Ministry slammed over failure to prepare for inclusion in schools

Illustrative photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech Radio

The Supreme Audit Office has issued an indictment of the Czech Ministry of Education, saying it failed to prepare for inclusion in the country’s schools. Despite total funding of no less than CZK 32 billion, neither schools nor teachers were ready for changes aimed at helping children with special educational needs, the watchdog said.

A central plank of a new law on schools that took effect in the Czech Republic in 2016 was the introduction of inclusive education.

This was aimed not only at children with physical and mental disabilities but also those from disadvantaged families and from the Roma minority, who have often been placed in “practical” or “special” schools with a limited curriculum.

Years after legislation bringing in this form of education took force, the Czech Republic’s Supreme Audit Office has issued a strong condemnation of how the change was handled.

The official financial watchdog examined spending on inclusion between 2015 and 2019 and was unimpressed by what it found, accusing the Ministry of Education of failing to adequately prepare either schools or teachers for the change.

It even said that some of the funding earmarked for inclusion – which had amounted to a whopping CZK 32 billion by the middle of last year – had been siphoned into projects that did not demonstrably help pupils.

Illustrative photo: Lucie Hochmanová / Czech Radio

In addition only about half the money available for inclusive education for children from socially excluded localities was actually used, the Supreme Audit Office said, blaming this on a lack of interest on the part of local authorities.

The auditors looked at specific projects that drew on a total of CZK 9 billion from European Union programmes. These involved not just the state administration but also the likes of NGOs and regions with socially excluded localities.

One of their key charges is that not enough was done to prepare teachers in regular schools for working with pupils with special educational needs.

Indeed, though plans to introduce the system were afoot many years in advance, teacher training and methodological support didn’t actually get up and running until 2018, the auditors said in a news release.

Another problem is that schools have obtained money for psychologists, special teachers and other projects only for as long as subsidised projects are running. This makes inclusion highly dependent on EU funding.

The Ministry of Education has failed to secure other sources of funding for these services, the auditors say.

The number of pupils with special needs has increased by over 50 percent in the last decade; if this trend continues, the cost of ensuring all children get equal educational opportunities will also rise, they say.

In addition the Supreme Audit Office says that the government department has only defined its targets in very broad terms. Another failing is a great lack of qualified assistant teachers.