How should we organize inclusive education? This is a key question in many European countries as they move from special to inclusive education. We would like to introduce the new Portuguese law to you as an innovative and inspiring framework, and describe some motivations behind the law.
The Portuguese new legislation in a nutshell
Since July 2018 a new Decree-Law (No 54/2018, ) has established a new legal framework for inclusive education in Portugal, replacing the special education Decree-Law no. 3/2008.
There are two key changes:
- the widening of the universe of children covered by support measures and
- the change in the focus of the support, which is more directed at classroom teachers.
What support measures exist and to which children do they apply?
Support measures aim to address the needs and potential of each and every child and to guarantee the conditions for their full realization, promoting equity and equal opportunities. The new Portuguese law proposes support measures organized at three levels:
- Universal Measures – available to promote participation and improvement of learning for all children, including those needing support from subsequent levels;
- Selective Measures – available to meet needs not met by universal measures; and
- Additional Measures – for severe and persistent difficulties for which the previous measures are not enough.
Teachers are central to the success and well-being of all children, including those in need of selective or additional measures. The new legislation spells out the provision of support to these professionals.
What supports or resources are available to teachers?
These are specific resources, including:
- Special education teachers, that support classroom teachers collaboratively, in a logic of co-responsibility. This support addresses the definition of strategies for pedagogical differentiation, reinforcing learning, and the identification of multiple means of motivation, representation and expression.
- Multidisciplinary team to support inclusive education, which, among other duties, is responsible for providing counselling to teachers in the implementation of inclusive pedagogical practices;
- Learning support centre, aiming to support the inclusion of children and young people in the group and in the school and classroom routines and activities, to promote the quality of children’s participation in group activities, and to support classroom teachers;
- Local early childhood intervention teams that are local, multidisciplinary teams that represent education, health, and social action services and implement preventive and rehabilitative measures, centered on the child and the family;
- School health teams of the Health Center / Local Health Units, which articulate with the general medical and family teams and other health services, the family and the school.
Two important motivations
This decree is consistent with the rights of children and persons with disabilities [2, 3, 4] and with research evidence [5,6].
Motivated by children’s rights
Inclusion in early childhood education is defined in terms of the values, policies, and practices that underpin the right of each child and his family, regardless of their competence, to participate in a wide range of activities and contexts, as full members the family, the community and society. Expected outcomes of the inclusion process include a sense of belonging and affiliation, positive social relationships and friendships, as well as development and learning to reach its full potential [2, p. 2]. Internationally, the Salamanca Declaration  reaffirms the commitment to Education for All in schools that include all people, accept differences and support learning based on genuine equal opportunities.
Motivated by research and practice
Best practices [8,9], arising from research on children’s development [5,6] and early childhood intervention , also inspired the new law:
- intervention in everyday settings and routines,
- the promotion of the skills the child needs to carry out day-to-day activities, and
- collaborative work between professionals, aimed at the child as a whole and not compartmentalised by areas of development.
Furthermore, the new law may discourage from working with children in individual sessions, specific or limited to a developmental area, and in special rooms or settings, as we know that children have difficulty learning in a decontextualized way and in generalizing competences to other contexts [10,11,12]. It is known that children learn through repeated interactions with the environment (including everyday life settings and significant adults) and over time (i.e., throughout the day and every day). The new and increased focus on teacher and classroom supports may be instrumental in changes towards evidence-based practices.
Much remains to be said about this new legislation. Portuguese schools are going through a phase of legal transition and questions and challenges emerge every day. You are invited to read the English version of the new inclusive education framework  and to share your thoughts, questions, and advice. We look forward to hear from you.
 Decree-Law n. 54/2018. Presidência do Conselho de Ministros, Educação. Diário da República, 1ª série n.º 129 – 6 de julho de 2018, pp. 2918-2928. English version available at: http://www.dge.mec.pt/sites/default/files/EEspecial/dl_54_2018_en_version_0.pdf
 DEC/NAEYC. (2009). Early childhood inclusion: A joint position statement of the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, FPG Child Development Institute. Available at https://www.naeyc.org/sites/default/files/globally-shared/downloads/PDFs/resources/position-statements/DEC_NAEYC_EC_updatedKS.pdf
 UNESCO (1994). The Salamanca statement and framework for action on special needs education. Salamanca: Author. Available at http://www.unesco.org/education/pdf/SALAMA_E.PDF
 UNESCO (2009). Policy guidelines on inclusion in education. France: Author. Available at http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0017/001778/177849e.pdf
 Nacional Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network (2006). Child care effect sizes for the NICHD Study of Early Care and Youth Development. American Psychologist, 61, 99-116. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.61.2.99
 Shonkoff, J.P., & Phillips, D. (Eds.) (2000). From neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
 Sandall, S., McLean, M., & Smith, B. (2000). DEC recommended practices in early intervention/ early childhood special education. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.
 Division for Early Childhood. (2014). DEC recommended practices in early intervention/early childhood special education 2014. Available at http://www.decsped.org/recommendedpractices
 Carvalho, L., Almeida, I. C., Felgueiras, I., Leitão, S., Boavida, J., Santos, P. C.,… Franco, V. (2016). Práticas recomendadas em intervenção precoce na infância: Um guia para profissionais. Coimbra: ANIP. Available at http://im2.anip.net/index.php/guia/versao-on-line
 Dunst, C. J. (2007). Early intervention for infants and toddlers with developmental disabilities. In S. L. Odom, R. H. Horner, M. Snell, & J. Black (Eds.), Handbook of developmental disabilities (pp. 161–180). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
 McWilliam, R. A. (2010). Routines-based early intervention: Strategies for supporting young children with disabilities. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.
 Boavida, T., Aguiar, C., & McWilliam, R. A. (2018). A intervenção precoce e os contextos de educação de infância. In M. Fuertes, C. Nunes, D. Lino, & T. Almeida (Org.), Teoria, práticas e investigação em intervenção precoce (pp. 7-23). Lisboa: CIED/Escola Superior de Educação de Lisboa. https://www.eselx.ipl.pt/sites/default/files/media/2018/ebook2_compressed.pdf.