For Families and Carers : Secondary

Children playing with blocks. photo copyright Lauren Shear

Education – Secondary  School

This is a brief introduction – please see Further information below for more detailed resources

Starting secondary school


You will need to start looking well in advance and consider a number of different options. You are likely to be looking over a wider geographical area than for primary school. Your local authority must publish details of schools as part of their local offer. Individual schools must also publish information about the provision they make for young people with SEN. Your local parent partnership service should be able to help you find the information you need.

Make sure your child’s statement / Education Health and Care Plan is up to date and reflects your child’s current needs and the secondary school environment.

For information on your rights regarding school preference, please see our pages on SEN and the law.

Most secondary schools will have taster days for year 6 pupils. Your child may need more visits to help them become familiar with the new environment. It can help to get pictures of the school, a plan of the layout and if possible, your child’s timetable in advance.

In secondary school your child will come across a much larger number of staff who won’t all know her well. You may want to think about preparing a one page profile that is easy to share with more people. You may also want to ask if the school has any kind of buddy system for new pupils.

The Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities has some useful guides for young people and parents on preparing for secondary school. See Further information

Extra help in school


Children with Down’s syndrome will learn more slowly than other children, but also have a specific pattern of strengths and difficulties. This is known as the ‘learning profile’ for children with Down’s syndrome. Everyone teaching your child should be informed about this and there are plenty of resources to help them. Some are listed below under Further information.

Your child’s support in school will be overseen by the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO). In primary school your child will probably have been supported by one or two teaching assistants (TAs). In mainstream secondary school they are likely to have several TAs who may be organised by subject area. In some schools there may be a specific learning support unit where pupils can receive targeted teaching in small groups.

In secondary school children with Down’s syndrome should be aiming to develop more independence, for instance moving between lessons on their own.

Many secondary schools set children by ability for some or all subjects. It can sometimes be beneficial for children with Down’s syndrome to be assigned to higher sets in order to have better role models of behaviour.

Individual subject teachers must be involved in planning their learning and in teaching them within the class. This should not be left to the TA alone.

If your child attends a special school, the environment will be smaller and less of a change from primary school. However there may still be different teachers for some lesson. TA support is likely to be flexible for the whole class and not allocated to individual children. Special schools cater for children with a wide variety of needs and their experience of Down’s syndrome may vary, so it’s still important for the school to have Down’s syndrome specific information.

Working with the school


Typically parents have less contact with their child’s school once the child has moved to secondary school. Pupils will probably have a school planner or homework diary. Your child may need help from a TA to record homework or other messages. You could also check whether homework can be sent by email or is available on the school’s website.

Try to establish before your child starts who will be the main contact with the school, for example the SENCO, the form tutor or a lead TA.

There will be a formal review of your child’s statement / EHCP once a year and more frequent target setting throughout the year. For information on reviews, please see our pages on SEN and the law.

Curriculum and assessment


Don’t worry that your child is not at the same level as other children in the school. The school has a duty to adapt the curriculum as necessary for children with special needs. This could mean using more hands on visual teaching or providing simpler work within the same topic. Our ‘Celebrating Success’ booklet has some good examples of how this can be done.

Whereas some young people with DS may be able to gain qualifications such as GCSE and BTEC, most will struggle with an academic curriculum in key stage 4. Although there is an overall drive to a more academic curriculum, schools do have flexibility in the curriculum for older children. All young people should have access to some form of accreditation such as pre entry and entry level certificates or the ASDAN programmes for students with learning difficulties. It’s important to check early on with the school what courses they provide for students who are not able to take GCSEs.

Preparing for adulthood and leaving school


In year 9 all pupils with a statement or EHCP must have a review specifically looking at preparing for adulthood. This is often known as transition planning. For more information see our sections on Teenagers and young adults and on SEN and the law.

At this point you and your son or daughter should be looking amongst other things at the options for post 16 education. See our Further education page for more information.

Further help and information


From the DSA

The information team at the DSA is happy to answer your education related queries. Please call the helpline on 0333 1212 300

Celebrating Success  – some examples of good practice in inclusion

Secondary Education Support Pack – This has detailed information and practical examples covering inclusion strategies, language, behaviour and curriculum areas such as reading, writing and maths.

Early Support Booklet – The DSA has co-written this comprehensive guide from the Early Support project – now covers up to age 25

DSA Training The DSA Access Project provides a range of training options for families and schools

From other organisations

Information, Advice and Support Services Network (IASS) – this has links to your local information, advice and support service for special educational needs and disability. This was previously called Parent Partnership

One page profiles – information from Helen Sanderson Associates

Moving on to Secondary School – Information from the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities