WA schoolchildren in need of speech therapy are among the most disadvantaged in the nation, according to speech pathologists.

Speech Pathology Australia is lobbying political candidates to make a commitment that every school would have direct access to a speech pathologist.

The group said that 12 per cent of students had speech and language disorders which affected their literacy development. This could have devastating long-term effects on their school results and lives after school.

It estimates there are about 18,000 WA children missing out on help and has called for another 30 speech pathologists to meet their needs.

Speech Pathology Australia WA branch spokeswoman Brooke Sanderson said that, unlike other States, speech therapy was mostly provided through the Health Department instead of the Education Department.

This meant the services were clinic-based and aimed mostly at pre-school children, with students over six waiting up to 18 months for help.

"When we look at those waiting times, as well as what's happening in other States, we feel that WA children are severely disadvantaged," she said.

"If we have speech pathologists actually working within schools, that's where we see the best possible outcomes for the children in terms of their literacy skills."

Ms Sanderson said the Education Department's language development centres supported only about 1000 students with severe language problems.

Some independent public schools also had a speech pathologist on staff but the services were ad hoc and subject to budget constraints.

Questions put to Education Minister Peter Collier yesterday were answered instead by Health Minister Kim Hames, who said a Liberal-led government would employ an additional 155 school nurses under a $57.2 million program to guarantee access to an entry health assessment for all pre-primary pupils.

Shadow education minister Paul Papalia said the proposal to employ more speech pathologists in schools had merit and meshed well with Labor's policy to boost early literacy.

The West Australian

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