In recent months, the Afasic helpline has heard from a number of parents who have been offered a place in a language unit for their child, or had a language unit suggested as a suitable placement, but would rather their child went to or stayed in mainstream.

It’s not so long ago that Afasic members, local groups and other parents were working hard to get language units set up across the country, and by and large, they provide a good model of support for children with severe speech and language impairments, offering the specialist support they need in a mainstream context.

It is possible, though not easy, for mainstream schools to provide an equivalent package of support and some do an excellent job, but many still do not. So why would parents prefer a mainstream school over purpose-designed provision? What have they got against language units?

31 comments on “What have parents got against language units?

  1. I hope I can provide a different angle on this situation of language units- from the child’s perspective. I attended a language unit within a mainstream first school from the age of 5 until the end of year 4 (8 yrs), I can say out of hindsight how invaluable it was that I got the help I needed at the most crucial time of my life. I had ‘receptive language disorder’ and knew/used very few words for my age, but the language unit helped me with my speech and comprehension hugely. Just because you enter a language unit does not mean you become some sort of asocial being, it was the opposite in my case: I felt very comfortable, made friends, and created a high level of empathy for others SEN which I still hold to this day. As to travelling arrangements being stressful for parents to arrange, I remember the taxi being a regular feature of my school days, making friends with Robbin the taxi driver and even taxi-sharing with Alexander who also went to the Lang unit with me. I understand this account may not reveal the immense stress and hassle a parent goes through such times, but if you realise the child’s life stresses will in the long run become immensely reducedin time by the selfless work of parents, professionals WORKING TOGETHER, it turns out alright in the end.

    • Great to hear such a positive spin on language units. We are trying to secure a place for our son at the moment.

      It would be a injustice to close these units, should the goverment choose to do so, as a cost cutting exercise..!!

      • Just to pick up on your last point – it’s actually county councils and unitary authorities that decide whether to open or close language units, not the Government. This is why it is so important for parents to engage locally with those responsible for making decisions around SEN.

    • Lydia interesting story – it be useful to know how much time you spent in the language unit and how much time you spent in the mainstream classes with your peer group and whether the balance was right. Did the time in the unit change as your language skills developed?

      • Hi Simone,
        I went to a first school language unit, so I joined aged 5 and left aged 8 (years 1-4). I believe that, from the somewhat patchy memory I still possess, I spent a good balance of time in the language unit and with my peers throughout. I still remember coming into the main school to join the other children in the play area in years 1&2 and attending a few art/topic lessons. I also occasionally remember having tests done in the mainstream setting as well. As I entered year 4 some of my peers and I went into a history/geography lesson twice a week. I did not make close friendships with kids outside of my language unit but I got along with them alright. By the time I had to move to a mainstream primary school for year 5 and 6, I could say I was pretty much ready for mainstream learning- still rather shy but my language had improved and was ready to learn. I am indebted to my language unit and it’s small but experienced team of teachers/TA”s.

  2. I think language units are usually a good thing and do generally provide necessary specialist intervention. However I would like to say that unfortunately not all units are the same. My son attends a unit which has a speech therapist attached but the actual classroom teacher has no special education qualifications. There are 14 children in the class with age ranges from reception-Yr 5. I feel terrible that my Yr5 son has to share a classroom with reception (3 in class) aged children. I don’t think this is doing his self-esteem much good and surely he must find the little ones distracting. Although the older ones are pulled aside by TA’s for some academic subjects I still feel this is unacceptable. He is starting to gradually be mainstreamed but the jump he now needs to make seems huge when he has come from an almost nursery like environment. On a positive note his language scores are nearly where they should be and the speech therapist is excellent.
    I would therefore be as careful over choosing a unit as you are over choosing a school, some of the feedback on this page seems to suggest that there are some great ones out there. If anyone could advise me if its usual to have this huge age range in a language unit I would very much appreciate it. I have phoned another unit close to where I live and they seem to be set up completedly differently.

  3. In our experience it is unusual to have such a wide disparity in age. In a number of primary schools the unit provision is split between nursery and or infant unit with a separate junior unit. Some schools may host units with an age range of between 5 – 11 years, but not including the nursery age. However, units even within the same local authority are often different not only in age range but in the nature of the speech and language disorders they cater to. Also, they may differ in the way they “include” the children in their peer class i.e. almost all out integration as against a more limited approach dependent on the individual child’s ability to cope with larger numbers of children etc.

