The 75 schools and 75 pre-schools involved in the one-year pilot from this autumn will be served by 19 speech and language therapists and 12 occupational therapists being recruited by the HSE.
The schools include a mix of urban and rural, mainstream and special schools, and are in the HSE community healthcare organisation region that includes west Dublin, Kildare, and west Wicklow.
The aim is to test a model under which educational and therapy supports are better linked, particularly given the likelihood of issues around speech and language being identified in educational settings.
The Education Minister, Richard Bruton, said that the project will also allow therapists use their time more efficiently to support more pupils in school environments, where there are often large concentrations of need.
“The development of children’s speech and language capabilities is clearly linked to their capacity to develop literacy skills, and thus access to the curriculum,” he said ahead of today’s formal launch of the pilot programme.
“That is why we seek to address these issues at the earliest possible point and intervene early. We wish to see therapists and teachers working together to achieve better outcomes for children.”
However, asked about the position beyond the operation of the pilot in the next school year, his department did not provide any specifics about when these services might be available to all the country’s schools.
A Department of Education spokesperson referenced a Programme for a Partnership Government commitment to set up an in-school speech and language therapy service. The May 2016 agreement between Mr Bruton’s Fine Gael party and the Independent Alliance also promised an in-depth review of the variations in waiting times for speech and language therapy in different parts of the country.
The minister secured €2m for a pilot in-school speech and language therapy programme in Budget 2018.
“The project funding includes provision for evaluation of the project, which will be commissioned by the National Council for Special Education,” said the department spokesperson. “The rollout of the service nationally will be informed by lessons learned in the initial pilot phase.”
However, background information about the announcement says the pilot will inform decisions about “possible future roll out” of a national programme, suggesting there is no certainty about when, or if, that would happen.