Issues and perspectives on education

Educational experiences of pupils with Down syndrome in the UK: A parent and educators survey

Stephanie Hargreaves 1 ; Sarah Holton 2 ; Rebecca Baxter 2,3 ; & Kelly Burgoyne 1

  1. Division of Human Communication, Development and Hearing, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
  2. LETS Go UK, Portsmouth, Hampshire, UK
  3. University College London, London, UK



Background: Whilst recent research indicates a significant increase in the number of pupils with Down syndrome attending mainstream schools in the UK in the last 30-40 years, detailed description of the educational experiences of this group of pupils is currently lacking. This study reports findings from a survey of parents and educators examining the educational experiences of pupils with Down syndrome in the UK.

Research Questions: Which educational settings do pupils with Down syndrome attend, and how does this relate to pupil characteristics (geographical location, age, gender, and extent of difficulties)? To what extent do schools implement practices associated with high-quality education for learners with Down syndrome, including Participation, Support for Learning and School Collaboration?

Method: A total of 893 parents and educators completed an online survey about the educational experiences of pupils with Down syndrome currently attending UK schools (Reception-Year 11). Data was collected between October 2019 and January 2020.

Results: Overall, 70% of pupils attended mainstream placements but the proportion of children in specialist settings increased at older ages. Boys and those with greater difficulties were also more likely to attend specialist settings. Across mainstream and special schools, most pupils participated in Maths, English and Sciences. Participation in Foreign Languages and Design and Technology was less common. Over half (55.62%) of mainstream pupils received 1:1 support throughout the school day: for many, this included break- (84.28%) and lunch-times (79.36%). Speech and Language services were the most common external support, but approximately 12% of pupils did not receive speech and language support. Teaching responsibilities were largely split between teachers and teaching assistants, with frequent meetings reported between school staff and parents. Conclusions: Significant progress has been made towards high-quality education for pupils with Down syndrome. Nevertheless, individual experiences are variable are likely to impact on educational outcomes for this group.

Teachers' attitudes towards the inclusion of children with Down's syndrome within mainstream schools and the influencing factors

Dr Natasha Krause, Educational Psychologist

Corresponding author:


Teachers' attitudes towards the inclusion of children with Down's syndrome have been frequently referred to as important for effective inclusion, and from the existing literature it is difficult to conclude what attitudes are most prevalent. It is also valuable to know the factors that influence attitudes to support the implementation of successful inclusive education. This research has two research questions:

  1. What are mainstream teachers' attitudes towards the inclusion of children with Down's syndrome?
  2. What factors impact on mainstream teachers' attitudes towards the inclusion of children with Down's syndrome?

One hundred teachers completed an online questionnaire which included an adapted version of 'The Multidimensional Attitudes towards Inclusive Education Scale' (MATIES) (Mahat, 2008)and questions pertaining to pre-selected factors. Multiple-linear regressions were used to explore the factors that predicted teachers' attitudes

The findings include the majority of teachers are positive about the inclusion of children with Down's syndrome. Despite this finding, around half were found to be neutral or have a preference towards children with Down's syndrome attending special educational settings. Other findings included that teachers were more positive about social inclusion than academic inclusion of children with Down's syndrome. Practice factors found to positively predict attitudes towards inclusion were teachers' experience of inclusion of children with Down's syndrome and their confidence in their understanding of inclusive practice. Demographic factors were also found to have an impact with those who are male, secondary school teachers and those who have fewer years of experience, all having less positive attitudes. Environmental factors were also found to have a positive significant association with attitudes. Overall, this research is considered to contribute to this area, especially as it is the first piece of research on inclusion of children with Down's syndrome and attitudes that uses a multidimensional and psychometrically sound instrument.

Parent's Experiences with the Inclusion of their Children with Down Syndrome in Mainstream Primary Schools in the Republic of Ireland

Fidelma Brady



Research has found that academic progress and achievements are better for those children with Down syndrome in mainstream school, as opposed to those children educated in special school settings. Most children with Down syndrome in the Republic of Ireland now attend their local mainstream primary school, with increasing numbers of these children then transitioning to mainstream post-primary school. Parents can and should contribute to their children's success in inclusive settings. This study, submitted as part requirement for the award of Doctorate in Education at Queens University, Belfast (February 2021), investigates parent's experiences with their children's inclusion in mainstream primary school in the Republic of Ireland.The objectives were to identify both the positive and the negative aspects of the process they, as parents,experienced. The research took a qualitative approach, embedded in the interpretivist / constructivist framework, with the theoretical perspective adopting Nussbaum's version of the capability approach. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews conducted with eleven parents from the same county in the Republic of Ireland. Results suggest that, while there has been considerable progress with the development of inclusive practice in the Republic of Ireland, there is still some way to go, with issues to be addressed at both school and system level. Findings also suggest that there is no one approach to guaranteeing effective inclusion,with many key factors determining the level of inclusion in classrooms and in the wider life of the school. This work was a small-scale research project, conducted with the intention of having a positive effect on the inclusion of children with Down syndrome in Irish primary schools, and in identifying changes necessary not just for the benefit of parents, but for the whole school community. The potential of such benefits for change in practice and increased understanding should not be underestimated.

What do children and young people with Down syndrome tell us about school?

Sarah Geiger, Clinical, Education & Health Psychology. Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, UCL.



The session will present the results of interviews with children and young people with Down syndrome and their views about their school experience as detailed in the visually structured interviews. The session will outline the method, results, and conclusions reached. It will also briefly summarize a systematic literature review which considers research designs, including research tools and approaches that have been used to gain the perspectives of children and young people with Down syndrome. The research indicates how the involvement of people with Down syndrome can provide information about their needs and concerns.

Brief overview of research: The interviews were part of a research project with two stages, the presentation focusing on interviews in the second stage. The first stage of the research project was a questionnaire with 200 parent responses gaining factual histories as well as parental perspectives and priorities. This was followed by nine interviews, three with young people with Down syndrome attending secondary schools, and then also with their parent and a key member(s) of school staff. The research is intended to have application to inform and contribute to future best practice for educators.