Beggs urges schools to get on board with MASTS

AN East Antrim MLA has called on Larne primary schools to take advantage of a support service which helps detect and treat problems in children during the early stages of their education.

The Northern Health and Social Care Trust operates a scheme known as the Multi Agency Support Teams for Schools (MASTS) service, which is made up of health and education experts in a range of fields from speech and language therapies to behavioural, physiotherapy and clinical psychology therapies. The service works in partnership with teachers and health care professionals to address problems children may encounter as they go through early-years education.

And while Roy Beggs has praised the service and highlighted its success, he has also has expressed concern that not enough schools in the Larne area are availing of the scheme.

A spokeswoman for the the trust told the Times that two schools in the borough - Carnlough and Moyle primaries - are currently supported by the service, and a further 11 have applied to join the scheme.

Speaking in the NI Assembly, Mr Beggs said: “I would like the service to be available for every child in not only my constituency but Northern Ireland. I understand that, in the Northern Trust area, 46 per cent of schools are not covered by the scheme; the support is not there.

“There is a huge gap in the system in that children are not being helped. It was largely based on whether the schools were proactive and volunteered to join the scheme when it was introduced originally. I am aware that a lot more would wish to join the scheme now.”

The Ulster Unionist representative has written to all primary schools in East Antrim urging them to take advantage of the support offered by the MASTS service. Voicing his support for the work of the service, Mr Beggs demonstrated the benefits of the scheme’s multi disciplinary nature.

“A range of issues can be dealt with by using a child-centred approach,” he added.

“What if a child has a speech and language problem and arrives at primary school? They are not able to communicate well with their teacher, and they may not integrate with the rest of the classroom. They are likely to have behavioural problems that will flow from that. They might be very withdrawn or disruptive, which, ultimately, will affect other children in the classroom. So, because there is a fundamental problem, other problems can arise. The beauty of the scheme is that it can bring in the professionals required to help the child and the family to overcome the difficulties and benefit from education.

“Feedback on the scheme from parents, teachers and children has been very positive, with 78 per cent of principals and 69 per cent of teachers highlighting that the children benefited from the intervention of the MASTS service. Ninety-five per cent of parents and carers highlighted that the children benefited from the support, while 92 per cent of the children who have been interviewed indicated that they would recommend it.

“The effectiveness has also been recognised by the achievement of national, regional and local awards. I am aware that the benefits that can come from the scheme can help our children to get their foot on the educational ladder. It is vital that we bring in the scheme and allow all our children to benefit so that no one will slip through the gaps in our system.”

The spokeswoman for the Trust added that the MASTS service has been operational within the Northern Trust area since 2007, with 137 schools already receiving services under the scheme.

She added: “MASTS plans to expand the service to the remaining 117 primary and nursery schools by reviewing the model of service provision locally and through a planned review currently being undertaken by the Health and Social Care Board in association with the Public Health Agency, to ensure that resources are being used effectively. That planned review is expected to be completed in mid 2012.”

School principals can make referrals to the MASTS service. Children who can be referred for support must:

n attend a primary school using the MASTS service in the Northern Trust area;

n be in P1 to P4 at the time of referral;

n have speech, language and communications needs and/or social, emotional or behavioural problems which affect their ability to learn and develop: or

n need extra support to help them learn.