Including children with Down syndrome (Part 1)
Sue Buckley and Gillian Bird
This article provides guidelines to good practice in developing the inclusive school, considering the importance of the role of the Headteacher and managers in developing school philosophy, values and culture, school organisation, staff training and the management of resources. We then consider the role of the teacher in developing inclusive classrooms and finally the role of all the pupils in developing peer support.
Buckley SJ, Bird G. Including children with Down syndrome (Part 1). Down Syndrome News and Update. 1998;1(1);5-13.
Getting the culture right
Why should you, as a headteacher, school governor, teacher or parent, be concerned about how
well your school is meeting the needs of children with significant special educational needs?
Firstly, because the evidence is that the individual schools who are the most successful at
including and educating these children are also the best schools for all the other children
in them (1).
Secondly, where whole education systems have shifted to be fully inclusive and to provide for
all children within mainstream schools, they report that the quality of education has improved
over time for all children (2).
The implication of these statements is that if we want our schools to provide the best possible
education for all our children we need to explore what makes the inclusion of children with
significant special educational needs successful. We also need to ask why mainstream school
systems improve when changing to successfully meet the challenge of educating these children.
The first part of the article provides guidelines to good practice in developing the inclusive
school, considering the importance of the role of the Headteacher and managers in developing
school philosophy, values and culture, school organisation, staff training and the management
of resources. We then consider the role of the teacher in developing inclusive classrooms and
finally the role of all the pupils in developing peer support.
Developing inclusive schools
For us, the opportunity to go to a school in the community in which you live, with the other
children who live in your neighbourhood, regardless of disability or special educational need
is a human rights issue. We do not expect all readers to agree with us but we do hope that this
article will challenge some of the current assumptions about the roles of schools in our society
and that it will provoke discussion with your staff and colleagues.
In this article we will explore these issues, sharing the experiences that we have gained from
developing inclusive placements for children with Down syndrome in the UK over the last ten
years - children who would otherwise have been placed in special schools. During this time we
have learned a great deal about the school factors which lead to success or failure. With other
colleagues in The Sarah Duffen Centre and in the Department of Psychology, University of Portsmouth,
we have also been studying the cognitive, social and behavioural progress of these children
in inclusive placements in some detail. This work has relevance to a wide range of children
and will be reviewed in part 2 of this article.
We are psychologists specialising in working with children with moderate to severe learning
difficulties and between us we have some 45 years of experience. However, until we became involved
in the implementation of the 1981 Act in the late 80s, all our experience had been in special
The last ten years have been the most rewarding and exciting of our careers. We have been most
impressed by the ways in which children with Down syndrome and significant special needs have
been welcomed in the majority of mainstream schools and by the skills, enthusiasm and professionalism
of the majority of mainstream teachers with whom we have worked. We have seen successful placements
and great progress for the majority of the children during most of their school years. Some
have had good and bad experiences as they have moved up the school and we will return to the
reasons for this later in the article.
We have been involved in the direct support of many individual children from the start of their
school careers through to secondary school. We have also provided INSET training around the
country and offered advice on individual placements at particular points in time. Much of the
content of this article draws on our extensive opportunities to learn alongside the teachers
who are successfully including and educating children with significant learning difficulties
or disabilities in their classrooms (3).
At the start of our involvement with mainstreaming, we made links with research groups and education
programmes in other countries in order to learn from their experience. We are confident that
our experience is valid as success or failure in our placements has been the result of the same
criteria reported by others in places where they are further down the road towards fully inclusive
We use the term mainstreaming deliberately to describe our early experience. When we began to
ask schools to accept a child with severe learning difficulties in their school, we were asking
them to take a child with the support of an untrained Learning Support Assistant into the regular classroom environment with little or no preparation. The teacher
had to try to meet this child's needs without time to think about changing the classroom environment
or teaching styles or to learn new skills. This is what our American colleagues in Madison,
Wisconsin call the "dump and hope" phase! In Madison they closed their last segregated special
school site in 1976 (4) so they have more than twenty tears of experience to draw on.
Moving to inclusion
Inclusion is more than mainstreaming. It is the result of rethinking the role of education and
usually requires a change in school and classroom culture and organisation.
Over time we have seen a shift in the UK towards the development of inclusive school cultures
but this is still mostly because individual schools have developed their skills and changed
their beliefs about the role of schools. It is rarely the result of planning for an inclusive
system by Local Educational Authorities. In these inclusive schools there is more awareness
of the individual needs of all children, more flexibility in the curriculum and a valuing of
diversity. This shift has been particularly noticeable over the last few years, since the establishment
of Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator's and the implementation of the Code of Practice,
following the special needs legislation in the 1993 Education Act.
There are very few UK Education Authorities that have actually embraced an inclusive philosophy
and actively managed change. The London Borough of Newham is one example where an inclusive
policy is in place. It has received much of its impetus from effective lobbying by parents of
children with disabilities and special educational needs. The Wisconsin changes were also driven
by parent pressure in the early years. In both the Newham and the Wisconsin situations, change
has progressed in the same way. Both replaced segregated special schools with special units
or special resources on some mainstream sites. Both found that these could be phased out over
time as all teachers increased their range of skills and all schools became more confident at
meeting a variety of needs. The specialist skills of the teachers who used to work only on segregated
sites become available to all children in the system and to colleagues and this helps the process
of change as well as benefiting many more children.
Whole school issues and the role of the headteacher
School philosophy and culture
The schools that we would rate as the most successful have established an inclusive culture.
They have thought about and explicitly embraced a philosophy that values all children equally
and celebrates the diversity of the human population. They believe that the role of education
is broad and would accept Lou Brown's definition that it is the task of schools "to prepare
children to live, work and play in an inclusive society". (Lou Brown is the Professor of Special
Education, University of Wisconsin, Madison(4)).
Schools as agents of change
A school has the opportunity to establish a community that demonstrates the values that we might
wish to see expressed in the wider society outside school.
We can use the example of disability to explore this argument further. It is common for adults
with disabilities to observe that their lives are far more restricted by the attitudes of the
non-disabled majority towards them than by the limits actually imposed by their disability.
One reason for this may be the lack of contact with people with disabilities that most of the
non-disabled population have as a result of mainly segregated schooling and segregated services
for children and adults with disabilities. This has lead to a society where the majority of
individuals do not understand the needs of people with disabilities nor feel at ease in relating
to or working with them.
The decisions that are made about the design of our schools, work places, transport and communication
facilities take little account of the needs of those with physical or sensory impairments. Access
to the daily opportunities that the rest of us take for granted is therefore denied to most
children and adults with disabilities. Until recently, all children with identifiable disabilities
experienced this lack of access from earliest childhood, when they were denied the opportunity
to benefit from the same educational experiences as other children. This resulted in two main
disadvantages - a restricted access to the curriculum and no opportunity to be part of the ordinary
social world of childhood. In other words, most children with disabilities experienced both
social and educational deprivation during childhood, leading to social isolation, under achievement
and impoverished lives as adults.
If all children are able to grow and learn together, the child with special needs has the optimal
opportunity to reach his or her potential, to make friends and to become fully integrated into
The other children have the opportunity to learn to understand the effects of disability and
to learn how to care for and support children with a variety of needs. They will learn that
all children with disabilities are children first, with the same psychological, emotional and
social needs as all other children. Like the rest of us, significant relationships with others
are central to their well-being as children and adults and the opportunity to establish and
maintain friendships during childhood is important preparation for successfully developing these
relationships in adult life. The non-disabled students will become better friends, neighbours,
workmates and bosses for people with disabilities in their adult lives.
This may require schools to recognise that social development should be an explicit part of
the curriculum, giving children the opportunity to think about friendships, loneliness and social
The experience of communities who have had fully inclusive education systems for a generation
is that these gains do occur. Attitudes do change throughout the community and opportunities
become more equal. More young adults with significant disabilities are able to work, live independently,
establish their own families and enjoy the same leisure facilities as everyone else. More of
the young adults who, though not disabled, were in the less able third of the mainstream school
population in terms of academic progress, also do better in these inclusive school systems.
The skills developed by all teachers as they are required to meet the educational needs of those
with the most significant difficulties benefit many others who have always been in the mainstream
but not always had their needs met. Teachers learn how to address social and behavioural needs
more effectively and to extend access to the curriculum to a wider range of children.
However, these benefits will only be the outcome if inclusion is done well.
The individual educational needs of all children must be met as well as they would be in separate
facilities. Mixing with children with significant disabilities can result in other children
becoming less tolerant and sympathetic if the experience is unpleasant for any reason, so how
do we move forward successfully?
