Academically, deaf children are just as capable as hearing children, and there’s no reason why they should achieve less. So why are they falling behind their classmates? asks Ian Noon.

There are around 33,000 deaf children in schools across England, but evidence suggests that they are being consistently failed by an education system that should support them. Latest analysis shows that deaf children across England continue to achieve a whole grade lower at GCSE when compared to all children. and, on average, just over a third of deaf children achieved at least a grade 5 in key subject areas, English and Maths, in 2021, compared with more than half of all children.  However, deaf children are just as capable as hearing children, and there is no reason why they should achieve less. So, this begs the question, ‘Why are they falling behind their classmates?’ We believe this is largely down to a lack of specialist support, particularly in mainstream schools, where 84% of deaf children access education.Despite the best efforts of teachers, SENCOs and Teachers of the Deaf, the current system supporting deaf children in schools simply isn’t fit for purpose. 

Deaf awareness in schools 
Many deaf children and families report that teachers do not always understand deafness and how it impacts them or their child, and teachers support their concerns. One in five teachers surveyed on behalf of the National Deaf Children’s Society reported that they do not get the information they need to teach deaf children effectively. This lack of understanding around the impact of deafness was particularly evident during the pandemic, where face masks, and a lack of subtitles when home learning, presented serious challenges to deaf children’s learning and socialisation. Our recent poll of 5,700 primary and secondary school teachers found eight in ten teachers across England overwhelmingly backed our calls for deaf awareness to be included in teacher training.  Considering more than half of all teachers will teach a deaf child during their careers, this is hardly surprising.

Only 3% of the teachers surveyed were opposed to the training, which would provide teachers with a basic understanding of how to support deaf children and know how, and when, to get specialist support to teach a deaf child. Alarmingly, the same poll also found that six out of ten teachers believe deaf children will continue to underachieve at school without changes to the current system. Deaf children achieve less than their hearing classmates at every stage of school and it is disturbing that most teachers do not believe this will change.Many deaf young people will continue to achieve less than their hearing classmates at every stage of school unless we see clear and decisive action to address this. 

Deaf young people also tell us that a lack of deaf awareness in schools can leave them feeling isolated and left out, experiencing challenges with their mental health and emotional well-being. 

The SEND Review acknowledges that teachers lack confidence in teaching children with SEND and states the DfE has already ‘begun to deliver a transformed professional development pathway for teachers, with high-quality training at every step of their career.’   However, no steps have been taken to incorporate deaf awareness into teacher training. It has not been included in the core framework for training providers, nor the mandatory minimum entitlement for all trainee teachers.  This risks teachers being left unsupported to teach deaf children effectively.

We need more specialist teachers.

Specialist workforce in schools 
Specialist staff, such as Teachers of the Deaf, also play an essential role in ensuring a positive educational and social experience for deaf children in school. They are qualified teachers who have taken further training and are qualified to teach children with a hearing loss. They provide support to deaf children, their parents and family, and to other professionals who are involved with a child’s education, particularly mainstream schools which may only have one deaf pupil.

Yet despite their vital work, we’ve seen the numbers of Teachers of the Deaf have been slashed by almost a fifth in a decade. This is extremely concerning, and worries about specialist workforce staff in schools are shared across the sector. At the National Deaf Children’s Society, we joined with the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, Speech and Language UK and Voice 21, in leading a coalition of over 110 signatories who wrote an open letter to the Government in November. We warned that urgent investment is needed now to plug gaps in the specialist workforce supporting children in schools—including Teachers of the Deaf. 

The letter highlighted a series of inadequacies in the specialist support children and young people can access. While the need for specialists is increasing, insufficient numbers are being trained to meet demand. And many are failing to be retained, with high numbers leaving the public sector altogether. 

Services Need Support
This has a knock-on effect on children, young people, and families, with parents reporting that services are at crisis point, leading to catastrophic impacts on children’s education, mental health and wellbeing, home and social life, employment prospects and life chances. 

The coalition, which includes charities, professional bodies and associations, trade unions and parent and carer organisations, called on the Government to clearly set out how its much anticipated response to the SEND Review will address this widening access crisis. 

We need to see the Government committing to investing in the specialist workforce, including Teachers of the Deaf. Without it, deaf children and young people will be left to play a perpetual game of catch-up with their classmates, with devastating long-term consequences.

The Government must develop a plan as part of its SEND reforms to provide effective, long-term specialist support for deaf children in schools and avoid a long-term, devastating effect on deaf children’s education, including more plans for Teachers of the Deaf, and deaf awareness training for all teachers and SENCOs.

Herminia’s son Marshall is 7 and was born partially deaf. 

“Specialist support has been crucial for Marshall’s development, and I don’t know what we would have done without it. It’s been the difference in helping him to reach his full potential. Because he has to work so much harder to concentrate, if adjustments weren’t made to his environment, I think he would have started to fall behind. At pre-school, Marshall socially struggled to make friends and couldn’t get involved in all the different conversations going on. The Teacher of the Deaf helped with this so that the staff could help him socialise with other children, he learnt to have one friend, to then two and more. His current school has always been so good and accommodating, and open and willing, asking me what would be helpful. Staff have been great with making adjustments to the classroom, such as where he sits, attending training and learning how to use the radio aid with him. I worry what would happen if the specialist support he receives was ever taken away. I know not all children have access to it, so it feels like a real postcode lottery.”

Ian Noon
Author: Ian Noon

Ian Noon
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Ian Noon is the Chief Policy Adviser at The National Deaf Children's Society is a British charity dedicated to providing support, information and advice for deaf children and young people, their families and professionals working with them.

Twitter: @NDCS_UK
Facebook: @NDCS.UK


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