What is a language unit?

A lot of children with SSLI don't require a place in a language unit or SSLD (specific speech and language disorder) class as the Board of Education call it. They can benefit from speech and language therapy sessions along with resource hours and extra support in school. Speech therapy is provided by the HSE.

A language unit is a special class for pupils with SSLI that is attached to a mainstream primary school. A full-time teacher is assigned to each class and the class operates with a ratio of 7:1. A speech and language therapist employed by the HSE provides therapy for the children in the class. Psychologists employed by the HSE or in some instances by the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) provide psychological support services for the class. Special needs assistants (SNAs) are not assigned automatically to a class however the Department of Education and Science (DES) allocate SNAs to a number of individual children enrolled in the class.
The aim of the language unit is to address the pupils' speech and language disorder through appropriate education and intensive speech and language therapy within the context of a broad and balanced primary school curriculum. The emphasis is placed on early intervention, and children are generally placed in these special classes when at infant or first-class level. A few primary schools operate two classes, a junior and a senior class. and some children transfer to the senior class following a placement in the junior class.

To date the only model of intensive speech and language therapy provision available to children with SSLI is through attendance in one of these classes. The great majority of children spend one or two years in a language unit. There is a longstanding misguided belief that SSLI is a short term and largely resolvable condition. Based on this belief language units were established to act as a 'booster' placement which children attend for one to two years. There is no evidence base supporting this. Research and practice into SSLI have highlighted the long-term nature of the disorder. Consequently attendance in a language unit can only be regarded as one part of a child's continuum of care. Despite the fact that SSLI is known to be a long-term disability, a continuum of provision is not available in Ireland. A significant number of these children continue to receive speech and language therapy in a local clinic after they return to their local school and many are allocated resource teaching hours.