Strategies for success
Valuing diversity and building self-esteem
The successful schools see all their pupils as individuals and value them equally. They encourage
their students to recognise that we are all individuals and to recognise that we all have strengths
Healthy adjustment in adult life is likely to come from a realistic appraisal of oneself, therefore
setting goals that are achievable and appropriate and which lead to a positive self concept
- feeling good about oneself. Building positive self-esteem in all pupils should be a primary
goal for all teachers (6). This is no easy task. It means helping all students to identify their
strengths and their limitations so that they choose to develop their strengths.
It means that those schools with authoritarian cultures need to change, and that ridicule and
humiliation of children should have no part in the school culture or in any teacher's repertoire.
One of us (SB) has had the opportunity to travel extensively and experience the atmosphere in
schools where building self-esteem is a primary goal. We do experience this in some of our UK
schools, but not to the extent that is common in parts of North America and Canada.
Our experience in the UK is that the culture and philosophy in schools can be very different,
even in neighbouring schools. We can illustrate this with a real example. The student's name
has been changed to preserve confidentiality in this and later case examples.
Several years ago one of us (SB) received a phone-call from a distressed parent, asking if one
of us could attend a review meeting with her and her husband, as she feared that the school
no longer wanted her daughter as a pupil. Her daughter Sally was 13 years old and had Down syndrome.
She had received all her education to that time in mainstream school with full time non-teaching
support provided. She was nearing the end of her second year in secondary education and the
school were expressing considerable concern about her progress both educationally and socially.
SB arranged to arrive at the school in time to meet Sally and to talk with the staff before
the review meeting. It was quickly apparent that the staff had no positive commitment to meeting
this student's needs. The Head of Learning Support made clear to SB that she and her staff did
not have the time to differentiate work for Sally, seeing this an inappropriate use of their
time. They were also concerned that she was becoming increasingly socially isolated. They did
not want advice from us on how they could change this state of affairs and make the placement
successful. This would of course mean accepting that the school might be failing Sally. Their
perception of the situation was that Sally should not be in their school. All the difficulties
they were experiencing were the result of her disability and she should be in a special school.
They even expressed negative views about her in her presence and seemed to have no sensitivity
to the probable effect of their attitudes towards her on her progress or happiness within the
The review meeting was a formal affair involving the Headteacher, Head of Learning Support and
five other professionals from local and county LEAs and chaired by the Deputy Head. The Head
was visibly annoyed by SB's presence and did his best to prevent her from contributing to the
discussion. The meeting had clearly been called with one aim - to agree to remove Sally from
the school and put her where this Head made plain he thought that she belonged - in a school
for children with severe learning difficulties. He seemed to have little understanding of the
social influences on any child's performance and progress. He saw Sally's present difficulties
in his school as entirely her problem, the result of her disability. He certainly did not want
any advice. For him, the last straw was when SB secured the agreement of the LEA to continue
to the same level of Learning Support Assistant support for Sally if we found her another mainstream
placement as this clearly implied that she believed this school was failing Sally.
With Sally's parents, SB approached another mainstream school near her home. This school expressed
a willingness to accept her and a visit was arranged. The contrast in the two school's philosophies
and cultures was extreme. The Headteacher of the new school greeted SB warmly and informed her
that he would be delighted to accept Sally in his school. He explained that this was a community
school - in name and in philosophy. He wanted all the children in the neighbourhood to be welcome
in his school and had been developing his learning support resources accordingly, since coming
to the school as Head four years earlier. He then took SB to meet the Head of Learner Support.
She explained that she had no previous experience of teaching a child with Down syndrome but
that she had given some thought to our request and was looking forward to supporting Sally in
the school. She added that she had considered what she would have wanted if Sally had been her
daughter and knew that she would have wanted an education with mainstream peers within her own
community for her.
At this point SB knew that this placement was going to be a success. She was then asked about
Sally's achievements in literacy and numeracy and was told that there were other students of
her age working at the same level so she could join their groups. The Head then asked SB what
year group Sally should join. SB said that she was unsure as Sally was probably less socially
and emotionally mature than other girls of her age. The Head laughed and said that some girls
of her age were more like 18 year olds in social and emotional development, others more like
9 year olds - he felt sure she would be fine in her correct year group!
At this time, we had little experience of secondary schools and this case made us feel that
we were on a steep learning curve! SB was quite shaken by the contrast in the attitudes and
beliefs of the two headteachers and their staff. One school had told her that Sally could never
fit in, as she was so different from their other pupils. Another school just down the road had
no problem seeing Sally as happily fitting in to their school community and pointing out that
her needs were not different from those of some of the other mainstream pupils in the school,
either academically or socially. Could the populations of children in the two schools really
be that different or was it the way the staff perceived their children that was different?
