The Role of Local Actors in the Special Education Policy in Hungary

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A lack of public debate, lack of listening to the voice of local actors is the most commonly articulated criticism to the events of the PA, most decisions were made top-down, with very little influence by local actors, especially at the beginning of the program.

That was the dominant narrative by the Special educational field’s practitioners. The narrative by the Ministry was quite the opposite: they did listen to the special educators‘ opinion (the pick of Torda being a proof and a guarantee), while they perceived some sort of sabotage on the local level: (a) the municipalities/local authorities used the SEN-extra financial grant for other purposes, (b) the kindergartens, schools and medico-psycho-pedagogic centres sent more and more children to the placement authorities for examination and (c) the placement authorities labelled more and more children as SEN (and mainstreamed only 11% of the children re-examined in 2003). None of them realised the ongoing desegregation and mainstreaming of SEN (not directly induced by the Central Government), a "silent revolution", continued by that time (see Appendix).

Local actors as organised stakeholders managed to influence legislation and financing as well, moreover, the NGO organized by Placement Authorities with the primary aim of self-representation in the public action, also managed to put pressure on the ministry in dealing with SEN diagnosis. Placement Authorities upon organizing themselves were invited to the ministry before all the important legislative decisions, and their opinion was among those taken into account in all the regulations which took place after 2004. They played a central role in developing the new diagnostic protocol, and became an organization which was not to overlook in any decisions in connection with SEN status.

Well organized pressure groups of parents of children suffering from specific disabilities (e.g. autism, severe mental handicap, and other classic disabilities) have good access to both the Public Foundation (FSzKA) and to the Ministry of Education. Parents of children with milder mental disability/ learning difficulties are much less organized. These more numerous and typically lower status families are represented by NGOs/Advocacy groups (such as CFCF), partly financed by the government to concentrate on legal advocacy for misdiagnosed students. The top-down support for civil organisations may be surprising; in fact it‘s just an additional evidence of the weakness of civil society, on the one hand, and the commitment of decision-makers to fight segregation (of Roma/SDS/SEN) with any means, on the other hand: "There is another line, the civil rights activist movement whom I started to support as a minister" (B. Magyar).

Local minority self-governments can stand up occasionally for the rights of segregated and/or misdiagnosed children on the local level.

Generally, however, parents‘ associations are not likely to be involved, for they are weak. The only exception to this is the parents‘ of children with some "middle-class dysfunctions". Knowledge actors and policy makers both state that the lobby activity of these parents‘ association played acentral role in rejecting for years the plan which would have made a more significant differentiation in the financial support of SEN A and B children, and was supposed to take away the financial incentive to SEN diagnosis.

The local actors play a major role in a decentralised system like Hungary: the local governments have a large autonomy, the local service providers (e.g.: Placement Authorities and SEMC) as well. More recently, local actors started to be mobilised by indirect means (the promise of EU-grants) by the Central Government to act as knowledge producers and to place their self-regulation under the auspices of the Local Educational Equal Opportunities Plans, with the help of experts trained nationally. This focus on the local actors is due precisely to the fact that the Central Government‘s officials realised in the course of this PA that these local actors do influence (and often prohibit) the implementation of political will to a large extent.

ERÖSS Gábor & KENDE Anna (2009), All against misdiagnosis - Sociologists, neurologists, economists, psychologists and special educators for inclusion, KNOWandPOL report, 86-88.

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