Parents’ experiences with the inclusion of their children with Down Syndrome in mainstream primary schools in the Republic of Ireland

  • Fidelma Morrison

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education


It is increasingly common for children with Down syndrome in the Republic of Ireland to be educated in their local mainstream school. Legislation in Ireland has strengthened the parents’ role and schools now have a statutory duty to develop viable relationships with parents who, as research indicates, can and should contribute to their child’s success in inclusive settings. This study investigates parents’ experiences with their child’s inclusion in mainstream primary school in the Republic of Ireland, focusing on both the positive and the negative aspects of the process they, as parents, experienced. Parents’ experiences with inclusion and special educational needs (SEN) have been reviewed in prior research conducted in several countries, highlighting themes which inform the current study. The themes can be categorised as school support; freedom of choice for parents; principal trust; teacher knowledge; differentiation of work; pupil behaviour; assessment of children; home-school communication and relationships, and opportunities for socialisation and the development of friendships. The research, embedded in the interpretivist framework, was conducted with inclusion as the analytical concept. A qualitative approach was taken, with data collected through semi-structured interviews conducted with eleven parents from the same county in the Republic of Ireland. A thematic analysis of the resulting data suggested key findings relating to the extent to which parents had positive or negative experiences with the inclusion of their children in mainstream primary schools. Key findings included the crucial nature of teacher attitude and the importance of teachers having adequate knowledge and a willingness to learn and upskill. Issues relating to an awareness of school policy, levels of support from other agencies and the importance of differentiating work and adapting the curriculum appropriately were also identified as key factors influencing parents’ positive and negative experiences. Findings suggest that there is no one approach to guaranteeing effective inclusion in classrooms and in the wider life of the school, in addition to highlighting areas where further research might be warranted. In this regard, recommendations are made in relation to conducting the same research with a broader demographic of participants, conducting research with participants other than the children’s mothers, conducting research in which the voices of the children with Down syndrome themselves would be heard, and conducting a comparative study between Ireland and other countries. Research could also be undertaken with teachers in mainstream schools to investigate the ways they prioritise and engage with the inclusion of children with Down syndrome in their classrooms. The experiences of parents outlined in this study highlights the need for children to be educated in the most inclusive setting possible, to ensure their effective education and their inclusion, both in school, and in the wider community. This work was a small-scale study with the intention of highlighting the experiences of parents with the inclusion of their children with Down syndrome in Irish primary schools and identifying changes necessary for the benefits of the whole school community. The potential of such benefits for change in practice and increased understanding should not be underestimated.

Thesis embargoed until 31 December 2023.
Date of AwardDec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorNichola Booth (Supervisor) & Alison MacKenzie (Supervisor)


  • Parents' experiences
  • inclusion
  • mainstream primary school
  • Down Syndrome

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