The evidence on the school intakes supported the latter view. We cannot help worrying about
the educational experience of many of the other children in the first school, not just those
less academically able, but also those with social and emotional needs. In both these schools
it seemed that the Headteacher was determining the culture and values of the whole school, for
good or ill.
We would ask all Heads and managers to reflect on their own personal attitudes to disability
and to children with special needs. It is likely that your personal attitudes and your emotional
reactions to disability will be influencing the decisions that you are making and will be apparent
to your staff and to your pupils. You might also reflect on what educational and social opportunities
you would want for your own child, if you had a child with a disability.
In our experience, the single most important predictor of success for placements is staff attitude.
If the staff believe that the child is appropriately placed in their school, the placement will
be a success. We have seen very disabled children, with significant dependency needs, flourish
in schools were they are wanted. We have seen children with obvious disabilities but academic
progress within the norms for their age, fail in schools that do not want them - or should we
say failed by schools that do not want them.
The evidence in favour of the importance of staff attitude is particularly striking when a pupil
flourishes in one school but has a miserable time in the next school.
We have had this experience with several children whom we know well. One young friend of ours,
Gerry, is now 11 years old. Gerry has Down syndrome. He went to the same mainstream nursery
as his brother and then into the infant school where he made extremely good progress. The school
had given much thought to meeting his needs and the staff were rightly proud of his achievements.
In Gerry's last year in this school, his class teacher was sharing her experiences at a training
day at our Centre. She described how, as Gerry's strengths were his literacy skills and his
computer skills, he was spending some time each week helping children in the reception class
and in Year 1, listening to them read and showing them how to use the computer. This teacher
had deliberately constructed opportunities to build Gerry's self-confidence and self-esteem.
These situations also showed the other children that, despite his disability, Gerry had strengths
and could help others as well as benefit from their help at other times. His literacy skills
were within the range of his classmates.
Imagine our concern when he moves to the junior school with these peers the very next term and
the new class teacher phones us expressing the view that he has no place in their school - he
should be in a school for children with severe learning difficulties! Before long Gerry was
showing his distress by bedwetting, something he had not done since the age of three years.
We were able to improve this situation somewhat but it continued to be less than satisfactory
by our standards.
At this time, we were supporting another lad with Down syndrome of the same age and with a very
similar profile of abilities and special needs in a nearby school. The contrast was dramatic.
This junior school had two children with Down syndrome on the school roll and all the staff
were immensely proud of the progress of both of them. We would observe that the two schools
had different atmospheres and different attitudes to all their children, confirming what we
had read and have stated at the start of this article.
The schools that are best for all children are the best for those with very special needs.
Some headteachers might reflect further on the significance of this as it implies that schools
who are not good at meeting the needs of special students may not be the best schools for all
the other children in them either.
We could give more examples of this kind, where a child has made very different progress after
a school move and has been perceived and described very differently by Headteachers and teachers
in the two schools.
The message from this section is threefold. Firstly, successful schools clearly recognise the
wide range of educational needs present in any year group in any school population and they
acknowledge that it is their job to meet this wide range of educational needs. Secondly, successful
schools develop a culture that is caring and supportive of all in the school
community, aiming to value diversity and to build positive self-esteem for all its pupils. Thirdly,
successful schools appreciate the effect of being valued and feeling liked by staff and other
pupils on the progress of all children.
School organisation and the use of resources
If schools are to succeed in meeting this wide range of needs successfully, there needs to be
flexibility within the classroom, within the year group and across year groups.
Flexibility in the classroom is easier to achieve in the primary years when small group working
is often the norm within the class. This enables children to work at their own pace within the
class. A statemented child in the class with the support of an Learning Support Assistant can
provide a bonus for other children in the class. This was one of the things that we learned
as soon as we began to place children with Down syndrome in infant schools with a full-time
Learning Support Assistant. The Learning Support Assistant could often work with a group of
children, all of whom benefited from the extra help.
After a year, we suggested to our LEA that it would be cheaper to give every reception class
an additional Learning Support Assistant than bother to try assessing children for Statements
before they were in school. There are only a finite number of different special educational
needs and we argued that all schools should be able to meet the needs of the four and five year
olds in their community, with an Learning Support Assistant in the class and appropriate peripatetic
advisory or teaching input. We also argued that assessing the child's educational needs once
they were in a school environment might lead to more valid and useful Statements. Our advice
was not taken!
