Inclusion: How to do it in Secondary Schools

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Bird, G, and Buckley, S. Down Syndrome News and Update , 1 4 , In the authors' experience, where schools are sensitively and thoughtfully meeting the needs of many young people with special educational needs they are usually good at meeting most of the needs of young people with Down syndrome. These schools are often also achieving outstanding academic outcomes in General Certificate of Secondary Education and 'A' level examinations.

For example, one of our local secondary schools has three teenagers with Down syndrome, each with a different profile of needs, successfully included and this school was near the top of the local league for examination results. There is no evidence that a school that is meeting the needs of pupils with special needs is going to adversely effect the education of the other pupils, the evidence is quite the other way around.

The evidence is that the teenagers with Down syndrome who are being educated in mainstream schools are gaining considerable benefits in academic skills, communication skills and social independence. We have just completed a survey of the progress of 46 teenagers in Hampshire, of whom 18 are in mainstream secondary education and 28 are in special schools. This study is an extension of the one we carried out in the mid-eighties [2] so we are not only able to compare the effects of mainstream versus special education but also to see if today's teenagers are benefiting from progress in the quality of education and in social attitudes.

We have collected information on a wide range of issues including, health, behaviour, sexuality and social lives in addition to personal and social independence, communication skills and academic progress. We also have family views on their experiences and needs. A more detailed report of this study and its practical implications for families and schools will be the leading article in the next issue of Down Syndrome: News and Update 2.

The main point of relevance for this article and the education debate is that it is clear from our data that children with Down syndrome benefit from being educated in mainstream schools.


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The teenagers we describe as mainstreamed have received all their education in mainstream schools, as full members of the ordinary classes, not in special classes. This group are significantly ahead of their peers in the special schools on standardised measures of communication receptive and expressive spoken language , literacy, and social competence. They are not significantly ahead on daily living skills practical personal care. They display significantly less difficult and anti-social behaviour than those in special schools.

There is no evidence that these two groups of children varied in ability when they went into the school system at five years of age. At that time, most of Hampshire was still sending children with Down syndrome to special schools but in part of the county mainstreaming was being supported.

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There is a wide range of ability in both groups of young people at the present time. There are young people successfully included in mainstream secondary schools who are less able in academic terms than many of those still in special education. The progress of the teenagers in the special schools is not significantly better on any of the measures that we took in both and , except on literacy and numeracy.

We would argue that this reflects progress in the development of a more academic curriculum in most special schools. Progress in reading and numeracy are dependent on good instruction from the teachers. Progress in communication, social skills and behaviour may be much more dependent on the peer group and without the role models and friendships provided by typically developing children, teachers in special segregated schools cannot raise outcomes, however hard they try. The findings of our study support and extend to secondary level the conclusions of other research studies available to date, reviewed in a recent paper by Cunningham, Glenn, Lorenz, Cuckle and Shepperdson.

Examples of good practice, publications and training to assist mainstream primary schools to meet the educational needs of children with Down syndrome are available nationally.

Inclusion in the High School Classroom: A Challenge for Special Needs Students

In most education departments children with learning disabilities attend mainstream schools, with success usually linked with the school and supporting education department's level of inclusion awareness, skills and development. The experience of the thousands of UK primary schools that have educated children with Down syndrome over the last ten years has helped to develop the expertise of teachers and other education professionals.

Many more young people and their parents are anticipating transfer to secondary schools in the future and the number of mainstream secondary school pupils with Down syndrome is expected to rise sharply. Information based on the experience of secondary school staff, the young people themselves and their families is in demand by secondary schools and parents alike.

It is right that schools should have the independence to meet each individual's educational needs, free from labeling and associated expectations. However, the lack of clear national guidance may continue to contribute to the inequality of educational opportunity for children with Down syndrome. At present successful mainstream placement and quality of education are dependent upon the practice of the education department where the child lives and on the skills and attitude of staff working in the school attended by each child.

Without adequate guidance and training the risk for widening the gap between best and worst practice for educating pupils with learning and language disabilities in secondary schools remains.

Every child matters: What principals need to effectively lead inclusive schools

We would like to see the same planning and support for inclusion on a national level as there has been for the National Literacy Strategy - that is the development of materials and a training programme that reaches all schools and includes staff at all levels including head teachers and school governors. Through research studies and by assessing children and teenagers with Down syndrome we are now better able to describe the development and academic progress of many children and young people with Down syndrome [].