  4. my son has been attending a language base unit for 18 months now and its the best decision we made for our child.the progress he has made in this short period of time is unbelivable,he would never of made this type of progress in main stream school.the taxi ride to school and home is fantastic(according to my son)taxi driver and escort are excellent with him.i dread to think if i left my son in main stream school where he would be at now and if i ever had to make the decision again it would be the same.the staff do an amazing job and i dont think they get the recognition they son is in yr 4 and is in the unit with 7 other children ranging from yr3-yr6(juniors)my child spends time in his peer class as well as time down the unit and this works really well.
    i would say if any parent is considering a language resources base for their child go and have a look i would defeniatly recommend them

  5. I have asked for my 8 year son to be moved to another school with a Language Unit. I was very anxious about this request but I feel his needs are not being met in main stream. He has settled well socially but academically he is well behind his peers. I am finding comments on this page very helpful.

  6. I am totally SHOCKED to hear that some parents are preferring to keep their child in a mainstrean school when they have been offered a placement in a Language Unit In my area there is only one primary school that has a unit that supports language difficulties and places are like gold dust!
    My son is now 16 yrs I was advised to send my son to the unit from reception – I did decline this offer as I felt my son needed to develop more social skills and wasn’t emotionally resilient enough to be away from home for such a long day (around 8am till after 4pm)
    It was a lucky gamble and there was still a place available the following year. By going there he got regular and intensive therapy. THREE sessions a week. One on his own and the other two in a small group. The class size was a maximum of 15 with the teacher a highly experienced teaching assistant and sometimes the speech therapist
    During years 5 & 6 he spent some time at the local primary school to intergate back with his peers for secondary school.
    I KNOW my son would not have got support anywhere like this had he remained in a ‘mainstream’ school.
    Where do I lie the blame? I believe its down to the total pressure that children (and their parents) are put under these days. What milestones they should be reaching and when. SATs etc. Even Facebook and the way some parents stick their kids on a pedestal constantly bragging about how ‘clever’ their child is. Society in general plays its part too. Some parent’s don’t want to ‘admit’ their child has a problem and isn’t ‘normal’
    To anyone reading this who isn’t sure – please go and have a look with an open mind. I have to say the unit my son originally went to was in a ‘rough’ area but the moment I stepped through the door I knew it was where he had to go. The whole school had a welcoming inclusive atmosphere, the teachers had the knowledge and experience in how to teacher him
    Life is tough out there – why not give your child the best start you can.

    • A fantastic positive response to this son is 4 1/2 just now and due to start the local language unit in august. I have no doubt whatsoever that this is the best for my son. I struggle to think how he might adapt as he is so used to the nursery setting, but in a couple of weeks I’m sure he’ll settle. I’ve still to have a proper diagnosis of autism tho I know now the symptoms are clear and I know he’s going to have the best support possible in this environment.

  7. Hello,
    I am training to be a speech and language therapist. As part of my training I am looking into how parents feel during the transition from mainstream to a language unit. Can any of you comment on how you felt during this time?

    Thank you in advance for your help.

    • Hi Amy,

      Am I too late to respond? My daughter is 9 and has been at a specialist language unit since year 1.

      If my reply is not too late what questions about the experience do you have?

      Best regards

      • Hi!! No it’s not too late. I am lookin into how parents felt during transition; what helped, what didn’t, what you would have liked, how you feel now. Any insight you have would be extremely helpful. Thank you in advance

    • Hi Amy, at first all I could think about my son’s condition was flawed. It’s horrible but now I’m informed enough it’s erased those feelings. My son cannot communicate in a way everyone expects him to but his intelligence blows my mind. He can count to 100, knows the alphabet and every shape he is amazing. I wish you well in your studies.

  8. Language units are amazing. I wasn’t happy about my daughter going to one that seemed very isolated from the mainstream school as she was so social, but luckily we moved near a brilliant one that splits the day into unit and topic so she has full on slt one to one and small group plus support in the big class and unit classes. She started in year 3 without key words or two letter blends but now is in mainstream class at year 5, reading to near average level, confident happy and excited about learning. She’s made loads of friends and now looking to go to mainstream secondary with support. Can’t say enough good things about it and can hardly believe the progress. Language units should be available for all kids with language disorder such a shame they are under threat its criminal!

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