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Woodlands Speech and Language Unit

Children currently enrolled at the Woodlands Speech and Language Unit will be able to complete their two-year period in the facility, the Education Minister John O’Dowd has confirmed.

Announcing his decision on a series of development proposals to enhance and increase speech and language class provision in the north west, the Minister said there would be no immediate relocation of Woodlands as originally proposed by the Western Education and Library Board.

He did confirm that change was needed in order to meet the demand for speech and language provision in the Derry area and to ensure that this provision was compliant with relevant legislation.

Announcing his decision the Minister said: “These proposals have generated a significant amount of public interest and throughout the consultation process I have taken on board the many representations made by parents, teachers, local representatives and educationalists. I have made clear from the outset that my primary focus is ensuring the best possible speech and language provision for children in the area. My priority is to secure high quality provision that will be fit for purpose going forward and complies with all relevant legislative requirements. My key success measure is that it will provide those children that need it with the best opportunities to progress.”

The Minister outlined the policy position on provision of special educational needs, as provided for in the Education (NI) Order 1996, which is one of inclusion and states that as far as possible children should be educated in mainstream schools. This approach is consistent with Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) (ie ensuring an inclusive education system at all levels) and with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
While the Minister praised the speech and language provision that Woodlands Special Unit provides, he recognised that as it was delivered under the management of a special school, it was not in line with the policy of inclusion as set out in the legislation.

The Minister stated: “I have had to consider the best long-term solution for children with speech and language needs in the area. It is evident that the Woodlands facility has served children well but there is also a strong case for providing increased and more localised provision for the future. Furthermore the proposed new model is tried and tested and fully complies with the legislation.

“I firmly believe that the key to success for the proposed changes will be a managed transition to the new arrangements to ensure that quality provision is in place before any change is put in place at Woodlands. That way parents can be confident and assured that their children will receive appropriate education to meet their needs.

“For that reason I am modifying the proposals for the new provision to commence from September 2014 rather than 2013. This will allow sufficient time to ensure all the necessary steps have been taken to get the new units up and running. Children currently enrolled at the Woodlands Unit will, if necessary and in line with parental wishes, be able to complete the two-year period in the Unit. However, should any parent wish to avail of a place in the new units before the two-year period is over, then I have asked the WELB to give these children priority when allocating places in the new units.

“My Department and the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) will monitor progress against the implementation plan for the new units to ensure that all the new provision is in place before the classes at the Woodlands Unit relocate. I will ask the ETI to evaluate the new provision at the earliest practicable opportunity and most certainly within the first year of operation.

"I wish to take this opportunity to thank the staff at Woodlands for the work they have done over the years and I am pleased that it is the intention of the Board to draw on that experience by relocating those teachers, who wish to move, to the new units. The new arrangements will provide increased contact with, and support for, mainstream teachers in the three primary schools - Ebrington, St Anne’s and Ballykelly Primary Schools. This has not been an easy decision however I believe it is in the best interests of children who will need this service in the future.”

Note to editors:

1. The Minister has decided to approve each of the proposals subject to the modifications outlined below:

· Development Proposal No 233 – Relocation of the Woodlands Speech and Language Unit, located at Belmont House School with effect from 31 August 2013, modified as follows:

The Woodlands Unit will continue to operate, if required, until the end of the 2014/15 academic year to allow all pupils allocated a two-year place from the 2013/2014 academic year to complete the placement should their parents so wish.

Development Proposal No 234 – Relocation of two speech and language classes to Ebrington Primary School with effect from 1 September 2013 or as soon as possible thereafter modified to commence from 1 September 2014.

Development Proposal No 235 - Relocation of two speech and language classes to St Anne’s Primary School, Derry with effect from 1 September 2013 or as soon as possible thereafter modified to commence from 1 September 2014.

Development Proposal No 236 – Expansion of speech and language provision in the north west by two additional speech and language classes located at Ballykelly Primary School with effect from 1 September 2013 or as soon as possible thereafter modified to commence from 1 September 2014.

Approval of all four proposals should be conditional on a written assurance from the Western Education and Library Board that:-

· confirmation that WELB has received appropriate assurances from the Public Health Authority on the availability of resources to support the expanded speech and language provision at the proposed three new sites;

· the relocation to Ebrington, St Anne’s and Ballykelly Primary Schools will be planned and implemented before the unit at Woodlands closes; and

· consideration will be given to the transfer of those children attending the Woodlands Unit to the new provision should the parents so wish.

2. The Department of Education’s ‘Education Works’ campaign encourages families to play, talk, read and count with their child and to ‘Get Involved Because Education Works’. The campaign highlights the vital role families can play in helping children do well at school and improve their life chances. Visit http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/education-works for more information.

Watch the TV ad on the Department’s YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/thedeptofeducation

3. See photos from the Department of Education in our collection at http://www.flickr.com/niexecutive

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