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Wednesday, 2 December 2020

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Schools and colleges urged to urgently prepare as deaf children face ‘challenge of their educational lifetimes’

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THE gulf between deaf and hearing children’s grades could get even wider unless schools and colleges act quickly before they return, three organisations have said.

In an open letter to schools and colleges across England, the National Deaf Children’s Society, the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf and the National Sensory Impairment Partnership say that deaf children must be supported as they try to catch up after months without access to education.

Deaf pupils already face a range of challenges and many underachieve compared to their peers, even though deafness isn’t a learning disability.

The organisations say the gap in achievement could get even wider after the coronavirus pandemic made it impossible for many deaf children to access vital technology or get support from the specialist staff they rely on.

The letter also raises concerns that despite the best efforts of schools, many resources offered for learning at home were simply not accessible to those deaf pupils that need subtitles or translation into British Sign Language.

As a result, all three organisations are calling on schools and colleges across England to make sure all the necessary steps are taken now to meet the challenges deaf pupils will face when they return.

A key recommendation is making sure that the necessary precautions are put in place to give deaf children safe access to the support staff and technology they rely on. The organisations warn against one-size-fits-all policies that do not take into account the needs of individual deaf children.

The letter also asks schools and colleges to hold detailed discussions with specialist staff, including Teachers of the Deaf, parents and deaf children themselves to work out the best ways to meet their needs and enable them to catch up on what they’ve missed.

It also raises some of the issues associated with the resources that children were given to learn from at home and offers advice on how to make sure they’re accessible for deaf pupils moving forward in the event of local lockdowns or moves to a mix of online and face-to-face learning.

Ian Noon, Chief Policy Advisor for the National Deaf Children’s Society, said:

“Every pupil in England has been excluded from education this year, but this is nothing new to deaf children, many of whom have already seen their support slashed in recent years.

“As education returns, we cannot allow deaf pupils to go without the support and technology they desperately rely on. They’re facing the challenge of their educational lifetime to catch-up and they must not be left to do it alone.

“Schools and colleges need to make sure the necessary technology and key support staff that deaf children rely on are in place as soon as they can. They also need to consult with specialist staff, parents and deaf pupils themselves to make sure they can catch up quickly.

“With support from the Government, which has an important role to play, education providers can give every deaf pupil the chance they deserve to reach their potential, even in these challenging times.

“Education is a right, not a privilege, and that doesn’t change because you’re deaf.”

Steph Halder, President of the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf, said:

“It is crucial that the needs of deaf pupils are borne in mind in all the discussions about returning to school. This includes issues such as the implications of wearing face coverings, remote learning, the vital role of specialist external support and the importance of deaf pupils being fully involved in any catch-up activities which must be tailored to their needs to be effective.

“The involvement of Qualified Teachers of the Deaf is therefore essential.”

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