It is important that providers of training and schools use up to date research to inform staff, and that training information is regularly updated, as young people with Down syndrome are constantly benefiting from improved social, leisure and academic experiences as well as better health, family and community support services. All staff will need some training and understanding about each pupil's individual profile of language and learning skills and how to support him or her to develop his or her skills in the social context of a large school.

Staff are also likely to benefit from developing their understanding about the future expectations of pupils with Down syndrome for their adult lives.

Most will be able to leave home, live in some form of supported housing, enjoy supported employment and lead quite ordinary lives in the community. Many will enjoy ordinary adult relationships with partners and some will marry. It is so important for teachers and families to recognise that the social, emotional and educational needs of teenagers and young adults with Down syndrome are mostly the same of those of other children and young people. Success in the community and in the workplace as an adult requires the opportunity to continue to grow and to learn in the mainstream with those who will later become neighbours and work mates.

All young people with Down syndrome will do better in life with the continued support of a good mainstream secondary school as well as continued support from their family and friends. Like all young people, individuals with Down syndrome are different from each other and each will need his or her individual educational needs met in school. Young people with Down syndrome may have only mild learning difficulties and be little different from other slow learners in school, others have more significant difficulties.

Some will come into secondary school with Reading Ages of 8 years to 9 years, others may have only limited independent reading skills. The same variation will be seen in number abilities and in general and subject specific knowledge. In terms of behaviour and personality, young people with Down syndrome vary just as widely. Most are sociable, well-behaved and sensitive individuals, others enjoy being more challenging in the mischievous sense.

Secondary Special Needs - Inclusion and Autism

If an individual engages in really difficult behaviour then we need to look for the causes because it means some aspect of his or her school life is not being planned to meet his or her needs appropriately. Some are shy and some are outgoing, some anxious and some confident. The mythology of placid, stubborn and music loving individuals is as described - myth.

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So is the notion of ceilings or plateaus. All the young people that we work with or have studied continue to grow, learn and develop all through adolescence and early adult life. Indeed, adult life and independence often seems to offer a spurt to individual growth. While it is important to emphasise individual differences, there are some difficulties that are associated with Down syndrome and influence the educational progress of all young people to some degree, in particular language and working memory difficulties.

Delay in speech and language skills and in working memory development is to be expected for all teenagers with Down syndrome.

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Most young people with Down syndrome will not have clear and fluent expressive speech. In addition, they have difficulty forming long sentences with all the grammar correct. This results in rather 'telegraphic' speech which may be difficult for teachers and friend to always understand. The majority of young people have much better comprehension of language than their spoken language suggests, so their understanding is at risk of being underestimated.

Meeting the educational needs of pupils with Down syndrome in mainstream secondary schools

Most young people will also have short term or working memory difficulties. They need the information presented in a clearer, more ordered way, with explanation about the links and associations between information to build their knowledge system. They may need more time to learn and understand and more practice to be able to apply their knowledge. Like everyone else, they learn more and at a faster rate if interested or motivated. At the time of transfer to secondary school many children with Down syndrome can understand what is said and asked of them in school, provided the vocabulary used is within their knowledge and the topics are within their life's learning experience from home and their previous school.

Description of speech and language skills from formal assessments can be misleading to staff unfamiliar with the tests. For example, an age equivalent for understanding grammar of around 5 to 6 years is good for an 11 year old who has Down syndrome. This level of understanding is sufficient for understanding the grammar of everyday language at school and at home, including lesson delivery, given that the pupil will have an assistant to repeat what is required of him or her, write down key points in a list, and help to ensure that he or she understands and can remember.

Vocabulary knowledge is typically higher than levels for grammar, and is sometimes age appropriate. Speech and conversation skills vary enormously and some young people experience great difficulties in learning to speak clearly and in grammatically correct sentences. This does not mean they understand less than more articulate pupils with Down syndrome. Many pupils will also have sufficient use and clarity of spoken language to convey their meaning, although rarely does expression of ideas in language match their understanding. Communication can be easily affected by situational factors. A hostile environment, unsympathetic listener, anxiety, perceived pressure, embarrassment or lack of confidence may result in discrepancies in the individual person's communicative skills and performance in and out of class.

These will influence handwriting ability and participation in sports in particular. Information about the pupils development of motor skills, agility, participation in sports, issues related to health e. In our experience, pupils around the age of transfer to secondary school often have attainments levels between W working towards level 1 and level 2 average for children aged 7 years on the UK National Curriculum.