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Parents will fight on over therapy row

PUBLISHED: 16:15 27 July 2001 | UPDATED: 10:23 03 March 2010

SUFFOLK parents of pupils with special needs have vowed to fight on to stop their children from losing out.

SUFFOLK parents of pupils with special needs have vowed to fight on to stop their children from losing out.

Mums and dads formed an action group after speech and language therapy provision was slashed from four days to ten-and-a-half hours a week.

They petitioned Suffolk County Council and lobbied their MPs who took the issue to national level arguing that the children were missing out on communication skills.

Now £5,000 – made jointly available from the Suffolk County Council and Suffolk Health – will be shared between Heathside and Belstead Schools for a total of 130 pupils.

The cash boost will provide a speech and language assistant for 21 hours a week to perform administrative tasks to free-up a therapist for assessments on pupils at the schools.

However, parents argue it is still impossible for one speech therapist to meet all the youngsters' needs in the limited

time available.

Geraldine Claydon, of HELPP (Heathside Extra Language Therapy Parents Petition), said: "Part of the difficulty for all children with special needs is communication.

"We need another speech therapist working full-time so detailed assessments can be made. There are 60 pupils at Heathside. It is not enough time to see all the children, devise programmes and monitor their progress.

"The therapist has a great contribution to make to the children's lives and does not have the time.

"The assistant is only on a year's trial. What will happen when the year is up? Although there has been a little step it only scratches the surface.

"We would like to see in the next year Suffolk Health and the Local Education Authority spending a bit more on speech and language therapy across the county."

Meanwhile, parents who signed a petition have also written scores of letters to call for more hours.

Mrs Claydon, mother of a six-year-old autistic Heathside pupil, Cheryth, argues that communication is one of the most fundamental skills for children with special needs.

"The need has expanded but the budget has remained small," said Mrs Claydon. "The therapist was also there to teach and motivate parents – who need their professional advice at all stages.

"Another worry is that at Heathside there is a small group of children who have eating and drinking difficulties. The therapist can carry out assessments and devise specialist treatments to enable the children to develop skills in those areas.

"For children with severe problems, speech therapy gives the tools for us to understand their world. Someone with learning difficulties is easier to communicate with than someone with no means of communication.

"We have knowledge on what can be achieved but not the money or the therapists. Speech and language are given a low profile by those who carve out the budgets. It is a national problem."

She said it was not clear who was responsible for speech therapy provision – Suffolk County Council education department or Suffolk Health.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk Heath said there had been a joint review with the Local Education Authority of speech and language therapy services across schools, including special schools. Additional services across Suffolk would start in September.

This included the appointment of a speech and language therapist and advisory teacher.

The spokeswoman said: "The new staff will be working with support staff in pilot areas to assist them in supporting children with speech and language difficulties. The service will be reviewed."

They will look at the countywide provision of speech and language therapy in special needs schools. Schools will be given details of these in the near future.

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