Plans to relocate the Woodlands language unit to three primary schools will increase it capacity and create employment, the Western Education and Library Board have said.
Dr Claire Mangan, the acting chief executive of the WELB made the comments as she addressed the monthly meeting of Derry City Council on Tuesday.
Dr Mangan briefed councillors on plans to relocate the unit, which provides speech and language therapy for children, to three schools across the north west; St Anne’s Primary School, Rosemount, Ebrington Primary School, and Ballykelly Primary School.
A number of councillors raised concerns about the plans and said that parents of children who use the Woodlands Unit, which is located at Belmont, are opposed to the move.
Dr Mangan said the relocation is planned to meet the needs of children. “Our commitment in relation to this is to expand the service for children and young people.
“Whenever we have looked at the BT postcodes of the children who use the service they do not necessarily live in Derry city. Only 50 per cent live in the city and the rest are from Ballykelly, Magheramason and Limavady. That is significant because it means they have to travel a distance. Wherever possible we want to have children educated close to their own homes. Over the years we have found that parents who found out their children will have to travel to the unit did not take avail of it because they did not want their children to travel,” she
Dr Mangan said the expansion of the service would create more teaching positions. “We are endeavouring to relocate the provision to other locations and expand the provision from 40 places to 60 places. That is important. 20 more children from the Derry City Council area will now have the opportunity to avail of this service.
“As we are moving to three locations the Board is investing in the employment of two additional teachers and three classroom assistants,” she explained.
She also explained that educational physiologists advise that it would be beneficial for the development of speech and language to have children educated in locations where they can integrate with other pupils more easily.
SDLP councillor Brenda Stevenson raised concerns about the planned move and read out a list of questions supplied by parents of children who attend the unit.
Colr. Stevenson also called for a new unit to be built at Belmont to replace the existing unit and suggested that it could be expanded without having to relocate.
Sinn Féin colr. Patrica Logue welcomed the announcement that the Board is planning to expand its provision but said the concerns of parents must be taken into account.