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.



  • School Age – Hints & Tips

    Your child’s school may have sent homework to continue while the schools are closed at this time, your SLT may have provided ideas and activities to work on. You may be continuing with the See and Learn Programme. It is good to continue with this work if you have it, but if you do not have work from your child’s school or therapist, remember that most everyday activities are educational,  not all learning comes from books – Talking, listening, singing, dancing are all great things to do, with many positive effects.

    It is also important for your child to continue developing attention and concentration skills. While at school, children need to be able to sit and work on an activity for a period of time. This should be continued at home so that the child can continue to develop their ability to concentrate. The activity does not have to be academic, but one that requires the child’s attention and participation. Ensure that ‘turn-taking’ is practiced at home as this would be a very important part of school life and needs to be continued while the child is out of school.

    Similarly, continue to work on developing your child’s independence. Working on areas such as putting on their own coat, hanging up their coat, putting on their shoes will be very helpful. Other ideas include encouraging your child to help around the house- setting the table, clearing the table, tidying away their books, toys, games, etc.


    Useful Activities



    Read to your child, read with your child and encourage them to read themselves. Try to use a wide range of books with both words and short sentences, not just picture books. Talk to your child about what they have read – discuss any pictures and talk about who was in the story? where did it take place? what was the main event? what happened in the end? and what did the child think about the story?

    This would also be an ideal opportunity to make personal books with your child about their life and interests. This activity, in addition to developing reading skills, will help to build your child’s understanding. Use photos or images and write/type sentences based on the child’s reading ability. Individual sheets can be printed and made into a book, which you can return to for reading practice over the next number of weeks.



    Continue writing practice at the level the child is at in school. Practice letter formation and, depending on the child’s stage, encourage them to write words or sentences along with pictures. This activity could be linked with making personal books for reading – See reading section. Drawing, colouring and other fine motor activities are also important for the development of writing skills. Children could also start (or continue) to learn to touch type. A very good programme is ‘Dancemat’ which can be accessed as a free download from



    Practical maths using things like cooking, laying the table, counting things, pairing socks, are very valuable. Other aspects of maths and numeracy to concentrate on include talking about shape & colour words; size words; and order words. Play matching & sorting games and counting games.

    Board games are an excellent ‘fun’ way of developing counting skills for children of all ages

    Other practical activities to develop numeracy skills include

    • Sorting and matching objects by colour, size and shape
    • Match numbers 1-5 with the written words, spoken words and appropriate amounts
    • Selecting up to 5 objects from a group of objects
    • Matching, selecting, and sequencing numbers 1-5
    • Working with the Story of 1, 2,3,4,5, using concrete materials and visual supports

    eg: story of 3: 3+0=3; 0+3=3; 1+2=3; 2+1=3;

    NB: The child should be able to complete all of these activities with numbers 1-5, before we progress with numbers 6-10.


    Motor Skills


    Gross-Motor Activities

    Gross-motor activities involve the ability to move various parts of the body. The purpose of these activities is to develop smoother, more effective body movements and to increase the child’s sense of spatial orientation and body consciousness.

    Gross-motor activities are grouped as:

    • walking activities
    • throwing and catching activities
    • other gross-motor activities


    Walking Activities

    1. Forward, backward, and sideways walk. Children walk to a target on a straight or curved path marked on the floor. Children walk with arms in different positions, carrying objects, dropping objects such as balls into containers along the way, or focus eyes on various parts of the room.
    2. Steppingstones. Put objects on the floor for steppingstones. The child is to follow the course by placing the correct foot on the steppingstone.


    Throwing and Catching Activities

    1. Throwing. Balloons, wet sponges, beanbags, yarn balls, and rubber balls of various sizes can be used to throw objects at targets, to another person.
    2. Catching. Catching is a more difficult skill than throwing. Child can practice catching the previously-mentioned objects thrown by another person.
    3. Ball games. Various types of ball games help develop motor coordination. Examples include rolling-ball games, bouncing balls on the ground, and throwing balls against the wall.


