South African Inclusive Education Policy


White Paper 6, Special Education Needs: Building an Inclusive Education System (WP6) is a national policy document introduced in 2001 to establish a system where learners with disabilities are able to learn alongside their peers with appropriate supports. WP6 proposed a 20-year trajectory to implement inclusive education across South Africa.

What were the main aims of the initiative?

WP6 outlines the following as key strategies and levers for establishing an inclusive education and training system:

  • Qualitative improvement of special schools for the learners that they serve and their phased conversion to resource centres. These resource centres should provide professional support to neighbourhood schools and be integrated into District‑Based Support Teams.
  • Overhauling the process of identifying, assessing and enrolling learners in special schools. Replacement of this process with one that acknowledges the central role played by educators, lecturers and parents.
  • Mobilisation of children and young people of school age with disabilities who are out-of-school.
  • Designation and phased conversion of approximately 500 out of 20,000 mainstream primary schools to full-service schools.
  • General orientation and introduction of management, governing bodies and professional staff within mainstream education to the inclusive model. Targeted early identification of the range of diverse learning needs and intervention in the Foundation Phase.
  • Establishing District-Based Support Teams to provide a co-ordinated professional support service. The service should draw on expertise in further and higher education and local communities and target special schools and specialised settings, designated full-service and other primary schools and educational institutions.
  • The launch of a national advocacy and information programme in support of the inclusion model. The programme should focus on the roles, responsibilities and rights of all learning institutions, parents and local communities. It should highlight the focal programmes and report on their progress.
Location, Setting, Scope, Key Events etc.

In October 1996, a National Commission on Special Needs in Education and Training and the National Committee on Education Support Services were established to investigate and make recommendations on all aspects of special needs and support services in education and training in South Africa.

The central findings of the investigations by the Commissions were as follows:

  • Specialised education and support have predominantly been provided for a small percentage of learners with disabilities within ‘special’ schools and classes.
  • Where provided, specialised education and support were provided on a racial basis, with the best human, physical and material resources reserved for white learners.
  • Most learners with disability have either fallen outside the system or been ‘mainstreamed by default’.
  • The curriculum and education system as a whole have generally failed to respond to the diverse needs of the learner population, resulting in massive numbers of drop-outs, push-outs and failures.
  • While some attention has been given to the schooling phase with regard to ‘special needs and support’, the other levels or bands of education have been seriously neglected.

The joint report of the two bodies recommended that the education and training system should promote education for all. It should foster the development of inclusive and supportive centres of learning that would enable all learners to participate actively in the education process, so that they could develop and extend their potential and participate as equal members of society.

The report also suggested that the key strategies required to achieve this vision included:

  • transforming all aspects of the education system;
  • developing an integrated system of education;
  • infusing ‘special needs and support services’ throughout the system;
  • pursuing the holistic development of centres of learning to ensure a barrier-free physical environment and a supportive and inclusive psycho-social learning environment, developing a flexible curriculum to ensure access to all learners;
  • promoting the rights and responsibilities of parents, educators and learners;
  • providing effective development programmes for educators, support personnel and other relevant human resources;
  • fostering holistic and integrated support provision through intersectoral collaboration;
  • developing a community-based support system, which includes a preventative and developmental approach to support;
  • developing funding strategies that ensure redress for historically disadvantaged communities and institutions, sustainability and – ultimately – access to education for all learners.

Based on the recommendations in the joint report, the Department of Basic Education released a Consultative Paper (Department of Education, Consultative Paper No. 1 on Special Education: Building an Inclusive Education and Training System. 30 August 1999). The submissions and feedback from social partners and the wider public were collated and informed the writing of WP6.

WP6 outlines what inclusive education and training systems are and how South Africa intends to build them, providing a framework and key steps for implementation.

Various policies and guidelines have been developed in response to WP6 and its goals. These include:

  • Policy on Accommodations and Concessions
  • Guidelines for Full-Service and Special Schools and Special School Resource Centres
  • Guidelines for Responding to Learner Diversity in the Classroom through the National Curriculum Statement R-12
  • Policy on Quality Education and Support for Learners with Severe to Profound Intellectual Disability and the Turn-around Strategy for Special Schools
  • The Policy on Screening, Identification, Assessment and Support (SIAS).
Issues Addressed
What issues/challenges does the case study address?
  • Transformation of a segregated education system (mainstream and special education) into one integrated system which embraces equity and equality
  • Acceptance of equal rights for all learners
  • Transformation of the entire education system to effectively and efficiently respond to and support learners, parents and communities by removing barriers to learning and participation in the education system.
How was the initiative implemented?

