Government reforms threaten the futures of deaf children, making bad provision even worse
At the moment, there are no Ofsted inspections of deaf children’s education services, which means that deaf children who rely on their teacher of the deaf or on specialist social care services are being ignored and in many cases given poor or no support. It is crucial that these inspections are made part of the SEN reforms going through Parliament in the Children and Families Bill.
In October 2012, Ofsted published the Communication is the Key report, which praised three areas for their best practice in providing education, health and social care services for deaf children. The report praised an integrated care model used in one of these local authorities, where education, health and social care departments work together to ensure a deaf child’s emotional, educational and health needs are met. However, while the comments about this model as a best practice example are encouraging, the sad reality is that in the majority of cases, the social care provision for deaf children just isn’t there.
Research by the University of Manchester found that the majority of deaf children’s social care services are failing them, despite deaf children being twice as likely to experience abuse. This research showed widespread lack of awareness of deaf children’s needs, even though 40 per cent are likely to suffer from mental health problems. Earlier this year, the Stolen Futures investigation by the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) also found that, when asked, two thirds of local councils were unable to provide information about funding for social care for deaf children.
We know that in many cases there are no social care services for deaf children, and where these patchy and stretched services do exist they are rapidly disappearing. Teachers of the deaf, who deaf children rely on for educational support, are plugging the social care gap as they try to balance their own growing case loads with giving social care support to deaf children. This can range from advising children about flashing alarms to giving them extra emotional care, as they may struggle with isolation, bullying or abuse. These teachers have ended up having to give advice to help a child’s social and emotional development, while struggling with the impact of cuts to their own services. Teachers of the deaf help deaf children understand lessons, monitor their speech and language development and advise on any extra support they need. To do this job properly, though, they need to be given the space to focus on a child’s educational development.
The work of teachers of the deaf is proving impossible as their services are also being cut. Investigations by NDCS have revealed that a quarter of local councils are cutting services for deaf children this year, which in many cases means teachers of the deaf are being axed. This is putting thousands of deaf children in England at risk by taking their specialist educational support away from them at a time when deaf children are already lagging behind their hearing peers in educational attainment. Latest figures show that 60 per cent of deaf children fail to get five GCSEs including English and maths, at grades A* to C, compared to 30 per cent of their hearing peers. Ongoing budget cuts and a lack of joined-up working between services are threatening to make a bad situation worse.
The lack of regular inspections by Ofsted of deaf children’s support undervalues the very services that are so vital to deaf children’s futures and to their families. The quality of a deaf child’s education is dependent on the specialist services s/he gets from the council – but none of these services are being inspected. Despite the Government’s rhetoric on transparency and parental choice, they are denying this right to deaf children by failing to inspect their services properly.
The need for inspection
There would be many benefits of Ofsted inspections into deaf children’s services. An Ofsted inspection would give parents an independent view of the services their children are receiving. Many parents currently do not even know about the services that should be available to their children; some only find out about the existence of technology such as radio aids – which help pupils hear in the classroom – when their children become teenagers. An Ofsted inspection would highlight such a lack of service, alert parents that their children are getting a raw deal and drive up the provision for deaf children in the classroom.
An Ofsted inspection of deaf children’s services would also fuel improvement in the quality of service provided, by giving continuous and constructive feedback to councils across the country.
Services for deaf children are being consistently ignored and cast to the bottom of the pile. There are no government targets to provide a good or even basic level of service that would help the 45,000 deaf children in England learn and thrive. Instead, these services, which are largely for the forgotten children who rely on them, are almost invisible – making them easier to axe as budget cuts bite.
The Government must incorporate an inspection by Ofsted of deaf children’s services into the Children and Families Bill. At present, the reforms simply do not address the real problem facing families of deaf children. Moreover, it is becoming increasingly difficult to support the Government’s reforms because the specialist staff needed to deliver them keep being cut.
Jo Campion is Deputy Director of Policy and Campaigns at the National Deaf Children’s Society. The charity has launched the Stolen Futures e-petition, which calls on the Government to intervene where cuts to services for deaf children are being made: