Secondary School

Information, help and advice for parents and families of secondary school children

In this section we look at your secondary school choices including options for the Junior and Leaving Certificates. We also outline the ways in which we can offer support to you. In the commonly asked questions section, you will find useful information about resource hours, Special Needs Assistants and more. In the health section our Nurse Manager outlines the checks that should be undertaken while your child is a teenager, and in the speech and language section our Speech and Language Advisor talks through the best ways to support the continued development of your child’s communication skills through secondary school.

  • Mainstream or special school

    Your child has just completed eight years in primary school, so you will be well aware that students with Down syndrome are capable learners who will progress in any education setting with appropriate supports and opportunities. Not only that, but they enrich our schools and communities for all our children.

    When it comes to the next step, you may have to choose between mainstream and special education. Many children with Down syndrome thrive at their local secondary school.  Research shows that teenagers with Down syndrome who attend mainstream second-level schools have better outcomes in social, academic, behaviour and communication skills than special school settings. (Prof S Buckley).

    Having said that, you as a parent know the educational needs of your child and you may decide that a special school or special class/unit within a mainstream school is a better option for your child.  You can see a full list of special schools and a list of mainstream schools with special classes on the Department of Education and Skills website here.

    Options within Mainstream

    Mainstream schools are usually open to adaptations such as those outlined below that will ensure the best outcome for your child.

    In first year, children with Down syndrome are exposed to all subjects, but the number of subjects can be reduced as the year progresses. In Year 2, you, your child and your child’s school can come together to decide .

    Junior Cert

    Your child may study any number of subjects at Junior Certificate level and then proceed to take the standard Junior Certificate state examination.

    You and your child may also opt to take the Junior Certificate Special Programme (JCSP).

    The JCSP is a national programme operating in 226 schools throughout the country. It is a social inclusion programme that is aimed at students who are at risk of being socially or academically isolated or at risk of early school leaving before the Junior Certificate has been achieved. JCSP is sponsored by the Department of Education and Skills and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. It originated in the early school leavers’ programmes initiated by the Curriculum Development Unit.

    Alternatively, you and your child may opt to follow the Level 2 Learning Programme (L2LP), which features five priority learning units (PLUs). These PLUs are Communicating and Literacy, Numeracy,   Personal Care, Living in a Community and Preparing for Work.

    Leaving Certificate

    At Leaving Certified level, your child has a number of options. Some students opt to take one or more subjects at Leaving Certificate Level.

    Others opt to study the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). The LCA is a distinct, self-contained two-year Leaving Certificate programme aimed at preparing students for adult and working life.

    The programme sets out to recognise the talents of all students and to provide opportunities for developing personal responsibility, self-esteem and self-knowledge. The programme focuses on the talents of each student and helps students apply what they learn to the real world.

    The two-year programme consists of four half-year blocks called sessions. Achievements are credited in each session.

    There is more information in this overview of the Leaving Certificate Applied and on the website of the Citizen’s Information Centre.

    Another option for students is to undertake FETAC Level 2 or Level 3 courses.

    With so many options available, your best course of action is to meet your child’s School Guidance Counsellor and decide what will work best for your child.

  • How we can help?

    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.

    Educational Conferences

    We also run a number of educational conferences for both parents and professionals on supporting children with Down syndrome in education settings. Keep an eye out for them in our newsletters and on social media.

  • Commonly asked questions – secondary 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:

    1. The child is withdrawn from the mainstream classroom and works one-to-one with a resource teacher.
    2. The child is withdrawn from the mainstream classroom and joins a small group of children who may or may not have extra needs.
    3. 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.

    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 Differentiation?

    Differentiation is the process of reducing the amount of work and reducing the level of work involved for students with an intellectual disability as they move through various learning, assessment and examination routes.

    Parents, teachers and other educators have identified that the syllabus for second-level subjects – as presented in current text books and materials – is beyond the level of comprehension and reading ability of many students with Down syndrome, underscoring the need for materials to be differentiated for them.

    Down Syndrome Ireland has developed booklets for a number of subjects containing sample differentiated lessons. The subject are: Home EconomicsEnglishScienceHistoryGeography and Civil, Social and Political Education (CSPE).

    Additional sample lessons in the form of PowerPoint presentations are available for Science (Food) and Home Economics (Home Baking, Milk, Cheese and Eggs and The Teeth)

    Our Introductory Booklet has information on individual education plans, strategies for learning and teaching, a behaviour checklist and information on related issues such as hearing and vision throughout secondary school.

    Please share the materials with your child’s teachers. These resources will help them provide suitable materials of an appropriate level for your child, resulting in better learning outcomes and more inclusion in the classroom.

    We are very grateful to the parents, teachers and educators who participated so willingly in the project, which has been many months in the making.

    We’d also like to say a big thank you to the Maynooth Students for Charity, who helped fund the project through its Galway Cycle 2016.

    If you have any questions or queries, please get in touch with our Education Consultant Fidelma Brady on 01 4266500 or

    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.

  • Health

    Up until the age of 18, your child needs health checks every two years so that you can keep on top of any medical issues your teenager has, and identify any secondary issues that may develop. In our health section, Fiona McGrane, our Nurse Manager, talks you through the specific checks that are recommended for children at secondary-school level.

  • Speech and language therapy

    It’s important to keep developing language as your child moves on to the more complicated environment of secondary school. Rest assured that there is no learning plateau and your teenager will continue to develop speech and language skills with the right support. 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 help your child express himself or herself in as a teenager.

  • Starting Secondary School: Goals for Teachers and Parents

    As your child starts on this next stage of their education journey, it is worth taking a look at the Goals for Teacher and Parents, as suggested by Professor Sue Buckley OBE, Down Syndrome Education International, in her Issues and Information Series.

    Goals for Teachers of 11-16 year olds with Down syndrome

    ·     to involve the teenager in all aspects of school life and school routines.

    ·     to support social independence in school and the development of friendships with peers.

    ·     to support the development of leisure skills and inclusion with peers in break and lunchtimes.

    ·     to encourage, model and expect age-appropriate, socially acceptable behaviour at all times.

    ·     to be familiar with the research findings which demonstrate a specific cognitive profile associated with Down syndrome and to adapt teaching methods appropriately.

    ·     to provide access to all areas of the school curriculum at a level appropriate for the individual teenager.

    ·     to recognise the importance of teaching reading and writing daily.

    ·      to develop speech, language and working memory skills as well as literacy skills.

    ·     to have clear targets for speech and language work for each teenager, and identify how these can be absorbed into all aspects of the curriculum.

    ·     to facilitate independent learning and the ability to work and to learn as part of a group.

    ·     to make full use of computer aided learning, with appropriate software for individual and group work.

    Goals for Parents of Post Primary Pupils with Down syndrome

    ·     Ensure the full involvement of the young person with Down syndrome in all aspects of family life including appropriate household tasks or jobs and responsibility for keeping their own room and possessions tidy.

    ·     In partnership with the school, continue to work on and develop literacy and numeracy skills.

    ·     Arrange for the young person’s involvement in a range of social activities with both their typically developing and disabled peers.

    ·     Consider involvement in sporting activities to promote fitness and health.

    ·     Provide a stimulating speech and language environment for the young person by ensuring that they are spoken to, listened to and fully involved in family conversations.

    ·     Insist on socially acceptable and age-appropriate behaviour at home and during all social activities.

    ·     Address, with the support of the school and any relevant outside professionals, any difficult behaviours.

    ·     Provide the young person with an appropriate level of choice wherever possible, to ensure they have a sense of control over their lives.

    ·     Provide outlets for self-expression and creativity.

    ·     Encourage and develop independence in personal hygiene and self-care.