In 2019, South Africa is 18 years into the projected 20-year implementation plan for the WP6. Although progress has not been achieved as envisioned in 2001, some elements have been achieved to encourage inclusive education systems in South Africa.

In the ‘Report on the Implementation of Education White Paper 6 on Inclusive Education (2015)’, the Department of Basic Education acknowledged the high number of children with disabilities who were still out-of-school (estimated at approximately 590,000 in 2015). However, the report also listed the following achievements:

  • The establishment of a protocol with the Department of Social Development (DSD) and the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) ensures that all children with an identity number and receiving a child support grant attend school.
  • The establishment of the Learner Unit Record Information and Tracking System (LURITS) to facilitate the tracking and monitoring of children within the school system.
  • The development and introduction of the new learning programme for children with profound disabilities: the National Curriculum Statement Grade R–5 for Learners with Severe Intellectual Disability. This is currently being incrementally introduced in 177 special schools.
  • 285 special schools are stronger by means of training and resource provision since 2001.
  • 80 special schools have been converted into resource centres.
  • The implementation of the Policy on Screening, Identification, Assessment and Support (SIAS), which provides a tool for assessment of all children, especially those within care centres, to find appropriate schools for placement.

The SIAS Policy was developed to respond to the needs of all learners, especially those who are vulnerable. It was developed over 10 years in consultation with a wide number of stakeholders, including organisations for people with disabilities. SIAS aims to provide a policy framework for identification, assessment and support for all learners who require additional support to realise their right to participation and inclusion in the education system. The policy includes directives on how to plan, budget and provide support at all education levels.

SIAS specifically aims:

  • to identify the barriers to learning experienced;
  • to identify the support needs that arise from these barriers;
  • to develop a support programme to address the impact of these barriers.

SIAS is structured to ensure that all educational staff understand the support needs of learners, to enable beneficial learning to take place. It provides a process for identifying learner needs at home and school and establishes the type and extent of support required at different levels. The policy is designed as a set of forms and identifies the roles and responsibilities of educators, managers, District-Based Support Teams and parents/caregivers.

To date, the progressive rollout of the SIAS Policy has reached 83,020 teachers from 23,840 schools. Across South Africa, 4,215 officials have been trained on the use of SIAS and the document is freely available online.

Stages of SIAS:

  1. Initial screening guided by learner profile
  • Completed for all learners at admission and at the beginning of each phase.
  • Any areas marked with * indicate that the next stage should begin.
  1. Identifying and addressing barriers to learning and development at school level
  • Parents/caregivers are an integral part of this stage, which is co-ordinated by the educator
  • An Individual Support Plan is formulated together and reviewed at least once per quarter
  • If the support is not sufficient, the educator makes a referral to the School-Based Support Team (SBST), which then completes the SNA 2 form. An action plan is put in place where the support is strengthened.
  1. Identifying and addressing barriers to learning and development at district level
  • The SNA 3 form guides the District-Based Support Team (DBST) in designing a more in-depth action plan, which spells out the support package and includes planning, budgeting, resource and service provision (e.g. speech therapy), training and counselling for parents/caregivers and monitoring of the plan.

 What was the timescale?

The policy was approved in 2014 and WP6 projected a 20-year implementation plan.

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

The policy is a processing tool for early identification of individual school, learner and teacher support needs.

It ensures that all children of school age experiencing barriers to learning, including those with disabilities, have reasonable access to inclusive, quality, free, primary and secondary education on an equal basis with other young people in the communities in which they live.

It helps schools to work out and make provision for all additional support needs.

It assists the District-Based Support Team in determining support requirements for the school, circuit and district as a whole and enables them to plan and budget for their most effective delivery.

The biggest challenges were:

  • The DBSTs took a long time to respond to School-Based Support Teams’ requests for additional support.
  • Once a package of support was decided on, it was not possible to implement it immediately, so support provision needed to be carefully planned and organised.
  • The use of the forms by teachers to request support for a learner was a challenge.
Future Developments / Sustainability
Have any plans been made for future direction of the initiative?
  • Digitising the policy to be an accredited online training programme for teachers, officials and parents.
  • Including parents in the training in schools.
Contact information

Department of Basic Education: Millicent Boaduo, Chief Education Specialist

South African Disability Alliance: Sandra Klopper, National Director of Autism South Africa

South African Inclusive Education Policy