For New Parents : Primary

Children playing with clocks. photo copyright Lauren Shear

Copyright Lauren Shear

Education – Primary School

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

Starting school

Most children with Down’s syndrome attend their local mainstream primary school along with brothers and sisters and other children from their community. Some parents of children with additional complex needs may prefer them to go to a special school. It’s important that whatever decision you make is based on the needs and circumstances of your particular child. For information on your rights regarding school preference, please see our pages on SEN and the Law

Before your child starts, make sure they have plenty of opportunity to visit the new school and if possible meet their new teacher and support assistant. It can help to take some pictures of the school and the staff so you can talk about it during the holidays, perhaps making a book to share with your child. If you can get information about timetable and routines, build that in too.

Extra help in school

The vast majority of children with Down’s syndrome will need more help than is normally available from the school’s existing resources. They will therefore require a statement of special educational needs or, from Sept 2014, an Education, Health and Care Plan, specifying the help they must have. For more information on this process, please see our pages on SEN and the Law.

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. Your child’s school should be informed about this and there are plenty of resources to help them. Some are listed below under Further information.

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.

Your child’s support in school will be overseen by the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO). Day to day help will generally be provided by a teaching assistant (TA), also sometimes called learning support assistant (LSA), who will provide one to one supervision and support for part or all of the school day. Your child’s class teacher must be involved in planning their learning and in teaching them within the class. This should not be left to the TA alone.

Children with Down’s syndrome will generally require speech and language therapy to help with their specific language difficulties. This will be provided by a speech and language therapist visiting the school to draw up a programme and train and advise school staff. Your child may also receive individual direct therapy sessions. Children will have different needs so there’s no ‘one size fits all’ package that’s right for all children with Down’s syndrome.

Working with the school

It is vital for parents and school to work together to ensure that children with Down’s syndrome make the best possible progress and that any difficulties are ironed out at an early stage. Some ways you might like to do this are

  • Schedule regular catch-up meetings with your child’s class teacher / teaching assistant.
  • Have a home school book to share information. This is important if your child does not have sufficiently developed language to tell you about what’s going on at school. Make sure that the home school book is used to communicate what your child has done well and doesn’t
  • Use a conversation diary. This is very much about what is important to the child. It will have on each page a sentence in the first person about something the child has enjoyed that day with a picture. This can then prompt conversation at home about the child’s day. In return you can share information with the school about what your child has enjoyed at the weekend.

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.

Thinking about secondary school

You should start thinking about the move to secondary school as soon as your child goes into year 5. This will give you the chance to visit schools and ask questions well before you have to make a decision. For some of the questions you may want to ask, please see the page on looking at secondary schools.

An increasing number of children with Down’s syndrome are moving on to mainstream secondary schools. However this is also a time when some children move to a special school or a unit or resource base within mainstream. It’s best to keep an open mind and visit a range of provision.

For more information on support in secondary school, go to the Secondary school page.

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

Including pupils with Down’s syndrome – Primary – practical advice for teachers and support staff.

Celebrating Success – Primary – some examples of good practice in inclusion.

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

Early Support – Down’s syndrome – The DSA has co-written this comprehensive guide from the Early Support project.

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

SEN logo 2015The article Helping children with Down’s syndrome to learn was published in SEN Magazine in January/February 2016. In the article, Gillian Bird provides a useful guide to help teachers understand the learning profile associated with Down’s syndrome.

Download the article.


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.

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