We are not in favour of special classes or units as we feel these are not usually necessary
and carry the risk of segregating children again. They also do not recognise that all children
are children first, regardless of disability or other special needs. There is no reason why
any child cannot be a member of an ordinary class, in the correct year group, even if his or
her educational programme has to be provided on an individual or small group basis.
This is the model that we see working well in many secondary schools. All children are members
of ordinary classes and ordinary tutor groups even when they have considerable special educational
needs. Their educational programme is then worked out for them as an individual, just as it
for the other pupils as they make their choices of subjects that they wish to study. It then
becomes no more stigmatising or isolating to have a lesson in the Learning Support Centre than
it does to study Spanish rather than physics. Nor is it any more difficult to staff an expert
Learning Support Centre than an English or Mathematics Department.
In Wisconsin, regular schools not only have expert special educators on their staff but also
speech and language therapists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists as well. This means
that their expertise is available to all children in the community, in a much more accessible
way than in the UK at present.
While we try to support children's learning within the classroom in the early years, to ensure
maximum social integration and access to the curriculum, there should be no rigid rules about
this. Every school, especially every junior school, would benefit from a learning resource centre,
where children can have the benefit of individual or small group work.
One of the best examples of planning such a centre that we have come across was in a secondary
school, where the learning resource centre had been deliberately sited right in the centre of
the school. In addition to providing for those with special educational needs, it housed the
school's best computer resources so that it really was a learning resource for all pupils. This
meant that any pupil could use the centre without embarrassment and that one was as likely to
find a gifted child working there as a child needing special additional teaching or adapted
The role of Learning Support Assistants
The success of many of the placements that we have supported has been due in large part to the
skill and commitment of the Learning Support Assistant assigned to support the child. However,
many of the schools that we have worked with do not know how to support and make full use of
their Learning Support Assistants. While recognising that the work of Learning Support Assistants
is critical to the access to mainstream school for many children in the UK at the present time,
we are building a system on the cheap as most are poorly paid, have minimal training and no
career progression open to them.
This situation highlights the lack of real policy commitment to or planning for inclusion in
this country. Some other countries, Italy for example, provide extra training for qualified
teachers so that they can become facilitators for inclusion. This recognises the importance
of changing the whole philosophy and culture in many schools and in classrooms, if they are
to become truly inclusive communities. Is there a message here for our Special Educational Needs
Co-ordinator's and their training?
Many of our children would not have made the academic progress that they have without the one-to-one
teaching provided by their Learning Support Assistant. However, striking the right balance between
supporting the child and encouraging independence is not easy. Too much one-to-one support for
learning can make the child dependent on adult support. The child needs to learn as part of
a group and to work independently. Too much adult support can also make the child seem more
different to the other children than is necessary and prevent them offering support to the special
child in ways that may come quite naturally to the children.
In some schools, Learning Support Assistant's have a very difficult time. They have no professional
training or status and are sometimes not treated well. We have been to schools asking for advice
for a child, where the Learning Support Assistant was not allowed to talk with us, the clear
message being that she could not have any useful views and must not be allowed to get above
her station! More commonly, we find Learning Support Assistant's who are given too much responsibility
for the education of the child they are supporting either because the school feels no commitment
to the child or because they do not know how to plan an educational programme for them. The
class teacher must recognise that he or she has the responsibility for the education of a statemented
child and that they have the same right to be a full member of the class as any other child.
Another difficulty an Learning Support Assistant can encounter is the responsibility of knowing
that a child is not receiving an appropriate educational programme in the school but not having
the status to do anything to change the situation. They may also be the main link between school
and family, party to the concerns of both sides but without the power to solve any conflicts
of opinion. This can be very stressful for the Learning Support Assistant.
These are matters for the Headteacher to be alert to and in many schools the status of the Learning
Support Assistant's has improved. Many are highly valued and well supported by their Special
Educational Needs Co-ordinator's. Training programmes for Learning Support Assistants are improving.
Working with parents
Many parents of children with special educational needs have become experts. They will be experts
in their knowledge of the effects of the child's disability on their development and experts
in teaching their own child. Parents of children with identifiable disabilities often join parent
support groups and quickly access a wide range of information on their child's condition.
