Down's survey

I support the views expressed by Mike Stephenson of the Confederation of Learning Assistants with Specialist Skills (TES, October 10). As a freelance consultant, specialising in training support assistants, I am concerned about the lack of support and training offered to them.

There is also a deplorable lack of information offered to schools by their local authorities. Consequently, much support is used inappropriately and resources wasted.

Preliminary findings from a nationwide survey of children with Down's syndrome in mainstream schools suggests that more than half the support assistants employed to work with these children are unqualified and even fewer have been trained in teaching children with Down's syndrome.

Yet, in more than 50 per cent of cases, the class teacher works directly with the child once a week or less. While speech and language therapists come into schools regularly, only 37 per cent of schools see a member of a local authority advisory service at least termly.

Nearly half of the assistants still sit next to their charges most of the time and work with other children occasionally or never. The problem appears to lie in the lack of management training for heads and special needs co-ordinators and the mistaken belief that support allocated to a child must be stuck with Velcro to their back.

Such close support is counter-productive, prevents the child becoming an independent learner and interferes with the development of peer-group relationships.

I would be grateful if teachers working with a child with Down's syndrome in the mainstream could tell the child's parents about my survey and encourage them to contact me. I will send them a questionnaire to complete in co-operation with the school.


26 Worsley Road Manchester

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