Financing Policies for Inclusive Education Systems in Europe
Research evidence indicates that financing mechanisms are critical in determining the type of school placement that learners from disadvantaged groups are offered (OECD, 2012). The systems of funding education play a crucial role in ensuring all learners, including those who are marginalised because of gender, religion, ability, sexual orientation, social status or ethnicity, have access to an inclusive education system at all levels of lifelong learning (UNESCO, 2009). While countries face different challenges regarding funding to support inclusive education, it is important to ensure that available resources, human and other, are used to the best effect (UNESCO, 2017).
The goal of the FPIES project is to systematically examine different approaches to educational financing and identify an effective funding policy framework that works towards reducing disparities in education.
The premise of the FPIES project is that the current resource allocation frameworks in all countries are based upon education systems that aim to be increasingly inclusive. These resource allocation frameworks have been developed by countries to enable stakeholders to implement the principles of inclusive education more effectively.
The FPIES project was framed by the Project Conceptual Framework (European Agency, forthcoming 2018), a working document developed to guide the project activities, and based on the previous Financing of Inclusive Education report (European Agency, 2016). The Project Conceptual Framework will be finalised at the end of the FPIES project and published on the project web area.
The FPIES project is co-funded by the Agency and the European Commission’s Erasmus+ Key Action 3 ‘Forward-Looking Cooperation Projects’ framework.
The project is based on direct co-operation between eight partners: the Ministries of Education in Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Slovenia, and the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education. It also includes partners from Universitat Ramon Llull as external evaluators of the project, with a focus on project activities and outcomes.
The Financing Policies for Inclusive Education Systems (FPIES) project is based on the fact that policy-makers across Europe recognise financing mechanisms as a critical lever in reducing disparity in education. However, they require more detailed information on the impact of financing mechanisms on inclusive education, which can be used to guide their policy developments.
The FPIES project is a response to this identified policy need. Running from 2016–2018, the project builds on a previous Agency project: Financing of Inclusive Education – Mapping Country Systems for Inclusive Education (European Agency, 2016).
The FPIES project ran from 2016 until the end of 2018. The methodology underpinning the information collection in the FPIES project is the peer learning approach. This has potential for facilitating self-review and experience exchange to support long term policy development and implementation in participating countries.
The main peer learning activities entailed six Country Study Visits (CSV); one to each of the partnering countries. Each CSV involved a wide range of relevant stakeholders from ministry, municipality and school level in the host country and ministry-level visitors from three of the other five partner countries. Participants in the CSVs engaged in a series of pre-agreed activities and discussions. They examined the system of financing inclusive education systems in each country in depth. The aim was to identify features, challenges and opportunities within the current model. These country-level policy exchanges produced meta-level information sources that were used as the basis for the project analysis activities. These were recorded in:
- Country Reports: The Country Reports identify the main strengths and challenges regarding financing, governance and capacity-building underpinning countries’ systems for inclusive education. The Country Reports were prepared before the visits and finalised based on information and discussions in the CSVs, after the study visits had taken place.
- Country Study Visit reports: The Country Study Visit reports document the main discussion and learning points from each visit. They give a summary of the visit and a comprehensive analysis of discussions.
The findings emerging from all of the FPIES project activities, country reports, study visits and study visit reports, were gathered in the project Synthesis Report (European Agency, 2018a).
A main output of the FPIES project is the Policy Guidance Framework (PGF) (European Agency, 2018b), available online at the end of 2018. The development of the PGF was supported by the Synthesis Report, which highlighted critical levers for reducing disparity in education through efficient, cost-effective and equitable funding mechanisms. The PGF presents these meta-level findings, information collected and analysed from across countries. The aim of the PGF is to provide guidance to policy-makers for inclusive education. It was developed with and validated by the ministerial representatives of all Agency member countries.
The findings presented in the project Synthesis Report suggest that there is no ideal way to fund inclusive education. Countries’ inclusive education policies are embedded in multi-level and multi-stakeholder systems for inclusive education, covering mainstream and specialist provision. These systems for inclusive education are far more complex than the general education system, and frame the journeys countries take towards inclusive education. They involve cross-ministerial and cross-sectoral mechanisms and include non-educational aspects that affect learners’ access to high-quality inclusive education. Thus, the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of funding mechanisms depend on essential levers for resourcing. These levers embed means and resources in an integrated framework for inter-institutional co-operation and co-ordinated provision (European Agency, 2016; 2018a).
These fundamental topics connect funding mechanisms for inclusive education systems to four resourcing issues. These issues frame the quality of inclusive education and its cost-effectiveness as important topics or policy dimensions to be considered in implementing effective high quality and cost-effective inclusive education policies.
These issues are linked to a number of critical resourcing factors that determine equitable, efficient and cost-effective inclusive education. The factors are, in turn, linked to key funding drivers that are considered as essential for the implementation of effective financing policies (European Agency, 2018b). Together, the issues, factors and drivers are an indicative framework for the provision of necessary funding and resources for inclusive education systems.
Within a comprehensive policy framework for financing inclusive education systems, financing must not be understood as an end in itself. Rather, it is a tool for promoting and ensuring inclusive education systems that provide quality educational opportunities for all learners.
Therefore, policy issues and goals are centred around wider concerns for inclusive education, while policy objectives for the national, local and/or regional levels address how the tool of financing can be used to achieve those wider goals.
In conclusion, the findings drawn from all the FPIES project activities connect efficient and cost-effective inclusive education systems with four cross-sectoral issues. These cross-sectoral issues, supported by policy goals and policy objectives, are the major facilitating factors underpinning the development of efficient and cost-effective inclusive education systems, able to reduce disparity in education.
Specific aspects of innovation in the FPIES project have been evaluated by the Project Evaluator Partner (Universitat Ramon Llull), who worked independently from, but in close collaboration with, all other Project Partners. The overall project methodology trialled within the FPIES project has been evaluated in terms of its effectiveness for examining policy issues, developments and challenges in European countries and the potential of the methodology and outcomes for informing policy issues and developments in countries.
The evaluation has been on-going and formative, with two internal evaluation reports already available. The final project evaluation document will be available online in December 2018.