Special education needs assessment reports in Sweden and Germany: comparative perspectives

Daniel Östlund, Thomas Barow

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Research topic/Aim: Recently, in discussions on inclusive education, questions of testing and diagnostic cultures attracted attention (Hamre, Morin & Ydesen, 2018). Within the framework of this project, we have examined special educational needs (SEN) assessment in the Swedish region Scania and the German state North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). In both countries, investigation procedures are carried out before a pupil is categorized as having SEN. However, the SEN definitions and the categorization processes in Sweden and Germany differ. The investigations are carried out by different occupational groups and decision makers. Special education teachers are always involved, but they are expected to cooperate with other professionals, e.g. regular school teachers (NRW) and the pupil welfare team (Sweden). As an in-depth study, our research aims to examine and analyse the outcomes of these different structures and procedures in Swedish and German SEN assessment reports. The research addresses the following questions:

  1. What are the central elements of SEN assessment in Sweden and NRW?
  2. How do guardians and the pupils concerned participate in the assessment?
  3. Which consequences do the SEN assessment reports suggest?
  4. Which thought styles become apparent in the assessment reports?


Theoretical frameworks: The research is inspired by the work of Fleck (1979), seeing the supplement, development and transformation of thought styles as being responsible for empirical discovery. It is supposed that the SEN reports are characterised by different thought styles which can be related to a categorical or relational perspective regarding school problems (Emanuelsson, Persson & Rosenqvist, 2001). Methodology/research design: A qualitative research approach was adopted. 30 assessment reports were collected in Scania; 29 in NRW. We accessed the material by contacting schools (Scania) or school administrations (NRW). A content analysis was conducted. Limitations can be seen in the low number of reports and the selection process, being dependent on the preselection of professionals.


Expected conclusions/Findings: In an international comparative perspective, both differences and similarities were found. Observations were used as a method of investigation both in Sweden and Germany. However, intelligence tests were often conducted in NRW, but only exceptional in Scania. In both countries, the perspective of guardians and pupils is hardly documented. Regarding consequences of the assessment, measures on the individual level dominate, in the German examples even more notable than in Swedish cases. In line with earlier research this tendency is interpreted as maintenance of a thought style focusing on the pupils’ individual “failure”, and to less extent on the adaptation of the learning environment.


Relevance for Nordic Educational Research: Comparative research on assessment will contribute to further discuss and elaborate diagnostic approaches both in the Nordic countries and international.


Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventNERA 2018,46th Congress of the Nordic Educational Research Association, Oslo 8-10 march. -
Duration: 1980-Jan-01 → …


ConferenceNERA 2018,46th Congress of the Nordic Educational Research Association, Oslo 8-10 march.
Period80-01-01 → …

Swedish Standard Keywords

  • Pedagogy (50301)


  • assessement
  • germany
  • inclusion
  • sen
  • special education
  • sweden


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