SINGAPORE — Selected Special Education (SPED) schools will offer lower school fees from next year and three new government-funded SPED schools will be set up in the coming years in a bid to further support students with special educational needs.
Two peer-support intervention programmes to help these students will also be extended to all mainstream schools over the next few years.
These were announced by Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah on Friday (8 November) at the An Extra·Ordinary Celebration concert held at the National University of Singapore’s University Cultural Centre Hall.
"It is our strong belief that all children must be given the opportunity to reach their fullest potential, in quality education settings that best meet their needs," she said.
The two-day annual concert over Friday and Saturday is organised by non-profit charity organisation Extra•Ordinary People and features more than 900 differently-abled performers from Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines.
"While SPED financial assistance is available to the lower-income, we recognise that for families with children with special education needs, SPED fees add to the other costs they already have to bear," Indranee noted.
From January next year, six SPED schools that charge fees on the higher end of the spectrum will lower their fees by at least 25 per cent for Singaporeans.
They are Eden School, Grace Orchard School, Pathlight School, Rainbow Centre-Margaret Drive School, Rainbow Centre-Yishun Park School, and St. Andrew’s Autism School.
School fees for the schools' autism spectrum disorder programmes currently range from $200 to $350 per month.
In a press release on Friday, the Ministry of Education (MOE) stressed it will ensure that Singaporeans have access to a school setting that meets their educational needs, regardless of their financial circumstances.
“This is why over the past five years, government funding for SPED schools has increased by about 40 per cent, so that these schools are adequately resourced to provide quality SPED,” it added.
In tandem with various social service agencies, the MOE will also set up three new government-funded SPED schools. Currently, there are 19 such schools in Singapore.
In 2021, the Metta Welfare Association will operate a new SPED school that offers 300 additional school places for students aged 7 to 18 years old with moderate-to-severe special educational needs who have both autism and intellectual disability.
Its campus, to be located in the East, will be ready in 2024. As an interim measure, students will attend their lessons at an existing Metta School campus, which currently serves about 410 students with mild intellectual disability, when the new school opens.
“Metta Welfare Association’s proposal to run the new SPED school was selected from six proposals received from well-qualified agencies which had expressed interest to run the SPED school,” said the MOE.
Separately, the ministry will be opening two other SPED schools for students with autism who can access the national curriculum.
These schools will provide students with mainstream primary and secondary curriculum as well as a suitable post-primary programme for students who are unable to access mainstream secondary curriculum.
One of the schools will be a third Pathlight campus operated by the Autism Resource Centre. In July, Indranee announced that its second campus, located in Tampines, will begin operations in January 2023.
The ministry will send out a limited call for proposals to eligible agencies for proposals to set up the third new SPED school.
Being inclusive for special educational needs
Intervention programmes Circle of Friends (CoF) and Facing Your Fears (FYF) will be introduced at both primary and secondary school levels to ensure all mainstream schools – where over 80 per cent of students with special educational needs are enrolled – remain inclusive, said the ministry.
The COF programme, to be introduced at both primary and secondary school levels, is a structured peer support intervention for students with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.These students meet over five to eight weekly sessions with school personnel and selected peers to identify specific difficulties they face.
The FYF programme, to be introduced at secondary school level, helps students with special educational needs who struggle with anxiety. These students – in groups of two or four – will meet a facilitator over 10 weeks to identify their emotional triggers and learn self-management strategies.
"These interesting programmes were conceptualised from evidence-based research and our evaluation studies. Positive feedback from schools, students and parents on the programmes confirmed that participants have grown in empathy, skillfulness and resilience," said Indranee.
As such, the MOE will extend the programmes to all mainstream schools over the next few years, to ensure that the latter "remain inclusive, safe and accommodating spaces for children with special educational needs”, she added.
Training will be provided to relevant school personnel.
“The MOE will continue to review our initiatives and provisions for students with SEN, to better support them in developing their potential and helping them lead meaningful lives,” said the ministry.