Further education for children and young adults with Down Syndrome

It is international Down syndrome awareness day on 21 March 2017. To help raise awareness, we are writing a series of articles about Down syndrome and education. Today we are discussing secondary and further education for children and young adults with Down syndrome.

Secondary school

Cuckle (1997) found that children with Down syndrome would typically transfer to special schools around the age of 9 or 12. This tended to be because the rate of cognitive and social development becomes more noticeably different between children with Down syndrome and their peers at this age.  After this age it was generally found to become increasingly difficult to integrate children with Down syndrome into mainstream secondary school classes.

However, parents are now more likely to assess whether their child should attend a mainstream or a special school based on the individual needs of their child and what additional support the Local Authority and the schools can provide.  Researchers have found that children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) who were schooled with the most highly skilled peers had language skills that were 40% better than those of children with disabilities who were taught alongside their lowest-ranked peers.  With effective support from the Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), many children with Down syndrome are able to integrate well into a mainstream setting.  Although for many children a special school provides better holistic support and a more suitable peer group.

In secondary school children with Down syndrome should be developing their independence but also their academic skills, perhaps by taking GCSEs or other courses such as ASDAN, NVQ qualifications or BTEC courses. The school has a duty to adapt the national curriculum for children with SEN so the child’s classes should reflect their aspirations and needs. Teachers should also be concentrating on building and developing their independence and life skills. Work experience and skills such as time keeping or organisation are fundamental in ensuring the child has the ability to look for work when they are older or have the chance to live in their own home or supported living placement.

In Year 9 all pupils with a Statement of SEN or EHCP must have a transition planning review, specifically looking at preparing them for adulthood. The review will include social, health, care and education provision. This review looks at what training is required to prepare that person for employment in the future, what communication or advocacy training they need and whether they would like to remain in education after the age of 18.

Further Education

Education after the age of 18 is not compulsory for any young adult, but the EHCP can remain in place until the young adult reaches the age of 25 if they have not met all of their objectives.

Young adults with Down syndrome have various options post-16:

  • 16+ course in a special school – this is likely to have a focus on practical life skills
  • Mainstream school sixth form.
  • Course in a sixth form college or general Further Education college. This may be a separate course for people with learning difficulties focussing on practical skills for life and work. There could also be additional support on a mainstream vocational course.
  • Specialist college (also known as Independent Specialist Provider or ISP) – many but not all of these colleges are residential.
  • A supported internship or other work-related learning.

Young adults with an EHCP must be aware that if they decide to take a higher education course, such as a university degree, the EHCP will not provide any support for their needs.

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