“Shape sorting” students for special education services? A study on placement choices and social-emotional and academic functioning of students with SEBD in inclusive and exclusive settings

Inge Zweers

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


Schools play an important role in fostering students’ cognitive and social-emotional development. Some students, such as students with social-emotional and behavioral difficulties (SEBD), have special educational needs: they require individual attention and a tailored approach to their unique educational needs. Whether their needs are best met by providing special education services in inclusive settings for regular education (included students with SEBD) or in exclusive settings for special education (excluded students with SEBD), is subject to debate. Yet, we know surprisingly little about the characteristics of students with SEBD, what schools do to support them, and what results are yielded with the additional support provided.
We compared the school development of included and excluded students with SEBD who applied for special education services. We first collected data when they resided in regular education without additional support. We conducted classroom surveys with students and teachers, individual testing sessions with students with SEBD, and we collected data from school administration and students’ application files. After provision of special education services (students either stayed in the inclusive setting – the regular school – or were excluded and were placed in a school for special education), we followed students’ development for 1,5 years with three additional measurements.
The research in this dissertation shows that students with SEBD did not differ in student functioning before placement in inclusive or exclusive settings – that is, before special education services were provided – while their teachers differed on several factors. Teachers of included students reported lower self-efficacy in the classroom, but more positive attitudes towards inclusive education than teachers of excluded students. Placement choices for inclusive or exclusive settings for students with SEBD thus depend to some extent on characteristics of their teachers, rather than on students’ school functioning.
After 1,5 years of provision of special education services, excluded students performed better than included students with regard to social-emotional and academic functioning. This is an intriguing finding given the fact that there is a strong trend in current educational policy to move towards inclusive education (Passend Onderwijs). It shows that special education services provided in exclusive settings can have important benefits to both the academic and social-emotional functioning of students with SEBD who are at risk for a variety of bad prospects. This supports the perspective that special education services should be provided in inclusive regular education whenever possible, but that exclusive special education must be offered to those students whose needs cannot be met in inclusive regular education. Thus that both inclusive and exclusive settings are necessary to adequately support this diverse group of students seems evident. The benefits of exclusive settings for the development of many of these students are not sufficiently acknowledged by our current educational policy. This stresses the need to better equip schools for regular education with similar services, facilities, and professional expertise to manage and support students with SEBD.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Orobio De Castro, B., Primary supervisor
  • Bijstra, J.O., Co-supervisor, External person
  • Tick, Nouchka, Co-supervisor
  • van de Schoot, Rens, Co-supervisor
Award date18 May 2018
Print ISBNs978-94-6299-913-
Publication statusPublished - 18 May 2018


  • social/emotional/behavioral difficulties (SEBD)
  • placement choices
  • teacher factors
  • school functioning
  • Bayes


Dive into the research topics of '“Shape sorting” students for special education services? A study on placement choices and social-emotional and academic functioning of students with SEBD in inclusive and exclusive settings'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this