An increasing number of children with Down syndrome around the world 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 is best to visit a range of provision, where this is available.

It is useful to arrange visits to help children become familiar with the new environment. Some schools offer 'taster days'. It can help to get pictures of the school, a plan of the layout and if possible a timetable in advance.

In secondary school your child will come across a much larger number of staff. A one page profile that is easy to share with more people might be helpful. You may also want to ask if the school has any kind of buddy system for new pupils.

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

Extra support in school

Children with Down 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’ of which every teacher involved should be aware.

In mainstream secondary school it is possible that children with Down syndrome may have several support staff  organised by subject area. In some schools there may be a specific learning support unit where pupils can receive targeted teaching in small groups.

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

Children with Down syndrome may not work at the same level as other children in the school. The school should have 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. 

Whereas some young people with Down syndrome may be able to gain recognised qualifications, most will struggle with an academic curriculum. All young people however should have access to some form of accreditation. It is important to check early on with the school what courses they provide for students who are not able to take recognised qualifications. 

In a special school, it is likely that the environment will be smaller and less of a change from primary school. However there may still be different teachers for some lessons. 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 syndrome may vary, so it is still important for the school to have Down syndrome specific information.

There should be frequent target setting throughout the year whatever the school setting. In some countries, an assessment of the educational needs of every child with learning difficulties is coordinated by local authorities leading to the creation of a document which outlines their specific needs and requirements. This type of document is usually formally reviewed annually and used throughout the child's years in education.

Working with the school

There is usually less contact with parents/carers in a secondary school than in a primary school. Pupils will probably have a school planner or homework diary and may need help from support staff to record homework or other messages. It can sometimes be possible for homework to be sent by email or be made available on the school’s website.

Before starting school it is good to establish who will be the main contact with the school from the teaching and support staff.