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Czech national audit says schools were not prepared for inclusion and local governments are not drawing funds for it in socially excluded localities

12.10.2020 16:01
--ilustrační foto--
--ilustrační foto--

The Czech Republic's Supreme Audit Office (Nejvyšší kontrolní úřad - NKÚ) has released a report finding that the Education Ministry has not done enough to prepare either principals or teachers to provide inclusive education, and the investigation has also ascertained that educating children together in mainstream schools is financially dependent on money from the European Union (EU). Financial support has also been allocated in some cases for projects where it is not certain that pupils living with disabilities or disadvantage were aided. 

Just half of the funds allocated for inclusion in excluded localities was ever accessed, above all because municipalities were not interested in accessing such funding. The NKÚ published its findings in a press release today. 

According to the Education Ministry, the audit assessed the financing of inclusion without broader knowledge of the issue. The Czech News Agency (ČTK) is in the process of learning how other institutions affected by the findings are reacting to them.

Financial support for educating all pupils together in mainstream schools in the Czech Republic between 2015 and 2019 was investigated by the NKÚ - money for that purpose was disbursed by the Education Ministry (MŠMT), the Regional Development Ministry (MMR) and the Capital City of Prague from EU funds and the state budget. By mid-2019 more than CZK 32 billion [EUR 1.18 billion] had been invested. 

The NKÚ investigated specific projects that were awarded more than CZK 9 billion [EUR 331 million] total. Systemic changes to the education system were begun in the Czech Republic in 2009, but for inclusion what was crucial was the change in legislation launched by the Education Ministry in 2016.  

"The ministry failed to duly prepare educators in mainstream schools to work with pupils with different special needs. Projects for educating pedagogues and providing methodological support have de facto only been running since 2018," the auditors said.   

Another problem, according to the investigation, is that schools receive financing for experts such as school psychologists or special needs educators just for the duration of the projects, which means delivering inclusion depends to a great extent on EU subsidies. The auditors are reproaching the Education Ministry for having not yet managed to secure another funding source for such services, even though the number of pupils with special needs has increased by more than half over the last 10 years.

"If that trend continues, more financing will be required to provide equal access to education for all pupils," the auditors said. Education Ministry spokesperson Aneta Lednová has responded to the audit by saying "The NKÚ report takes a very one-sided view of the entire matter of educating children together and does so in particular without broader knowledge of the issue as a whole, which negatively influences their conclusions." 

Lednová said the ministry agrees there is a need to make the financial support for educating the disadvantaged effective, and that it is prepared to do so on the basis of the Czech School Inspectorate's findings as well as on the basis of knowledge produced by the schools and their educational counselling services, among other information sources. Inclusive education is also meant to aid pupils from impoverished families, for example. 

The Education Ministry said that it allocated almost CZK 1.7 billion [EUR 62.5 million] through the Operational Programme for Research, Development and Education to support the inclusion of such pupils, but just half of the funds were drawn, the reason being the lack of interest among those municipalities that have socially excluded localities on their territories in applying for the funding. For some of those projects, according to the NKÚ, it is also not clear how they actually aided children. 

For example, one project targeting inclusion in socially excluded localities got almost CZK 229 million [EUR 8.4 million] in financial support. That particular project is managed by the Agency for Social Inclusion under the Czech Regional Development Ministry.

The project's impact on parents and pupils was not tracked at all. Moreover, according to the NKÚ, inhabitants of excluded localities were involved in the project to just a minimum extent, and the involvement of schools is similarly minimal.

"The end result is that the Agency is financing its own activity from these subsidies," the auditors said. The NKÚ also investigated the impacts of the legislative changes associated with inclusion on the mainstream primary schools through a questionnaire. 

The authority contacted 3 842 such schools, 47 % of whom participated in the survey. Just 3 % of the schools surveyed had no pupils with special educational needs.

The investigation concludes that barriers to successful inclusion are, according to the schools interviewed, the redundant administrative tasks that principals must complete, high numbers of pupils in classrooms, and insufficiently-equipped classrooms and school buildings. Schools also do not have enough assistants who are qualified to aid educators. 

Just 3 % of the people hired as assistants are graduates in special needs education, and overall less than 16 % of the assistants working at the schools surveyed were college graduates. The education achieved by assistants also differs significantly from region to region. 

Most of the schools surveyed also said they are not satisfied with the fact that the financing of specialised staff members in the schools is funded just by EU money. Dependency on that funding could be a problem in the future. 

ČTK, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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