Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Closure of language unit is put off for year

A parent-led campaign to keep a children's language unit open has won a small victory as an education board said it would keep it for an additional 12 months.

Woodlands Language Unit was scheduled to shut in June 2012 but parents fought hard to keep the centre open.

The parents will present their case at a consultation meeting today before the Education Minister John O’Dowd makes a final decision. Among those attending will be Caroline McCleary, whose son Caomhan attends the unit.

She said that while parents are grateful that the unit is to remain open until at least June 2013, they are not in the mood to celebrate just yet.

“If we hadn't fought the Western Education and Library Boards’ (WELB) plan to close Woodlands, children like my son would already be suffering so we are pleased that we have secured one additional year — but it is far from satisfactory,” she said.

“At this consultation we will argue to keep the unit where it is and in the format it is because changing it makes no sense.

“We have been greatly strengthened in the level of support we have had, not just from the wider public but especially from politicians from the SDLP and DUP, they have been fantastic.

“The Children's Commissioner and the Children's Law Society are lending support too so hopefully when the consultation period is over and all the relevant information in placed in front of the Education Minister, he will come to what we think is the obvious conclusion and keep the unit opened permanently.”

In February this year parents and staff at the Woodlands unit were informed by WELB of its proposed closure because it was located on the same grounds of Belmont Special Needs School.

WELB suggested that children who did not have a statement of special needs should not be attending a unit which is on the same grounds as a special school.

Ms McCleary insists that having the unit on the ground of Belmont special school has no bearing on the children attending the unit.

“Caomhan's language skills have gone through the roof since he attended the unit,” she said.

“He is able to communicate so well now which means he doesn't get frustrated.

“Before, Caomhan received some outreach language therapy at his mainstream school but it wasn't successful at all.

“It added to Caomhan's feelings of isolation because he was taken away from the rest of his class for the therapy whereas at Woodlands he is the same as everyone else in the class.

“These changes in Caomhan are down to the Woodlands staff who are dedicated beyond belief. Our children deserve the specialist treatment they can give and that is what we will fight for.”

The WELB declined to comment.

background

Woodlands Language Unit offers specialist therapy for children with specific language difficulties. Pupils in primary one to primary seven from all schools across the North West can attend for a minimum of one year up to two years. There are four teachers and five classroom assistants for the 40 available places in the unit and these are given after referrals from an educational psychologist.

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