What were the main aims of the initiative?

In the advanced bachelor programme Special Educational Needs at the University Colleges of Leuven-Limburg an internship of 15 weeks duration is organised in an inclusive setting, for two days a week. Each internship is different, because each pupil (with or without special educational needs) is different. To create good learning experiences for student teachers, guidance is provided for both the classroom teacher and the teacher educator. The guidance process is explained in this example.


This initiative aims to give opportunities to students (pre-service teachers in an advanced bachelor programme SEN) to experience in depth how inclusive education in Flanders takes shape. They are encouraged to do an internship in an inclusive setting, two days a week for 15 weeks. The authors are well aware that inclusive education in Flanders is still in transition and that not every context gives a ‘mature’ example of inclusive education. For this reason, guidelines have been produced to give tools to both the student and the primary or secondary school that provides inclusive education for one or more pupils and also to the mentor of the advanced bachelor programme Special Educational Needs. These guidelines focus on the attitudes, knowledge and skills required by inclusive education

The main aims for the student-teacher internship in an inclusive setting are to:

  • critically examine one’s own beliefs and attitudes towards teaching in an inclusive setting (=attitude)
  • find ways of identifying and then addressing different barriers to learning and the implications of these for teaching approaches. (=knowledge)
  • co-teach and work in flexible teaching teams. (=skills)

These points are based on the European Agency Profile of Inclusive Teachers (2012). An important condition to support work on these aims is good collaboration between the student teacher, the classroom teacher and the teacher educator.


Location, setting, Scope, key events etc.

The University Colleges organise an advanced bachelor programme for students who already have a bachelor degree in education or in the health and welfare sector. The programme consists of 60 credits and students are asked to do two different internships in the field of special needs education during this year.

Each internship lasts for 15 weeks, two days a week. The student chooses a school for special education, or a school for primary or secondary education, which provides an inclusive setting for one or more pupils with special educational needs. We strongly recommend that they choose one internship in an inclusive setting.

Each year students are placed in approximately 55 schools for primary or secondary education, mostly in the province of Flemish Brabant in Flanders. The students each have a mentor in the school (= the teacher) and one from the teacher education institute (= the teacher educator). The collaboration between these three people is vital for the success of an internship.


What issues/challenges does the example address?

Among others, Forlin and Chambers (2011) found in an evaluation of pre-service teachers' perceptions regarding their preparedness for inclusion that increasing knowledge about legislation and policy related to inclusion, and improving levels of confidence in becoming inclusive teachers, did not necessarily decrease their concerns, or perceived stress, about having students with disabilities in their classes.

Working with students who already have a bachelor degree in the field of education or welfare, reveals the same concerns. Students question their ability to become a good teacher for all their pupils, including those who may have disabilities.

This concern is addressed in the internship in an inclusive setting by focusing on collaborative teaming and co-teaching strategies. Knackendoll et al (2005) emphasize the importance of collaborative teaming ‘to improve services to students whose needs are not being met satisfactorily when professionals act alone rather than in concert with others.’ A good collaboration between the class teacher and the student is an important condition in designing a good learning environment for students to learn about inclusive education. Solis et al. (2012) confirm this and state ‘the first step in successful implementation includes establishing a co-teaching relationship by developing goals, expectations, and roles, as well as understanding setting demands’.

Other research (Avramadis and Norwich, 2002) emphasizes that ‘carefully planned collaborative instruction that includes students with disabilities may assist in teacher attitudes being more positive’.

Both recent literature and the experience within the University Colleges shows that an internship in an inclusive setting with good guidance by both the classroom teacher and the teacher educator gives great opportunities to student-teachers to reach the aims stated above.



How was the Initiative implemented?