Parents are likely to have been actively recruited into early intervention programmes by the
time their child was one year old. In these programmes they will have been treated as equal
partners by the professionals and expected to be their child's main educator. Most early intervention
programmes recognise that home is the most significant learning environment for any child's
development and that parents can be the child's best teachers, so they actively pass on their
skills and knowledge to parents. Parents choose learning goals and set priorities based on their
view of the child's needs and their awareness of the whole family's needs and resources.
This parent-professional partnership approach has been very successful in pre-school years but
parents often find that schools do not know how to form the same effective partnerships. Teachers
in the mainstream are not always good at forming a positive relationship with parents of children
with special needs. Teachers do not always recognise the contribution that parents can make
in helping the teacher to realise the child's full potential, if only teacher and parent could
Most parents know that their child will benefit if they continue to teach them or help them
to consolidate skills out of school hours, but they need to know the teacher's current goals
for the child. They may also need materials or ideas for activities to be provided from school,
though often parents could supply materials for use in the classroom. We know many who create
wonderful learning materials and games at home that children in the class would all benefit
from. Bringing in such games can raise the self-esteem of the special child, as they are used
and enjoyed by others in their class.
Many parents have valuable specialist knowledge of their child and their condition to share
with their child's teacher if given the opportunity. We often meet frustrated parents who cannot
offer the information they know the teacher would find useful because the teacher will not accept
it. It seems that many teachers do not know how to establish a partnership with parents. Too
often, we come across situations where the teacher seems to feel threatened and to fear loss
of face if he or she admits that parents could know some things that she does not. This is an
important issue which may need to be addressed by training and staff development in many schools.
In our experience, many schools fail to realise that the biggest resource that they have available
to them to support children with special educational needs is the other children in the school.
If a child needs more help, the first reaction is to send for another adult, either an assistant
or external specialist. The use of strategies such as peer tutoring, cross-age tutoring, co-operative
group learning and team projects is not as widely developed in the UK as in North America. All
children benefit from these activities as they all learn how to teach and to co-operate with
others. These are very valuable skills to take to the adult work place
Explicit use of peers to prevent social isolation and to build circles of friends increases
all children's sensitivity to how others feel if ignored or actively rejected. Many academically
able children do not make friends easily, so all children in the school will benefit when involved
in projects to help friendships. Most teachers would benefit from some training in the techniques
of developing peer support systems for teaching and for social support.
Effective behaviour management is another area where some staff training would be beneficial
in the majority of schools we visit. While children with learning difficulties may be particularly
at risk for developing behaviour problems as a result of frustration or failure, any child can
present such difficulties. In the past few years, a variety of good written resources to support
good behaviour management have become available.
Like developing the school culture and values, this is a whole school issue. All staff need
to have consistent, positive behaviour management strategies, not just the special needs staff.
We have mentioned staff training a number of times already. Staff development is clearly the
responsibility of the Headteacher and in most schools, teachers are able to access a variety
of training opportunities. However, if you want to change the school culture and become an inclusive
school, creating the optimal learning environment for all, then some whole school training will
be necessary. You must have your whole school staff signed up to creating the social culture
you are aiming at (8).
In our experience, training sessions for the whole staff team are extremely valuable in giving
an opportunity to debate these issues and make them explicit in everyone's thinking. You will
be very fortunate if all your staff have positive attitudes towards a truly inclusive culture,
but it is useful for the whole staff team to be aware of the attitudes and prejudices of colleagues.
It can also be salutary for those with negative views to realise that they are in a minority.
In addition to a programme of training for your whole staff aimed at developing an inclusive
culture throughout the school, for the benefit of all your pupils, it is important to consider
the preparation of staff and other pupils for the arrival of a pupil with a particular disability.
We find that a session on Down syndrome, for example, for the whole staff team, before the child
arrives at school, is very helpful in preparing the way for successful placement. We can answer
questions about the condition, often clearing away myths, and we can explain how and why this
placement will really benefit this child. It is not appropriate to expect the special needs
staff to educate the rest of the staff team or to expect them to succeed in an atmosphere where
a majority of staff do not think that they have any responsibility for children with special
needs in the school.
Preparation of pupils is also important if a child with obvious special needs is coming into
a school with no other similarly disabled pupils. We would suggest both a whole school approach
and a class approach. The whole school approach might use an assembly to make clear to all children
the welcome and support expected for the child, and therefore reinforcing explicit awareness
of the school's values. The class approach can include discussion of explicit strategies for
welcome and for peer support for the child as well as giving children an opportunity to be informed
about the specific disability so that they can understand the child's needs and respond sensitively.
