Headlines: May 27th, 2004

A third of parents of Down’s syndrome children say they have experienced discrimination or prejudice from education professionals and more than half reported a lack of specialist knowledge and skills among professionals. The figures come from research published today to mark next week’s launch of Down’s Syndrome Awareness Week.The report from the Down’s Syndrome Association reveals the discrimination, ignorance and the failings of Local Education Authorities and schools to make appropriate provision and support for children with Down’s syndrome.

Four out of ten of the parents in the study felt that schools lacked appropriate materials and resources for teaching their children and two thirds found state provision of essential speech and language therapy inadequate for their child’s needs. It also reveals that a third of parents had difficulties getting a statement of special educational needs and 43 per cent of those had made representations or gone to a tribunal to get an acceptable statement agreed. The research was carried out in March this year among almost 1,400 parents who had children with Down’s syndrome.

The authors of the report say it shows that the Government’s policy for more inclusion in mainstream schools is failing in practice because LEAs are reluctant to provide sufficient resources. Parents accuse many authorities of cynically manipulating the statementing process to deny adequate support to all but the most vocal. In addition, it claims, parents are still being denied choice, with 29 per cent of those choosing special schools struggling to get access to dwindling places. In some cases LEAs had quoted Government inclusion policies as justification for closing special schools.

The Association is calling for the Government, education authorities and schools to take urgent action to address inequalities so that children with Down’s syndrome are no longer disadvantaged because of attitudes towards their disability. Key improvements recommended in the report include improved training and resources for education professionals as well as advocacy and support for parents.