"It is essential to start with children before they go to school, which is not always the case everywhere."
Agnes Kelly was talking about the language unit at Sacred Heart Primary in Cumbernauld, where she is the senior teacher in charge. North Lanarkshire has built on the specialist provision it inherited from Strathclyde: the unit reopened last week with 24 youngsters compared with 16 last session.
There are 12 full-timers and 12 part-timers who attend for four sessions a week, morning or afternoon. The pupils, some pre-school, are classed as being of above average intelligence but who happen to have a language disorder either of comprehension or expression.
Mrs Kelly says it is of crucial importance that her charges have difficulty communicating but want to communicate - in contrast, for example, to many autistic children who have similar difficulties but do not see the need to communicate.
The coverage of nursery youngsters is also important, Mrs Kelly adds. "Some pre-school pupils have their entry to primary delayed for a year so they get a chance to master the language and don't start off at a disadvantage, with all the problems that can store up for their esteem and their learning."
The children in her unit all participate in the life of the school, taking part in outings, concerts and gym sessions. The full-time ones, like Jacqueline Gallacher's five year old son Patrick, also get the chance to wear the Sacred Heart uniform. As far as classroom integration is concerned, Mrs Kelly says it is a case of "testing the water" and pupils are placed alongside others only where it is in their interests. This balanced regime suits Mrs Gallacher perfectly. She is even more delighted now that Patrick has a full-time place since he attended part-time last session while still at nursery school.
Living in Moodiesburn four miles from Cumbernauld, Mrs Gallacher is particularly pleased that an auxiliary is on hand at all times, particularly in the playground. "If he was in a normal school, you'd be worried about bullying problems but that worry is eased because of the set-up at Sacred Heart. "
Mrs Kelly praises this "major commitment" from North Lanarkshire. "We have 3.2 teachers, 1.2 languagespeech therapists, a full-time auxiliary and a link psychologist plus all the travel costs. It is a very expensive resource. " Parents are kept abreast of events via a daily notebook and a weekly jotter detailing what children have been doing each week. From Mrs Gallacher's point of view it clearly works.
Jim McGuinness, the senior official in charge of support for learning, says the council hopes to add staff and capacity to units attached to schools across the authority.