Unease at therapy shortfall

31st July 1998 at 01:00
Lack of funds and a shortage of trained staff are being blamed for inadequate therapy services in Renfrewshire. Parents and teachers have called for immediate reforms.

Officials who sounded them out before responding to the Government's recent consultation paper on special educational needs warned councillors on Tuesday of "increasing concern" about unmet needs. Parents and teachers were "unanimous" in asking for more therapists to work with pupils and teachers more regularly.

Shelagh Rae, the council's director of education, admitted: "There is confusion about who is responsible for therapy services and how best to meet needs."

Renfrewshire is to press the Scottish Office to review the current split in funding between health boards and education authorities. Delivery, quality and performance are health boards' responsibility.

Officials point out councils can buy in speech therapy services up to the amount fixed by central government. "The level of therapy which can be purchased decreases each year while demand for the service is increasing, " they stress.

Parents and teachers say current methods are not always acceptable and therapy delivered in schools would be more effective. Officials accept this would be more convenient for parents who often cannot attend clinics.

Education staff also highlight the shortage of specialists employed by healthcare trusts and the lack of funds available for physiotherapy or occupational therapy. No funding is provided by the Scottish Office.

"Services are very scarce and there is an increasing number of pupils in mainstream and special schools who are being identified as requiring these services to meet their special needs," they say.

"At the pre-school stage, children receive a service at the child development centre and parents rightly expect the service to be continued once their child goes to school. At this stage the service all too often becomes 'advisory'. Education staff, teachers and auxiliaries have to take on the role of therapist."

Pupils with physical disabilities who need therapy have to be sent to independent schools to receive the treatment.

Renfrewshire has 682 pupils with records of need among a school population of 27,554. More than half (57 per cent) are supported in mainstream schools.

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