14 May, 2018 - Government launch new project to bring specialised therapists into schools and pre-schools

150 schools and pre-schools taking part in Pilot, bringing speech and language therapists and occupational therapists into schools and pre-schools 

Government focuses on early intervention and tailored supports         

The Minister for Education and Skills, Mr. Richard Bruton T.D., the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr. Katherine Zappone T.D., and the Minister for Health, Mr. Simon Harris T.D. today (14th May, 2018) launched the first ever project to provide in-school and pre-school therapy services. The project will be managed and co-ordinated by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE). 

The model has been developed by the Departments of Education, Children and Youth Affairs and Health and is part of the government’s overall aim to help every child to fulfil their full potential. 

The purpose of the project is to test a model of tailored therapeutic supports that allow for early intervention in terms of providing speech and language and occupational therapy within ‘educational settings’.  Additionally, it is important to acknowledging that this innovative pilot will also compliment existing HSE funded provision of essential therapy services within each of the nine Community Healthcare Organisations. 

150 schools and pre-schools will test the model in Phase 1 of the project, which will take place over the course of the 2018/2019 school year. The project has been developed in conjunction with the Health Service Executive (HSE). €2.25m is being allocated to Phase One of the project in 2018. 

As part of the programme, 19 speech and language therapists and 12 Occupational Therapists will be recruited by the HSE to work with the 150 schools and pre-schools. The NCSE will also recruit 2 National Co-ordinators to manage the project. 

Phase one of the project will focus on: 

  • Early intervention and tailored supports.
  • Bringing specialised therapists into schools and pre-schools to provide tailored support to children.
  • Collaboration and greater linkages between therapists, parents, teachers and other school and pre-school staff.
  • Developing greater linkages between educational and therapy supports.
  • Providing professional training and guidance for school and pre-school staff and parents in supporting children’s therapy and developmental needs.
  • Maximising the participation of parents in their children’s communication development. 

Launching the project in Presentation Primary School, the Minister for Education and Skills, said: “The government’s aim is to help every child to fulfil their potential. Identifying a speech and language issue in a child, and dealing with that issue, can have a dramatic impact on that child’s life prospects. 

“We have set the ambition to make Ireland’s education and training service the best in Europe by 2026. Parents tell us consistently that they would like to see greater levels of cooperation and integration between different services. A more cohesive, collaborative approach to delivering tailored supports to children in our schools is key to becoming the best. 

“This model will bring together therapists and educational professionals who have until now often operated separately. 

“It will allow them to work together to plan, collaborate, and share their professional knowledge and expertise. The project will allow therapists to use their time more efficiently to support greater numbers of pupils in school environments, where there are often large concentrations of need. 

“The development of children’s speech and language capabilities is clearly linked to their capacity to develop literacy skills, and thus to access the curriculum. That is why we seek to address these issues at the earliest possible point and intervene early. We wish to see therapists and teachers working together to achieve better outcomes for children.” 

Launching the project, Minister Zappone, said, “I am especially pleased that pre-schools will be central to the project. The 75 primary and post-primary schools that will take part will be matched by 75 pre-schools, demonstrating the importance of early intervention in supporting children with additional needs. 

“We already know how important it is to act early in a child’s life to provide supports, and then to maintain supports throughout childhood. This project will test a practical and innovative approach to ensuring that both universal and targeted therapeutic supports are available in children’s early years.” 

Minister Harris, said, “It is exciting to see such positive interagency collaboration between the health and education sectors that will result in the delivery of increased and better co-ordinated therapy supports for vulnerable Children”. 

Notes to Editors: 

The pilot will include a full range of school types, reflective of the overall educational system. This will include: 

  • Schools with significant levels of educational disadvantage.
  • A mixture of urban, large, and small schools.
  • Schools with high levels of support needs as identified under the new special education teaching allocation model.
  • Mainstream schools which have special classes
  • Special schools with significant levels of therapy support needs. 

Pre-school settings associated with primary schools participating in the project are being included in order to provide for therapy interventions to be made at the earliest possible time and to create linkages between pre-school and primary school provision. 

The pilot project will take place in the HSE Community Healthcare Organisation (CHO) Region 7 which includes West Dublin, Kildare, and West Wicklow. 

This region has been selected to ensure that the pre-school and in-school therapy model can be tested in both urban and rural locations and with a suitable mix of various types of schools and pre-schools. 

Pre-schools and schools have been selected for participation in the project, according to defined sampling criteria which will give a representative sample of schools. Pre-schools and schools are being invited to participate in the project and will do so on a voluntary basis. 

The demonstration project will take place over the course of the 2018/19 school and ECCE year. 

The pilot will be evaluated to assess the effectiveness of the pre-school and in-school delivery model in order to inform decisions about possible future roll out of a National Programme. 

Each therapist will provide support to clusters of schools and pre-schools within the pilot region. 

In some instances where children have significant persistent needs, direct one on one support will be provided in pre-schools and schools for those children.