BY JACKIE KEOGH
CORK County Council will ask the HSE and Department of Education for increased speech and language supports for children in the county, with the revelation that just one school in West Cork has a dedicated speech unit.
Sinn Féin Cllr Paul Hayes raised the issue and received cross-party support for his motion seeking expanded speech and language supports for children, at a Council meeting this week.
And he told of a case where twins, both needing intervention, were split up, with one getting language support, and the second one being refused.
The Sinn Féin councillor said there is already too great a burden on young children who have to travel long distances to avail of this service.
He pointed out that Barryroe National School is the only school in West Cork that offers a specific Speech and Language Impairment class where pupils can, following assessment, be included in a specialised language unit at Barryroe.
‘There are, however, only seven places available in this language unit,’ according to Cllr Hayes, ‘and teachers have confirmed that the numbers applying for places exceed the spaces available.’
Because some children stay on for more than one term, Cllr Hayes pointed out that there would only be three spaces available in Barryroe next term. The course covers the whole of West Cork, with many children travelling long distances to attend the course. It also means they have to move schools in order to avail of the service.
‘With more students applying for speech and language support than can be catered for,’ Cllr Hayes said, ‘we are asking for more student places to be allocated.’
Stressing the importance of early intervention, Cllr Hayes said: ‘If speech and language issues are addressed early in a child’s life, they will have a better chance of reaching their full potential and perhaps nip any future behavioural and learning problems in the bud.’
Cllr Hayes said: ‘It is a highly emotive issue. I’ve met parents crying in frustration because their child was not allocated a place in Barryroe.’
Unsuccessful applicants for Barryroe are then directed to Greenmount, Shanbally, and Scoil Barra in Cork – which have speech and language units – a situation that has led to siblings being split up.
In one such case, involving twins, Cllr Hayes said: ‘They were split up, even though both were deemed to need extra speech and language supports. One was successful in getting a place, the other wasn’t.’
The travel arrangements involved in the scheme were also called into question by Cllr Hayes.
He said children attending a language class are eligible for free transport to the class, subject to the terms of the School Transport Scheme, but – due to the fact that Barryroe has to cater for the needs of all of West Cork – children as young as five, six and seven years of age are being put on a bus at 7am in the morning to travel long distances.
‘Children are travelling from Glengarriff and Baltimore to attend the school in Barryroe,’ said Cllr Hayes. ‘It is a terrible strain for the children, parents and bus drivers and is an added expense to the Department of Education.’
Even though Barryroe school has the facilities to expand the service, Cllr Hayes said the ideal solution would be to develop other locations in West Cork – such as Skibbereen and Bantry – to ease the burden on children and their families.