Helping deaf pupils to learn


The role of Teachers of the Deaf in supporting pupils with hearing impairments

Four in five deaf* school-age children attend mainstream schools where there is no specialist provision. For these children, specialist peripatetic Teachers of the Deaf can be an important friend for classroom teachers and SENCOs in providing advice on how to effectively support deaf children. This article outlines what Teachers of the Deaf are and why the support they provide is so important.

Deafness covers a wide spectrum, from mild right up to profound, including deafness in one ear and temporary deafness. It is not a learning disability and non-verbal IQ results do not show significant differences between hearing and deaf children. However, as teaching and learning takes place through the main senses of sight and hearing, this presents deaf pupils and those who teach them with complex challenges in developing language and accessing learning.

With the right support, deaf children should make the same progress and reach similar levels of attainment as other children. A Teacher of the Deaf can help schools ensure this happens.

What is a Teacher of the Deaf?

Teachers of the Deaf have trained as teachers in the same way as everyone else. However, they have also gained an additional qualification in teaching deaf children, usually after having taught in mainstream schools for at least two years and undertaken two years of specialist training. The complexity of teaching and supporting deaf children is recognised in the government requirement that specialist teachers of children with sensory impairments should hold a mandatory qualification – something not required in other areas of SEN.

Teachers of the Deaf also differ from other teachers in that they are expected to hold a range of expertise across different age groups. A Teacher of the Deaf may have a caseload of children and young people aged 0 to 25 years across a range of different settings, including nurseries, primary, secondary and special schools, and colleges. Teachers of the Deaf are also unique in that they work directly with families with pre-school children to support them in developing good language and communication skills. This requires Teachers of the Deaf to have a good knowledge of developmental milestones and the curriculum across all stages.

Most Teachers of the Deaf work in a peripatetic role, within the specialist education service for deaf children, and are commissioned and nearly always also provided by the local authority. This means that they can be deployed according to need across a local area. Deafness is a low incidence need, so this flexibility can be especially important.

As most teachers will only occasionally come across a deaf child, they are unlikely to retain the detailed knowledge needed to know what effective support for a deaf child looks like. In addition, many teachers report that the level of initial and ongoing training they receive does not provide them with the necessary experience and knowledge to ensure deaf pupils’ needs are assessed and met, and that they make good progress. Given that even mild deafness can have a major impact on a child’s outcomes, expert advice and support from a Teacher of the Deaf can help to ensure that all deaf children succeed.

The needs of deaf children

Teachers of the Deaf are also able to respond to the diverse needs and characteristics of deaf children. For example, deaf children will vary in terms of:

  • levels and types of deafness, ranging from mild to profound and including temporary and unilateral (one-sided) deafness
  • technologies used, such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, radio aids and middle ear implants
  • communication approaches, such as oral, British Sign Language (BSL), Sign Supported English (SSE) and cued speech
  • languages used, with research suggesting that around 12 per cent of deaf children speak English as an additional language
  • prevalence of other additional needs, with Government figures suggesting that around 20 per cent of deaf children have a secondary educational need.

Whilst most deaf children attend mainstream schools, a large number (around 12 per cent) attend special schools not specifically for deaf children. Research has shown that where children have a range of complex needs, deafness can be overlooked, leaving parents feeling that their child’s needs are not being looked at holistically. Again, Teachers of the Deaf can play an important role in providing advice and support to special schools to meet the needs of deaf students.

How can a Teacher of the Deaf support school staff?

Peripatetic Teachers of the Deaf can provide advice to teachers, teaching assistants and other education staff. This could take the form of strategies to ensure access to teaching and learning so that deaf pupils make good progress (including delivering INSET training) or strategies to help children at SEN support stage, within the “assess, plan, do, review” cycle.

On a practical level, Teachers of the Deaf can share knowledge about how to improve classroom acoustics and reduce background noise, to create a better listening environment for deaf pupils. They can also advise on differentiating the curriculum so that deaf children are able to participate – for example, adjusting the teaching of phonics to take into account any challenges in hearing different phonemes.

Deaf children are four times more likely to experience emotional health and wellbeing issues, often arising from communication difficulties with peers. Teachers of the Deaf can suggest ways to reduce deaf children’s vulnerability to bullying, isolation, abuse and low self-esteem.

Wider support offered by peripatetic Teachers of the Deaf includes:

  • providing direct teaching support to deaf children where additional one-to-one tutoring is needed to support classroom teaching
  • identifying which specialist assessments are most suitable for deaf children, carrying them out and analysing the results
  • making appropriate arrangements to ensure deaf pupils are not at a disadvantage when taking tests such as SATs and GCSEs
  • contributing to an education, health and care (EHC) needs assessment for a deaf child – legislation requires that a Teacher of the Deaf must be involved in any such assessment
  • delivering deaf awareness training to other pupils and staff
  • supporting and training teaching assistants and communication support workers, and ensuring they make an effective contribution to deaf pupils’ progress
  • checking that any technology, such as radio aids, is being used appropriately and troubleshooting any problems
  • providing resources to use within the classroom, either developed by themselves or drawing from those developed by other organisations
  • engaging with other professionals (such as audiology services, cochlear implant centres, speech and language therapists, social workers and mental health services) to ensure they all provide effective support in meeting the needs of deaf children.

What difference does a Teacher of the Deaf make?

The important role of Teachers of the Deaf has been recognised by Ofsted in a number of thematic reviews.

In its 2012 Communication Is the Key survey report, Ofsted said: “Teachers of the Deaf had high levels of expertise and played a pivotal role in providing and coordinating support. They promoted deaf awareness among school staff working daily with deaf children, who did not all have expertise in this area. This ensured that they understood the communication needs of the individual children and that the necessary resources were put in place to meet their needs.”

In an earlier inclusion report, they also said: “Pupils who worked with specialist teachers made greater academic progress than when they had to rely on other types of support, including teaching assistants. Specialist teachers gave a high level of skilled support, both academically and socially to individual pupils. They also liaised closely with other professionals and parents, and carefully monitored the work of teaching assistants.”

Many services participate in an outcomes benchmarking exercise so that they can identify the impact that they have on deaf children’s progress and to identify where they need to go further. Quality standards are also in place to outline good practice.

How can I get support from a Teacher of the Deaf?

Services for deaf children are funded through the “high needs block”, which means that support from Teachers of the Deaf should be provided free at the point of delivery to all state-funded schools (including academies), subject to eligibility criteria. Most services will have established eligibility criteria setting out the different levels of support that deaf children will receive. Good services will have a particular focus on those deaf children who are at risk of not developing good outcomes in language and communication.

If you are working with a deaf child and not already in contact with a Teacher of the Deaf, you should contact the local authority specialist education service for deaf children, whose details should be available on the local authority’s website. You can also contact the National Deaf Children’s Society if you are having difficulties accessing support from a Teacher of the Deaf or would like any other information or support about deaf children’s education.

Further information

Ian Noon, who is deaf himself, is Head of Policy and Research for the National Deaf Children’s Society:

If you are considering training as a Teacher of the Deaf or if you would like more information about the role, visit the website of the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf:

Photos courtesy of NDCS.

This article uses the word “deaf” to refer to all levels and types of hearing loss.


1: McCay, V. (2005), Fifty years of research on the intelligence of deaf and hard-of-hearing children: a review of the literature and discussion of implications. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 10 (3).

2: Ofsted (2006) Inclusion: Does it matter where pupils are taught?


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