Offering inclusive education to students with varied educational needs is a wish of many Dutch International Schools, especially because accessing local special needs education can be tough for children who do not speak Dutch. At the Amsterdam International Community School (AICS) they have taken the plunge!
By Lyndsay Gregory, Head of Wellbeing Amsterdam International Community School Primary
In August of 2021 the AICS, in collaboration with Stichting Kolom and the Samenwerkingsverband, opened up the AICS Student Support Center. This center offers increased inclusive education opportunities for international families in Amsterdam and the surrounding area. As of August 2022 a second classroom was opened to support students within the Student Support Center, with a total of 18 students between two classrooms.
Over the course of 2022/23 the AICS is continuing to develop this programme for secondary school students with the intention to open the first class for full-time special education students in August 2023 and to expand the programme into the new South East Campus primary school.
The AICS aims to be an inclusive school. We believe deeply in our mission to serve our diverse and globally mobile community to the best of our ability, and accept children with a diverse range of learning backgrounds. Our mission is to facilitate high-quality, accessible, community-based, international learning for students of all nationalities living in the Netherlands. Our values are: diversity, community, integrity and inquiry. Our mission that everyone is included, challenged and successful is one we take very seriously, believing that an inclusive educational programme has a value that enriches the whole community.
Since the AICS started, we have had to decline students whose families have applied to our school as we have not been able to provide the support the students required. Until recently, we did not have provision within the boundaries of inclusive education as it is defined in the Netherlands and within the International Baccalaureate framework to provide education for students who would benefit from specialised education. At times, we have been able to accept the siblings of a child with specialised needs, but not the child who would benefit from specialised education. We helped these families get in touch with local organisations and local schools if this were the case.
The reality for some of these families has been that because their child does not speak Dutch, they could not access the specialist education their child required. Some of these children have been left at home without access to education. The organisation who advises schools and families about education, the Samenwerkingsverband, were also struggling with this problem. We also had questions about how to support students to meet the criteria requirements of the MYP specifically.
Equity, inclusion and Justice
The AICS is a community school. We pride ourselves on our attitude to inclusion, even though it has been difficult for us as a school community. We declined students a place in our community based on their perceived disabilities, on what they could not do and what we could not provide.
A recent reorganisation within our school leadership team introduced the roles of Head of Wellbeing. This has given additional time and focus to areas focusing on improvement for equity, inclusion and justice within our school community.
If one of our core values as a community school is diversity and if we truly believe that inclusive education is where children and young people of different cultures, abilities, ethnicities and genders learn together, then we can no longer continue declining students based on what is not possible.
Removing barriers to learning
We examined our values within our context and realised that our mission is to provide education to the international community, Dutch families going abroad, or returning. Therefore we needed to re-evaluate how we were approaching education for potential students with disabilities. Fair, equitable access to education for all students – fits with the IB inclusion agenda of removing barriers to learning. Our starting point is accepting students to our school community and developing education based on their needs.
With this in mind, we started to explore what we can provide for students with disabilities within our context and within the IB framework, in alignment with the IB Standards and Practices.
AICS Special Education programme: Student Support Center
Since August 2021, Stichting Kolom (a school group that has 14 different special education schools in the Amsterdam region serving children from 4-20) and the Amsterdam International Community School (AICS – Esprit Scholen) have formed a partnership to provide opportunities for inclusive education for students with additional needs from the international community. So far, we have established two classrooms for children with special educational needs in the primary school with the intention of continuing to provide inclusive education, as they move up to the secondary school.
Please see the video that was created to explain the project after the first year of implementation here.