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Characteristics of Swedish preschools that provide education and care to children with special educational needs

In Sweden, preschool inclusion is embraced and preschools are open for children both with and without special educational needs. The purpose of this study was to examine the characteristics of a number of preschool units in Sweden that provide education and care to children with special educational needs with regard to organisation, resources and quality. The purpose was also to provide reflections on the usefulness of different structured observation rating scales designed to assess preschool quality. Eight preschool units located in four Swedish districts were visited. A total of sixteen 5-year-old children with special educational needs/disability and forty typically developing children of the same age participated. The data sources were structured observation rating scales (Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale, Caregiver Interaction Scale and Inclusive Classroom Profile), ABILITIES Index questionnaire, unstructured observation, interviews, conversations and documents. Two overall typologies of preschool units were identified: the comprehensive units enrolled children with various special educational needs/disability, while the specialised units enrolled children with the same disability. The staff resources were greater in the specialised units. The overall quality in the observed units ranged from low to good. In units educating children with a disability diagnosis, the quality was never low. None of the preschool units was scored as having a good inclusive environment. The structured observation rating scales complemented each other and covered, in part, different quality aspects of the units. The study shows that there is a large variation in quality between the units and that there is a need to further develop the quality of the preschool units and of the services for children with special educational needs in Swedish preschools. (author abstract)
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