The NCSE is pleased to publish the evaluation of the first year of the In-School and Early Years Therapy Support Demonstration Project. This innovative project involved the development and implementation of a speech and language and occupational therapeutic support model for mainstream schools, special schools and early years’ settings. It saw a unique collaboration between the Departments of Health, Education and Children along with the HSE and the NCSE to collectively deliver therapeutic supports and build capacity in 75 schools and 75 early years’ settings under a new model of provision.
It was delivered by a team of 31 speech and language and occupational therapists, supported by clinical leads and therapy managers. In undertaking the evaluation, the researchers engaged with project staff and therapists, surveyed school principals, centre managers, teachers and early years’ practitioners on the impact on the project. They also analysed goal data relating to the activities and targets set within each setting, and the extent to which they were achieved. They undertook further in-depth work in 20 schools and early years’ settings where they spoke with students, parents and educators, and observed the model being implemented.
The evaluation found a number of positive impacts arising from the first year. Educators reported that they had an increased ability to differentiate instruction as a result of therapists being in the setting. They also reported that the strategies and information they acquired during their work with therapists enabled them to identify needs, created more positive interactions with students/children, and notably resulted in more positive academic engagement by students/children. Participating students spoke positively about their experiences of the project, while parents noted the potential of the project to overcome waiting lists for therapy in the community, and the in-school nature of provision negating the need for children to be taken out of school to a clinic-based setting.
The evaluation noted a number of challenges as well. There were significant delays in getting therapists in post and greater time than had been anticipated to ensure therapists were familiar with the requirements of an education environment. Therapists reported ongoing challenges arising from the management structure, including confusion over reporting lines and role clarity. Challenges were faced in the management and sharing of the large volume of data gathered across settings and different levels of the model.
This report details the evaluation of the In-School and Early Years Therapy Support Demonstration Project (hereafter referred to as the Demonstration Project), which was implemented in the school year of 2018 to 2019, and which was concurrently evaluated by the authors of this report (the evaluation team). The evaluation team was led by three principal investigators and comprised a research group led by University College Cork (UCC) in collaboration with Mary Immaculate College (MIC), Limerick. The evaluation team represented the three core professions involved in the Demonstration Project, na