We have deliberately left the issue of costs until the end of the article as, while we recognise
that additional support for children with special needs costs money, our value system would
lead us to argue that children with special needs have the same right to share in the community's
resources as all other children. They have a right to be part of the ordinary world of childhood
in their community - and that means a right to go to school with the children in their neighbourhood.
On a national, or on an area education authority scale, it does not cost more to put the resources
into mainstream rather than special segregated school. In fact many would argue that it is a
fairer use of specialist resources (since, when specialist teachers and therapists are moved
to mainstream sites, their expertise is available to many more children). But this requires
a full commitment to inclusion and a total reorganisation of the education system. It certainly
costs more to include statemented children while still maintaining special schools.
We would argue that the challenge for an education authority or a school is to make the best
use of its resources in an equitable way for all its pupils. Lack of money should never be an
excuse for not allowing access to a statemented child - this amounts to discrimination on the
basis of disability (as do the other clauses allowing exclusion in our legislation!).
In this article, we have emphasised the effect of social opportunities on the development of
all children and the role of the school in providing a social world that promotes the values
we would like to see expressed in our society at large. We have argued that such a school will
provide the environment for all children to flourish, socially, emotionally and academically.
- Ainscow, M (Ed.) (1991) Effective Schools for All. London: Fulton.
- Brown, L., Long, E., Udvari-Solner, A., Schwartz, P., VanDeventer, P., Ahlgren, C., Johnson,
F., Gruenewald, L. & Jorgensen, J. (1989) Should students with severe intellectual disabilities
be based in regular or special education classrooms in home schools. Journal of the Association
for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 14(1), 8-12.
- Bird, G. & Buckley, S. (1994) Meeting the Educational Needs of Children with Down Syndrome:
A handbook for teachers. University of Portsmouth.
- Brown. L. (1994) Inclusion in Education and Employment. Paper presented at the 5th World
Congress on Down Syndrome. Orlando, USA.
- Roffey, S., Tarrant, T. & Majors, K. (1994) Young Friends: School and Friendship.
- Lawrence, D. (1996) Enhancing Self-Esteem in the Classroom. Paul Chapman Publishing.
- Johnson, D.W. & Johnson, R.T. (1994) Learning Together and Alone. Boston: Allyn
- Ainscow, M. (1993a) Teacher education as a strategy for developing inclusive schools. In
R. Slee (Ed.) Is There a Desk with My Name On It? The Politics of Integration. London:
- Ainscow, M., Hopkins, D., Southworth, G. & West, M (1994) Creating the Conditions for School
Improvement. London: Fulton.
- Clark, C., Dyson, A. & Millward, A. (Eds.) (1995) Towards Inclusive Schooling. London:
- Carpenter, B., Ashdown, R. & Bovair, K. (Eds.) (1996) Enabling Access: Effective Teaching
and Learning for Pupils with Learning Difficulties. London: Fulton.
- Garner, P., Hinchcliffe, V. & Sandow, S. (1995) What Teachers Do: Developments in Special
Education. Paul Chapman Publishing Limited.
- O'Brien, J. & Forest, M. (1989) Action for Inclusion. Inclusion Press.
- Wong, B. Y. L. (1996) The ABC's of Learning Disabilities. Academic Press.
Sue Buckley is Professor of Developmental Disability at the Department of Psychology at the
University of Portsmouth, UK. She is also Director of The Centre for Disability Studies at The
University of Portsmouth and Director of Research and Information Services and at The Down Syndrome
Educational Trust. She also serves as a Non-Executive Director of the Portsmouth and South East
Hampshire District Health Authority and on the boards of the European Down Syndrome Association
and the International Down Syndrome Federation.
Gillian Bird is Director of Consultancy and Education Services at The Down Syndrome Educational
Trust and has been been supporting children with Down syndrome in mainstream school placements
for the past 10 years.
Both Sue Buckley and Gillian Bird regularly provide consultancy and training for schools and
LEAs through Down Syndrome Education International.
See and Learn Numbers is designed to help parents and educators teach children with Down syndrome basic number skills and concepts.
See and Learn Numbers is designed to teach young children to count, to link numbers to quantity, to understand important concepts about the number system and to calculate with numbers up to 10.
Now available as teaching kits and apps. Find out more...