural and social outcomes for students with disabilities, while no negative effects
were reported for their non-disabled classmates.
The hypothesis that the degree of specialist care being offered in regular education
under the WSNS policy is indeed associated with at-risk pupils making better progress
could not be conrmed. One nding worthy of note was that in schools for children
Integration policy in The Netherlands 203

with learning and behavioural difculties, which already offer a great deal of specialist
help, more care was associated with better language development and a better attitude
to work. One might ask whether the amount and form of the specialist help introduced
in regular schools as part of the WSNS policy goes far enough. Various studies have
shown that teachers in regular education need a considerable amount of support to
realize inclusive education effectively (Baker et al., 1995; Stevens and Slavin, 1995;
Lipsy and Gartner, 1996; Scruggs and Mastropieri, 1996; Zigmond and Baker, 1996;
Waldron and McLeskey, 1998). There also seems to be a positive connection between
the attitudes of teachers to inclusive education and the use of effective mainstreaming
strategies (Bender, Vail and Scott, 1995). Likewise in schools for children with learning
and behavioural difficulties, greater internal differentiation has been found to
be associated with less progress in mathematical skills, attitude to work and self-
condence. This nding raises the question of whether extensive differentiation may
not have undesired effects.
The third part of the study, the qualitative investigation into the causes of the
divergent development of comparable at-risk pupils in regular and special education,
found that developmental differences are associated with a combination of factors,
unique to each pupil, consisting of characteristics of the pupil, the school situation and
the situation at home. In this qualitative study, psychosocial problems turned out to
offer poorer prospects of positive progress than purely academic problems, and pupils
with psychosocial problems were found to do better in special education.
The policy theory underpinning the WSNS policy presumes that the existence of
an extensive system of special schools was one of the main causes of the growth
of special education. This dual system was felt to be standing in the way of effective
provision for pupils with special educational needs. One of the main aims of the WSNS
policy was to accommodate pupils with mild academic handicaps within the regular
education system and thereby to put a stop to the growth of special education. Setting
up cooperative groups of regular schools and special schools was meant to equip
teachers in regular schools to better cater for pupils with problems within regular
education. The present quasi-experimental situation in the Dutch education system
allows the effects of this policy to be tested. Although the investigations into regular
and special education as a whole demonstrated that pupils in special education perform
less well in academic tasks and function less well psychosocially, the study of
comparable at-risk pupils found that taken as a whole these pupils do not make less
progress in regular education than in special education. Both investigations into
comparable at-risk pupils illustrated the contention, observed by Waldron and
McLeskey (1998), of the critics of inclusion, that while inclusion may work for some
students with learning disabilities some of the time, it will not work for all of these
students all of the time. However, the same reasoning seems to apply to special
education. It too was found to have positive effects on the academic and psychosocial
development of some pupils, while other pupils derived little benet from the specialist
care. The intensive study of a limited number of pupils and their teachers in the
qualitative study makes clear that pupils development is determined by many factors
which, moreover, can have different effects on the development of each child. It also
turned out to be important to take account of teachers perception of the type of
problem when choosing the educational setting which would suit the child best. The
general assumption that at-risk pupils will do better in special education does not
seem to account for its attractiveness. Contrary to the policy theory behind WSNS,
the dual system does not appear to be an obstacle to the provision of adequate care
for pupils with special educational needs.
On the other hand, the policy to equip regular schools to accommodate this category
of pupils appears not to be realized quite so simply as that. It has not proved possible
204 European Journal of Special Needs Education, Vol. 16, No. 3 (2001)

to demonstrate the effects of the varying levels of specialist help provided by regular
schools on the development of at-risk pupils. Perhaps the methods used were too
crude. However, evidence has also emerged in recent years that mainstream teachers
do not utilize strategies that are known to facilitate successful mainstreaming and only
make relatively minor adaptations for low achieving children (Bender, Vail and Scott,
1995). The importance of developing and implementing effective teaching methods
and supporting teachers whose classes include students with disabilities has often been
remarked in the literature. The ndings of research into effective educational practices
documented in research literature on non-disabled children are useful in organizing
education for children with special educational needs (Walberg, 1993; Lipsky and
Gartner, 1996; Waldron and McLeskey, 1998). Baker et al. (1995) formulate the
challenge as follows: The concern is not whether to provide inclusive education, but
how to implement inclusive education in ways that are both feasible and effective in
ensuring schooling success for all children, especially those with special needs. The
fact that this research study found that some at-risk pupils made progress demonstrates
that it is possible to improve the success rate of education for at-risk pupils. In order
to engineer positive effects on the development of at-risk pupils, it would seem to be
necessary to strengthen those aspects of the policy relating to the professional
development of teachers and the provision of support to teachers when organizing the
education provision.

NOTE

1. The term integration is used for the Dutch policy of accommodating pupils with problems
in regular education to put a stop to the growth of special education. However, when
referring to the situation in other countries the term inclusion is used as well. Although this
term usually is not well dened, it generally is reserved for situations of ending all separate
special education placements for all students (Bender, Vail and Scott, 1995).

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