Concern over proposals to cut children’s speech and language units in Lincolnshire

The proposed closure of specialised speech and language primary units in Lincolnshire would see children with impairments “flounder”, according to a member of staff.

Lincolnshire County Council is conducting a consultation on proposals to discontinue the three dedicated speech and language units based in the county from September 1, 2016.

The service, partly funded by the Local Authorities Dedicated Schools Budget, costs £554,451 a year, of which £125,755 is paid out on pupils’ transportation. 

Parents have been contacted by the council regarding the proposals and the consultation closes on April 22.

A decision is expected at a meeting of executive councillors on June 10.

Lincolnshire Community Health Service (LCHS) currently supports over 3,150 children with a speech and-or language impairment from both to leaving school age.

Lincolnshire County Council commissions three schools, Fosse Way in Lincoln, Monkshouse Primary in Spalding and Mabletherpe Primary in Mabletherpe, to provide dedicated speech and language therapy units so students in need of intensive therapy.

Some 21 students are currently on the roll at the units.

The council argues many parents choose not to refer their child, preferring to keep them at a more local school rather than transfer them to the dedicated units, which they claim are underused.

The suggested future model would mean children receiving speech and language therapy would have to rely on mainstream primary schools to supply support for their needs.

Partners say they will work together to “enhance” the current complex support service with the three specialist teachers and therapists located at the units being consulted with over a potential transfer to the Local Authorities Specialist Teaching service.

The current funding arrangements would cease.

Should the plans receive approval, transition arrangements will begin to admit children from the units into mainstream primary schools ready for the new model in September.

Can mainstream schools cope?

A member of staff at one of the specialised speech and language units in Lincolnshire, who wished not to be named, said: “I have seen speech and language children flounder in mainstream classes.

“I have seen them become introvert, self conscious and have extremely low levels of self-esteem. The unit brings out the best in these children.

“I have personally seen speech and language children blossom and gain the skills and confidence to speak and, when ready, integrated back into mainstream school.

“This would not have happened if they had been only in mainstream school. Mainstream classes work at a fast pace and have very strict timings to stick to.

“One of the points made in the consultation was the numbers being low and that they are not financially viable. The units knew these cuts were being talked about and were advised to not take more children on for the past year.

“So yes, numbers are low, but this was requested! There are plenty of children out there needing support and the unit. They have set these units up to look bad and fail.”

‘Not about saving money’

The council says any savings made from cutting the service would contribute to the overall savings the council has set out to make, but states the proposal is not motivated by costs.

Sheridan Dodsworth, Children’s Services Manager at Lincolnshire County Council, said: “Under the present system, children with complex speech and language difficulties are having to travel some distance to access three specialist units in the county.

“We think it would be more effective for children to receive the support they need in their local primary school rather than having their week disrupted.

“Under the proposed new model, LCHS would help provide enhanced support in primary mainstream schools.

“This isn’t about saving money – it’s about providing the best support to meet the needs of children within their local community.”