Each internship in an inclusive setting is different, because each pupil (with or without special educational needs) is different. The University Colleges want to create good learning experiences for student-teachers and therefore provide guidelines for both the classroom-teacher and the teacher educator. The guidance process consists of following elements:

At the start of an internship in an inclusive setting:

  • A general college communication in which information is given both with regard to practical matters and content. The latter is important. Student-teachers need knowledge on inclusive education and the required skills in order to start their internship with more confidence. Reading lists and tools are provided for students to consult before starting with their internship.
  • A meeting between the student-teacher and the classroom-teacher. Guidelines are provided for this meeting because it is important that both the student and the classroom teacher make their expectations towards each other explicit.
  • A meeting with all the classroom-teachers who work together with one of the student-teachers, held at the teacher training institute. In this meeting, practical information is provided, but all the teacher educators who support internships are present and there is time for both groups to get to know each other.
  • The first phase of an internship (observing, gathering knowledge on the pupil(s) with special educational needs and on co-teaching strategies and making expectations explicit) ends with an action plan written by the student-teacher in consultation with the classroom-teacher which defines the tasks that the student-teacher (together with the classroom-teacher) will take up. (Always with the main goals, as stated above, in mind).

During the internship:

  • Regular meetings with the student teacher and the classroom-teacher to adapt the action plan. These meetings are different from preparation time, the explicit goal is to talk weekly or bi-weekly about the action plan and the main goals and to reflect upon the learning process of the student-teacher.
  • A follow-up meeting with the teacher-educator, the classroom teacher and the student teacher. Again, the main topic of this meeting is the action plan and possible adjustments.

At the end of the internship:

  • An end meeting between the student teacher and teacher-educator - and, if possible, also the classroom teacher. This meeting focusses on the learning process of the student teacher throughout the internship.

An extended version of this guidance process in Dutch is available on request!


What where the key Outcomes? What impact/added value did they prove? What were the biggest challenges?

As part of the advanced bachelor Special Educational Needs, the University-College has organised this kind of internship for the last ten years. Over the years, more student teachers and more schools for primary or secondary education have chosen these internships.

The University College tutors have learned from these experiences - from the reports written by student teachers and the meetings organised with both student-teachers and classroom teachers - that the guidance process is a key factor for a good internship in an inclusive setting. Even when this setting is not a mature example of inclusive education, with good guidance the student teacher is able to reach the goals set out at the beginning.


Has the initiative been evaluated or are there plans for this in the future?

The guidance process is an important part of a good internship in an inclusive setting, but there also are other factors that influence this kind of internship.

Together with a pre-service teacher education programme for primary education and the bachelor programme for socio-educational care work at University College Odisee, the authors have received funding from the educational development fund of KU Leuven to conduct research on these key factors. This research project ends in June 2016. A website is being constructed and will be available from June 2016 (for more information, see contact below).


Have any plans been made for future direction of the initiative?

The research project outlined above is developing further guidelines and tools for the student teacher, the classroom teacher and the teacher educator to make this internship in an inclusive setting a great learning experience. Our programme plans to implement these tools and guidelines in the next school year.


What are the main learning points?

Offering this kind of internship requires special attention from the teacher educator programme. Student-teachers often enter complex situations in primary or secondary inclusive education and the teacher educators responsible for these internships should be well aware of all the different situations their students may face. Thorough, thoughtful and constructive guidance is necessary. When this kind of guidance is offered, an unshakeable experience enables the student-teacher to grow and overcome his/her perceived stress about teaching pupils with and without disabilities.


Are there further information about supporting materials?


Avramidis E. and Norwich B., 2002. ‘Teachers' attitudes towards integration/inclusion: a review of the literature’ European Journal of Special Needs Education, 17 (2), 129–147

European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education, 2012. Profiel van inclusieve lerare. Odense, Denemarken: European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education.

Forlin, C. and Chambers, D., 2011. ‘Teacher preparation for inclusive education: increasing knowledge but raising concerns’ Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education Vol. 39, Issue 1

Knackendoffel, A., 2005. Collaborative teaming in the secondary school. Focus on Exceptional Children 37 (5), 1-15

Solis, M., Vaughn, S., Swanson, E. & Mcculley, S., 2012. ‘Collaborative models of instruction: the empirical foundations of inclusion and co-teaching’ Psychology in the schools, 49 (5), 498-510


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Lijne Vloeberghs

Co-ordinator, Centre of Expertise “Education for All”, Department of Teacher Education, University Colleges Leuven-Limburg

Additional/alternative contact for further information:

Annet De Vroey, Coordinator of Postgraduate Programmes, Department of Teacher Education, University Colleges Leuven-Limburg

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