More children with Down's syndrome are being educated in mainstream schools but too many receive desk-based academic lessons that offer little opportunity to interact with classmates.
Dr Christine O'Hanlon of Birmingham University questions the appropriateness of the teaching Down's syndrome pupils receive. "Because traditional teaching is desk-focused, particularly from Year 2 onwards, Down's syndrome children are often not being exposed to teaching techniques that would enable them to learn in a creative and active way," she told the BERA conference.
Dr O'Hanlon, who is carrying out an 18-month study for the Down's Syndrome Association, complained that the closeness of support staff meant that the children often could not relate freely with other pupils. She also noticed that class teachers appeared to leave much, or even all, of the learning support to the assistant without any discussion of what was to be achieved.
"We need to move from being grateful about inclusive practice and become more critically aware of its wide variation in practice and quality," she said.
A complementary study conducted by Dr Pat Cuckle of Leeds University has shown that the proportion of infants with Down's syndrome in mainstream education varies hugely from one region to another.
Dr Cuckle's survey of 3,000 four to 16-year-olds - about half the national total of Down's syndrome children - showed that the proportion of five to seven-year-olds in mainstream classes ranged from 15 to 89 per cent last year. Most of the children not in the mainstream were in special schools, although 5 per cent were in units attached to mainstream schools.
The BERA conference coverage will be concluded next week.