    ·     Foster and develop independence in the community and encourage regular use of community facilities and amenities – shops, public transport etc.

    ·     Plan for and address issues relating to puberty and development, relationships and sexuality.

    ·     Communicate openly with the  young person and provide them with the requisite information for their needs, appropriately pitched to their level of understanding and ability.



  • Ability Counts

    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 well-being of our members. We have been very keen to identify a programme which can support us in helping our members achieve both.

    You can find out more about the Ability Counts programme and how you can get involved here.

  • Useful resources

    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)
    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.
    The National Behaviour Support Service (NBSS) provides support and expertise to partner post-primary schools on issues related to behaviour.
    Inclusion Ireland is the national association for people with an intellectual disability.

    Health Service Executive – what you need to know

    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 a speech and language therapist, an occupational therapist, a psychologist, a 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.

    For questions about health services, your entitlements, or how to access HSE health or social services in your area, contact the HSELive team Monday to Friday 8am – 8pm, Saturday 10am – 5pm, Callsave: 1850 24 1850, Phone: 041 6850300, Email:


Supporting Students with Down syndrome in Special Schools

Our Supporting students with Down syndrome in special schools booklet provides parents and educators with information and advise on how to help students with Down syndrome thrive in special education settings. It also provides suggestions for intervention for children with a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

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Getting ready for Post Primary School – My Workbook

A very useful tool to help ease the transition from primary to post primary school is preparing a ‘Getting Ready for Post Primary School – My Workbook’. Print off this workbook and personalise it with information, pictures and other useful tips and it can be used to prepare students for the move.

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Supporting students with Down syndrome in post primary school

Our Supporting students with Down syndrome in post primary school booklet provides educators and parents alike with information and advise on how to help students with Down syndrome thrive in mainstream education settings. There is information about Down syndrome, about the learning profile and about various issues which might interfere with a student’s ability to access the curriculum. Topics covered include literacy; numeracy; movement, sport and leisure; managing behaviour and social and emotional development. It also provides a pathway to Junior Cycle. With each chapter, there are suggestions of practical, manageable ways to help.

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Supporting Students with Down syndrome transition from primary to post primary school

The move from primary to post primary school can often be difficult for any student. For a student with Down syndrome, that bit of extra thought, planning and preparation will help ease this transition – to the benefit of both the new arrival and the school. Our Supporting Students with Down syndrome transition from primary to post primary school booklet outlines some simple initiatives and practical steps teachers and parents can take to support students.

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‘…more than medical’

“…more than medical” provides an insight into the realities of family life with a baby, child, teenager or adult with Down syndrome in Ireland today. It’s about reality and providing balanced, complete information for new families.

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Upside Down, The Story of My Brother James Liadh Hanley

Here is a wonderful book called Upside Down, The Story of My Brother James written by a young girl called Liadh Hanley. In the book, Liadh shares her experiences of having a brother with Down Syndrome. The initial aim of the book is to teach siblings and children how to appreciate and respect those with Down syndrome. We think this book could help all members of families with Down Syndrome as well as prospective parents.

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I’m Ok – You’re Mean

Our last national advisory council of Down Syndrome Ireland decided to tell their experience of bullying. They wanted this information to be available to parents, teachers and people with Down syndrome.

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Overview of the leaving certificate applied

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Guidelines for post-primary schools supporting students with special educational needs in mainstream schools

The Department of Education and Skills has produced a booklet entitled Guidelines for Post-primary schools Supporting Students with Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools.

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Differentiation in Action – CSPE

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Differentiation in Action – English

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Differentiation in Action – Geography

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Differentiation in Action – History

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Differentiation in Action – Home Economics – Home Baking

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Differentiation in Action – Home Economics – Milk, Cheese and Eggs

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Differentiation in Action – Home Economics – The Teeth

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Differentiation in Action – Introductory booklet

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Differentiation in Action – Science

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Differentiation in Action: Samples for Home Economics

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