European Schools below par in supporting disabled children

European Schools lack the proper support and amenities for children with disabilities, according to a joint report released by Human Rights Watch and the European Disability Forum.
Photo Credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

04 Jan 2019

The joint report said that children with disabilities feel “rejected, often pressured to change schools or denied the adequate amenities and support which would allow them to thrive.”

The European Schools consist of a network of 13 intergovernmental schools that mainly host the children of EU employees.

These schools are controlled by the 28 Member States and the European Commission. The European Union and all member states have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).


Nine parents interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they felt pressured by school officials to remove their child from school.

The UN says that children with disabilities are entitled to individualised support and reasonable accommodations at school, including appropriate teaching methods, materials and curricula, the provision of assistive technologies and differentiated examination formats.

However, according to the parents who were interviewed, these rights were not systematic and depended on the wishes of the school staff.

“Those who are a little defective, they [European schools] do everything they can to reject them. They wanted us to feel bad enough to leave on our own” Louise, a 15-year-old girl with dyslexia


Among those questioned was Claire, the mother of a 16-year-old boy with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), who explained: “There are two situations: either the children are thrown out, often because they are failing at school. Or they are isolated, not supported, until they decide to go themselves. It's sink or swim.”

Claire, who ended up removing her son from the European School in 2015, said all but one of the children who were receiving educational support in her son’s class dropped out.

Louise, a 15-year-old girl who has dyslexia, also left the European School after struggling for years to get basic support for her learning disability, such as the right to use a device to take pictures of the blackboard.

“This school was like an anthill, every year they filtered the best to keep only the elite,” she said.

“Those who are a little defective, they [the European School] do everything they can to reject them. They wanted us to feel bad enough to leave on our own,” she added.

Currently, around 27,000 pupils are educated at the 13 European Schools in Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, and Italy in 20 official EU languages.

While there is no data on the number of pupils with disabilities, nearly 4 percent of the school population receive intensive support, targeting children who are determined by an expert assessment as having “special educational needs,” a large number of whom are children with disabilities.


Depending on the language skills of the children, and the availability of alternative international and inclusive schools in the national school systems, children with disabilities who are rejected from European Schools may find themselves with limited options for schooling, says the report.

The European institutions provide their employees with co-funding for the enrolment of children with disabilities in private schools, where fees can be as high as €50,000 a year.

Based on interviews with European Commission officials, Human Rights Watch found that the European Commission, which has the largest staff of all EU institutions, is currently providing such funding to around 70 children, for a total budget over €1.5m.

The report said, “Instead of investing in accommodating the needs of children with disabilities in European Schools, the EU is spending significant funds on private school education for these children.”

No one from the European Schools was immediately available for comment.

Click here for the full report by Human Rights Watch and the European Disability Forum.

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