International School Community Blog

Selecting an international school: Tip #11 – Does the school provide or have access to qualified teachers who cater to students with special needs?

What reasons do parents think about when selecting a school for their children when they move abroad? Are they similar reasons for why teachers choose to work at an international school abroad as well?  There are many different kinds of international schools and they are all in different situations.  How important is finding out about how well the international school provides or has access to qualified teachers who cater to students with special needs?  It could be beneficial to ask these types of questions at your interview, before you make any big decisions to move or choose an international school at which to work.  So, how do you choose the right international school for your children to attend or for you to work at?  In this blog series, we will discuss the Tips for Selecting an International School.

Tip #11 – Does the school provide or have access to qualified teachers who cater to students with special needs? Fortunately, the options for adequate support and positive learning environments are increasing.

parent-teacher-meeting-sp-needsAs parents and educators consider international living, school websites can answer many general questions.  However, some parents have specific questions for the needs of their children.  Likewise, teachers and administrators who seek international employment also want to know what services are available at schools and how their skills align with the school’s programs and services.

A growing concern in schools is the question of addressing the special needs of students.  Today that question can have a broad spectrum—- physical, academic, emotional, medical, and psychological.  Schools today have had to expand their programs and providers in order to adequately serve all children.  Internationally, does this protocol of serving all students present similar challenges and are different parts of the world answering the challenge the same or differently?

For the purpose of sharing an international snapshot of this question, I invited various international educators to respond to this topic.  The results of my limited inquiry provided some common results: 1) the need for schools to provide for special needs students is prevalent; 2) many countries have a legal mandate of how this will be done; 3) what is written is difficult to attain; 4) there is a scarcity of special needs teachers; 5) some areas can better address the issues than others due to monetary resources and location.

So, where does that leave a family who is searching for an appropriate place for their special needs child?  The answer I believe is that the parent will have to be the advocate for their child and do in-depth questioning, examining websites, visiting schools, and connecting with the right people.

In England, it is required that all schools (public and state) have a SENCO (Special Needs Coordinator) who is a teacher responsible for pupils with SEN needs and for ensuring that their needs are being met.  Also all inspection reports must comment on the effectiveness of SEND and provision for English as Additional Language students and how the school is meeting those needs. overview_osx

Responses I received from India varied depending on location.  While Boards talk about serving these students, the reality is colored by 1) the scarcity of special education teachers especially in small cities and 2) main stream teachers not being trained in serving special needs.  Part-time tutors are hired and shared when available.

From a different location in India, an international school educator indicated that there is generally a Head of Special Needs appointed in all schools as every child has a Right to Education as per the Government RTE Act.  Under this head, there can be a few junior teachers who are trained to handle children with Special Needs up to a certain level.  If the case is very severe and requires one-on-one care, there are special schools that have specially trained staff and facilities including lifts, special bathrooms to accommodate wheelchairs, etc.  In cases of autism, dyslexia, and attention deficit, those children are identified and served on a one-on-one basis with the Special Needs Department in concert with the Classroom Teacher, Subject Teachers, School Counselor, Parents, and student peers.  These students are closely monitored for improvement, and many times when they attend regular classrooms, a special needs assistant is alongside the student to clarify the lesson and assure there is no interruption in the classroom.  This responder concluded by saying that in his area of India, the Special Needs Department works hard to ensure these children grow up as normal kids who can have a happy schooling experience.

A third international school educator from India added that there are some special schools in urban and rural areas, noting that training centers have recently appeared to train teachers for special needs schools.  Also he sees in-service training starting to be offered.  His summary statement on current conditions—-“There is a ray of hope: politicians, social activists, and educators are becoming more aware of the issues of special needs children and it is widely discussed and debated almost everywhere.”  From these discussions, “we can hope that all these moves will give a better platform for students with special needs in the coming days.”

Moving on to Shanghai where two international school educators shared their insight…..  One summarized that in his small school there is no special needs program and that he did not know of any mainstream international school in Shanghai that has a robust program.  However, that could be changing.  He then connected me to an amazing couple who shared their personal experience.  They are both educators in Shanghai and they were seeking an appropriate program for their son with profound autism.  When they struggled to find what they felt their son needed, Lori and Mike Boll last year started a small, inclusive school for all children called Shine Academy.  It serves 20+ students that range in age from 3-18.  Some have disabilities, some do not.  By forming this inclusive program, they saw it as a way to bring services to their son and the greater community.  See their story at  For families seeking support and teachers who are building understanding of how to serve autistic children, the Bolls have additional resources at  The Bolls are just one example of what one responder called the “general nature of international teachers—they just find a way.”

In conclusion, the special needs education picture is the same and different across the world.  With a spirit of justice, parents, educators, and communities can make a difference by working collaboratively to improve the accessibility of a quality education for all children.  In unity, the possibilities can become realities.

This article was submitted by guest author and International School Community member: Mary Anne Hipp (contact her here – or visit her Blogspot –


Have a specific international school in mind that you thinking of applying at? Check out our “Where our Members have worked” page and start contacting some of our members that know about the international school you are interested in knowing more about. Our 2700+ members currently work at (or have worked at in the past) 487 different international schools.  Feel free to send them a private message related to finding out more about their Special Needs programming at their international school.

Furthermore, 26 members have specifically stated on their member profile that they currently hold the position of Special Education Teacher.  Check out which positions our members hold here.