Fianna Fáil Education Spokesperson Thomas Byrne has said that the Government’s approach to providing essential in-school therapy services to the children who rely on them is extremely limited and will unlikely benefit those in need.

Before the Easter break, Minister Bruton said that the Government would merely roll out a “demonstration project for in-school therapy services.”

Reacting to this Deputy Byrne said, “Our party’s policy proposals offer a much more radical vision than the one offered by Government, for developing the provision of multi disciplinary therapy services for children in Ireland.

“Fianna Fáil is currently formulating a comprehensive policy aimed at introducing multi-disciplinary therapy teams on-site in primary and secondary schools for children with disabilities.

These teams, employed by the Department of Education would extend beyond Speech and Language Therapists and Occupational Therapists and also include Physiotherapists and Psychiatrists, who are hugely necessary in supporting these children’s development.

“It is our vision that these teams would be shared in clusters between both schools and ECCE pre school classes.

“By providing on-site visits to each school, children can be assessed by multi-disciplinary teams for any developmental delays at an early age, receive early intervention.

“It would also provide for the ongoing continuity of care from the same group of professional therapists and allow for greater efficiency, as children are less likely to miss in-school appointments.

“This would mark a new departure in the quality of education provided to children with special needs in Irish mainstream schools.

“Minister Bruton’s very recent comments in the Dáil regarding plans “to build the capability of teachers, SNAs and school leaders to integrate speech and language therapy into their offerings” are quite concerning.

“They go deeper than existing collaboration in schools and appear to envisage teachers and SNAs effectively becoming therapists.

“Collaboration will happen under Fianna Fáil’s proposals too, but professional therapists would provide the services within a school setting.

“I and my Fianna Fáil colleagues will be engaging proactively with professionals and those working in the area over the coming weeks as we finalise the finer details of our proposals.

“While the Government wishes to distract from the real issue at hand by speaking of a demonstration project, there is in fact some existing experience and pilot projects of this model both in Ireland and abroad that could be drawn upon.

“These should examined first, including the services already provided in special schools and some special classes, and a radical model rolled out quickly on a comprehensive basis,” concluded Deputy Byrne.