Information, help and advice for parents and families of primary-school children
In this section you will find some questions that will help you choose the most suitable school for your child, a useful booklet on the transition from pre-school to primary school, the supports that we can offer you and your child as he or she attends ‘big school’, a booklet that your child’s teacher might find useful – Supporting Children with Down Syndrome in Primary School – and more.
Some questions to think about when considering a school
Can you believe your little bundle of joy is ready for ‘big school’?
There can be a lot to think about in terms of what will work best for your child but providing him or her with the best educational opportunities is probably at the top of your list.
Mainstream or special school?
More than 90% of children with Down syndrome now attend their local primary school. For some children, this may not be an option and you may decide that your child is best suited to attend a special school. If this is the case, you can access a full list of special schools on the Dept of Education and Skills website.
Some mainstream schools have special classes, which you may feel is the best option for your child. As a parent, you know your child best.
Here is a list of questions you may find helpful when choosing a primary school.
How we can help – getting ready for big school
Like all children, children with Down syndrome have learning strengths and weaknesses. Listed below are practical supports that we can offer to help your child thrive in primary school.
Resources and booklets
We have compiled a Learning Profile which will help both you and your child’s teacher devise a teaching plan for your child.
Our booklet Supporting Children with Down Syndrome in Primary School provides both you as parents and your child’s teacher with practical advice and suggestions to ensure your child thrives at school. The booklet also provides a list of useful resources and classroom accommodations.
Down Syndrome What Is It All About is also a useful tool for schools and teachers.
Our Education Officer is at your disposal
Our Education Officer Fidelma Brady is on hand to offer you and your child’s school help, advice and support throughout your child’s educational journey, both mainstream and special.
We also run a number of education conferences for both parents and professionals on supporting your child in school. Keep an eye out for them in our newsletters and on social media.
Numicon is a multi-sensory maths teaching programme using Numicon maths shapes in a series of practical teaching activities. https://www.abcschoolsupplies.ie/numicon
Down Syndrome Ireland provides Numicon training to our branch network across the country. If you would like to avail of training in your branch, contact Annette@Downsyndrome.ie or contact your local branch secretary.
Commonly asked questions – primary school
What are resource teaching hours?
Resource teaching hours are allocated to children with Down syndrome to support their extra learning needs. Some teachers in schools work specifically as resource teachers, and are now called Special Education Teachers (SET).
From September 2017, a new system of allocation of resource teaching hours is in place for children with Down syndrome in mainstream education settings. This is good news! The new system will ensure that your child will receive the resources necessary to thrive in school.
DSI has worked with the Department of Education and Skills for many years with a view to finding the best way to allocate resources to children with Down syndrome. As a result of our lobbying, Down syndrome has been included on the list of ‘complex disorders’ for the allocation of resources. Under this model, children with Down syndrome have the right to access resource teaching hours without an early assessment – lifting a huge burden of worry and anxiety for parents.
Find out everything you need to know about the new allocation here.
We consider that an allocation of 3.5 hours resource teaching hours per week is best practice.
Resource teaching hours can be administered in three different ways:
- The child is withdrawn from the mainstream classroom and works one-to-one with a resource teacher.
- The child is withdrawn from the mainstream classroom and joins a small group of children who may or may not have extra needs.
- The child remains in the mainstream classroom and the resource teacher works alongside the class teacher in what is known as team teaching.
How will my child get a Special Needs Assistant (SNA)?
Every child with Down syndrome will have access to an SNA.
You will need to apply through the school to the SENO (Special Education Needs Organiser). SENOs work under the auspices of the National Council for Special Education. You can find your local SENO here: http://ncse.ie/seno-contact-list.
In general terms, an SNA acts in a care and support role that is non-teaching in nature. The SNA works under the guidance and supervision of the school principal and/or class teacher.
Who is in charge of Special Education in my school?
The principal, Special Education Teacher and class teacher work together.
You can find further information on SNAs, their roles and responsibilities here:
Depending on the level of care need, your child will have access to an SNA for a set number of hours.
What is STRANDS?
STRANDS stands for Strategies for Teachers to Respond Actively to the Needs of children with Down Syndrome.
STRANDS has been developed by the Department of Special Education, Mary Immaculate College in collaboration with the Special Education Support Service. Drawing on current research and on the experiences of teachers working in both mainstream and special schools, it provides a wealth of practical strategies and suggestions that can be used to enhance teaching and learning for children with Down syndrome and children with general learning disabilities in primary schools and special schools.
What is a Passport?
The Education Passport materials support the transfer of your child’s information from primary to post-primary school. Your child’s primary school teacher will gather together all your child’s education needs and outcomes into what is referred to as a Passport, which will be sent on to your child’s secondary school.
You can find out more here.
Speech and language therapy
Children who have Down syndrome are visual learners and will often learn by imitating the other children, so ‘big school’, be that mainstream or special, presents many opportunities for them to develop their speech and language skills. In our Speech and Language section, Nicola Hart, our Speech and Language Advisor, goes through the various ways you and your child’s teachers can support your child in the language-rich environment of primary school.
We have recently embarked on a partnership with Celtic FC Foundation, the charitable arm of Celtic Football club, to deliver their very successful activity project for young people and adults with Down Syndrome & Autism, Ability Counts.
This programme provides activities and games on a weekly basis with the aims of developing participant’s communication, coordination and social skills through physical activity and increased interaction with peers.
Physical activity & social integration have been identified as one of the critical success factors in the overall wellbeing of our members. We have been very keen to identify a programme which can support us in helping our members achieve both.
You can read more about the Ability Counts programme and how you can get involved here.
Down Syndrome Ireland: 01 4266500
Down Syndrome Ireland Education Officer Fidelma Brady: 01 4266500
The National Council for Special Education
The Special Education Support Service
Special Education Needs Organiser (SENO) list
National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS)
Lámh Signs Ireland | Communication Augmentation Sign System Ltd
Down Syndrome Education International is an international resource offering information and online courses for teachers of children with Down syndrome.
The Institute of Child Education and Psychology Europe provides online courses up to Master’s level in special educational needs and positive psychology.
Inclusion Ireland is the national association for people with an intellectual disability.
Health Service Executive – what you need to know
Up until this point, your child has been under the care of the HSE Early Intervention Teams. Now that your child has reached school-age, you will transition to the HSE School Age Team.
The HSE School Age Team is for those aged 5-18 years and their families. The teams vary across the country, though they usually comprise of a speech and language therapist, occupational therapist, psychologist, behavioural therapist and social workers.
Please contact your Local HSE Health Centre for information regarding your local School Age Team or Disability Services in your area.