    Other Gross-Motor Activities

    1. Jumping Jacks. Children jump, putting feet wide apart, while clapping the hands above the head. To vary this activity, the children can make quarter turns, half turns, and full turns, or jump to the left, right, north, or south.
    2. Hopping. Children hop on one foot at a time and alternate feet while hopping. Use rhythmical patterns: left, left, right, right; or left, left, right; or right, right, left.
    3. Bouncing. Children bounce on a trampoline if available
    4. Skipping. A difficult activity for children with poor motor coordination, skipping combines rhythm, balance, body movement, and coordination. Many children need help to learn to skip.


    Fine-Motor Activities

    The following activities give young children experiences with fine-motor activities:

    1. Tracing. Students trace lines, pictures, designs, letters, or numbers or: tracing paper, plastic, or stencils. Use directional arrows, colour cues, and numbers to help children trace the figures.
    2. Water Control. Children carry and pour water into measured buckets from jugs .cups, mugs to specified levels. Smaller amounts and finer measurements make the task more difficult. Colouring the water makes the activity more interesting.
    3. Cutting with Scissors. Choose cutting activities that are appropriate for the child’s development level. The easiest activity is cutting straight lines marked near the edge of the paper. A more difficult activity is cutting a straight line across the centre of the paper. A piece of cardboard attached to the paper helps guide the scissors. Children can cut out marked geometric shapes, such as squares, rectangles, and triangles. Children can cut out curving lines and circles, then pictures, and finally patterns made with dots and faint lines.
    4. Stencils or Templates. Children draw outlines of geometric shapes Templates can be made from cardboard, wood or plastic. Two styles of templates are (1) a solid shape and (2) frames with the shape cut out.
    5. Lacing. A piece of cardboard punched with holes or a pegboard is used for this activity. A design or picture is made on the board, and the student follows the pattern by weaving or sewing through the holes with a heavy shoelace, yarn, or cord.
    6. Paper-and-Pencil Activities. Colouring books, readiness books, dot- to – dot books, and kindergarten books frequently provide good paper-and pencil activities to practice fine-motor and eye-hand development.
    7. Clipping Clothes Pegs. Clothes pegs can be clipped to a line or to a box. The child can be timed in this activity by counting the number of clothespins clipped in a specified time.
    8. Copying Designs. The child looks at a geometric design and copies it on paper.


    Body Awareness Activities

    The purpose of these activities is to help children develop accurate images of the location and function of the parts of the body:

    1. Pointing to Body Parts. Children point to the various parts of the body: nose, right elbow, left ankle, and so forth. This activity is more difficult with the eyes closed. The child can also lie on the floor and be asked to touch various parts of the body.
    2. “Simon Says.” This game can be played with the eyes open or closed.
    3. Puzzles. Puzzles of people, animals, objects, and so forth can be cut to show functional portions of the body.
    4. What is missing? Use pictures with missing body parts. Children either tell or draw what is missing.
    5. Life-Size Drawing. Children lie on a large sheet of paper and trace an outline around them. Next, the child fills in and colours the clothes and the details of the face and body.
    6. Awareness of the Body Parts through Touch. Touch various parts of the student’s body while the eyes are closed and ask which part was touched.
    7. Games: Games such as “Hokey-Pokey” help develop concepts of left, right, and body image.
    8. Pantomime. Students pantomime actions that are characteristic of a particular occupation, such as those of a bus driver driving a bus, a garda directing traffic, a postman delivering a letter, or a chef cooking.
    9. Following Instructions. Instruct the child to put the left hand on the right ear and the right hand on the left shoulder. Other instructions might be to put the right hand in front of the left hand or to turn right, walk two steps, and turn left.
  • 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:


Social Skills – Post-Primary Dr. Fidelma Brady

Social Skills - Post-Primary

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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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