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Half Of Deaf Children Not Receiving Specialist Teaching Support In Pandemic

January 4, 2021

One in two deaf children in England are not getting necessary specialist teaching support since returning to school in September, The Independent can reveal, amid warnings that pupils with hearing loss are at risk of falling behind.

Before the pandemic, about two-thirds (67 per cent) of deaf children usually had visits from a teacher of the deaf (ToD), but only half of these pupils (51 per cent) are currently receiving the support they need during the pandemic’s second wave, according to a national poll of parents by the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS).

Since going into year 2, six-year-old Liam has been asking his mother, Brodie Kingston, when his teacher will be coming in to see him. She’s had to explain that she won’t be able to come to his school – an academy in Stoke-on-Trent where he’s the only deaf child – because of the pandemic; the school told her they were informed that social distancing rules meant she would not be able to visit.

The visits have been stopped across the country for a range of reasons, according to the NDCS, who clarified that they did not have data on how many schools versus local authorities were making the decision. The charity said that several local authorities have said the decision lies with individual schools, while some schools will only allow the teacher to come if it is the only school they’re visiting that day. Additionally, some specialist teachers have not been able to make appointments because they have been self-isolating.Advertisement

The specialist teacher’s support has been hugely important for Liam, both socially and educationally. 

“Sadly, deaf children are bullied a lot,” Brodie says. “His ToD has been brilliant. Last year she spoke to an assembly about inclusivity, explained how hearing aids work, told the kids they shouldn’t touch them or pull them out – things like that.” She thinks the talk had a really positive impact on Liam’s experience at the mainstream school.

Brodie says Liam’s ToD was crucial in helping to instruct teachers how to make their classes inclusive of pupils with hearing loss.

Since she hasn’t been able to come in this year, Brodie says the teachers haven’t been properly trained in how to use Liam’s radio set, which allows him to hear the teacher clearly above classroom noise. about:blankabout:blankjavascript:void(0)javascript:void(0)about:blankabout:blank

“He’s had to show them how it works himself, but as you can imagine, six-year-olds aren’t the best at training teachers how to use a bit of tech,” she says.

Liam’s mum is worried that he’s already falling behind: his reading has dropped a level and, at a recent parent-teachers meeting, his teacher said she felt he seems less confident than he did last year.

“This is such a key time for him to be learning, especially with his reading, and he’s missing out on all of that because the teachers haven’t had the correct training,” Brodie says when we speak over the phone. “I think it’s going to make him struggle for the rest of his school life.”

Before the pandemic, a ToD would visit Linda Goodwin’s 14-year-old daughter, Jessica, once a term at her grammar school in Kent. They would assess her progress together, as well as discuss any issues she might have be having.

“She looks after her socially as well – that’s a hugely important part of what the ToD does, making sure she’s socially included, not suffering any bullying or any issues, which is fantastic,” Linda says. She also worries that her daughter, who relies on lip-reading in loud environments, is feeling excluded by the need for face masks in the school corridors.

Since returning to school, Jess has not received a visit from the teacher because of social distancing concerns. The school said that they have made efforts to allow the appointment, but as a result of the school’s learning bubble arrangements, the teacher said the room available for the meeting was too small.

Linda says the impact on her daughter’s school experience has been immediately obvious, stressing the importance of the visits in reminding and advising teachers about how they can make their lessons fully inclusive.

Earlier this term, Jessica failed a German language listening test because her teacher, forgetting he had a pupil who needed an adjustment, didn’t give her a transcript.

“Jess is just a typical teenager – she didn’t want to speak up in class and draw attention to herself,” Linda tells The Independent. She says the school, who have always been very supportive, were apologetic about the incident and the parent says she appreciates that teachers have a lot to deal with at the moment.

In light of the poll, the NDCS highlighted serious concerns that 13,000 deaf children – who already achieve less than hearing children at every stage of school and an entire grade less at GCSE on average – will fall even further behind in their education because of this lack of support.  

Allison Allan’s 12-year-old daughter, Holly, who attends a special school in Derbyshire, normally only sees her ToD once a term. Now the only contact she has with the specialist teacher is over video call, as the local authority has advised peripatetic staff to work remotely where possible. For Holly, who has Down’s syndrome, this substitution doesn’t offer much support – her mum says she’s unable to concentrate for long when the session is delivered through a screen.

“Holly’s a sociable person. Having the in-person interaction is so important to her,” Allison explains. “Having a hearing difficulty, so much comes down to body language and expression and tone for her … There’s so much more going on that she can pick up on.”

Physical communication is a key form of interaction for Holly. “Her favourite thing to watch on the telly is Mr Bean because it’s all physical comedy – there’s very little dialogue and she can follow what’s going on,” Allison says. “There are so many more ways to communicate than just verbally.”

Allison worries that the lack of in-person support will have a long-term impact on her daughter’s development; she says Holly has been struggling with pronouncing words.

“Holly’s never really done lip-reading. She’s just a lot better face-to-face with someone,” she adds.

Ian Noon, head of policy at the NDCS, said: “Schools and local authorities are working hard to adjust in difficult times, but they have a legal responsibility to make reasonable adjustments and stop any deaf children falling through the cracks.”

He emphasised that deaf children already achieve lower grades on average than hearing children throughout school – without the crucial visits from specialist teachers, “many will be left to struggle on alone”.

He said: “The government has made it very clear that specialist teachers should continue to support deaf children, so we expect every school and every local authority up and down the country to make sure this is happening.

“We cannot have a situation where any child is abandoned by the very system that should be providing for them, but this is very much the reality thousands of deaf children are now facing.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “Our guidance is clear that schools should accommodate visiting specialists, and that specialists, therapists, clinicians and other support staff should provide interventions as usual for all children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, including deaf children.”

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