Why the next government must make investing in new teachers of the deaf a priority

with Ian Noon of the National Deaf Children's Society

Why the next government must make investing in new teachers of the deaf a priority

I’ve got two deaf sons. They’re brighter than I am. They’re more focused than I am. They work harder in the course of a day than I work in a week.

They’re not unusual – but the support they’ve depended on to thrive is specialised, and it’s become increasingly hard to secure. Without that support, their life chances simply get washed away.

Today I'd like to introduce an article by Ian Noon, Chief Policy Adviser at the National Deaf Children’s Society. Ian explains why teachers of the deaf matter so much.

Making sure deaf children get the specialist support they need by Ian Noon

As a deaf adult, I feel very privileged to have had lots of high-quality support when I was younger. It helped me go to university, travel around the world and get an amazing job at the National Deaf Children’s Society where they actually pay me to write stroppy challenging letters and emails. 

I’ve always been clear that I would not have been able to do any of the above without the support of a teacher of the deaf from an early age. My parents were both new to deafness – like most other parents of deaf children. And my sister and I were the first deaf children to attend our local mainstream schools. 

Nobody literally knew anything about what to do with us. They didn’t know how to use radio aids. Their deaf awareness was elementary. It was assumed that we would never achieve anything. 

The peripatetic teacher of the deaf changed all of that. They provided emotional support to my family and got everyone focused on my language development. They knocked the teachers into shape. And, what I’m most grateful for, they instilled high expectations in everyone. We wouldn’t just ‘cope’, we were expected to thrive. 

I got lucky. Which is why I get angry that other deaf children growing up today aren’t getting the same access to Teacher of the Deaf support. 

The scale of the problem 

It’s been clear for a long time there’s been a decline in the number of qualified teachers of the deaf. And it’s now a crisis. Results from an annual survey of local authorities show there’s been a 15% decline since 2011. 

This has been happening despite the fact that the number of deaf children has been going up. In addition, too many deaf children are still struggling academically. Government figures show that deaf children on average get a grade less in their GCSEs than their hearing peers. Bearing in mind that deafness is not in itself a learning disability, there shouldn’t be any reason for any attainment gap. 

Much of this decline can be attributed to cuts. But there’s an extra complication – there’s no real incentive for anyone to invest in recruiting and training the next generation of teachers of the deaf, particularly those who work in a peripatetic role. Really, local authorities should be doing this. But with most local authorities only employing a handful of teachers of the deaf, it’s often not high on the agenda, especially when austerity abounds. 

Many local authorities can only start to recruit a new teacher of the deaf when the current one has retired. And then get a nasty surprise when they can’t find anyone. Many end up asking a new teacher of the deaf to take on the job whilst training for it at the same time. 

If this wasn’t enough, we also have a situation where over half of all Teachers of the Deaf are over the age of 50 and hence, due to retire in the next 10 to 15 years. 

Of the 45,000 deaf children across England, there are now far too many deaf children out there who are either not getting any support, or are seeing much of it cut back.

How to fix the problem 

It’s clear to us that the system is not working and that we have a problem that needs a central government response. 

So we worked with the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf to develop a proposal for a new bursary scheme to fund the training of new teachers of the deaf. We originally proposed a three-year programme at the cost of £3.3m. 

We thought, in the context of the wider education budget, £3.3m was a pretty good deal. The Department already provides bursaries to educational psychologists, where there are a number of parallels with Teachers of the Deaf. Despite this, after several months of deliberation, the previous SEND Minister, Nadmin Zahawi, rejected the proposal. 

The rationale given was that alternative funding sources were available. A closer look at these alternatives reveal that, in our view, neither are really viable alternatives, at least in the short-term. 

For example, the Minister suggested that the development of a new apprenticeship pathway for teachers of the deaf could be an option. If it could work, it could definitely be a game-changer; local authorities and schools would be able to access funding from the apprenticeship levy to defray the costs of training. 

The problem though is that no new such apprenticeship pathway is yet in place, and it’s difficult to see how it can be in place within the next two years. By which time, we will likely have seen a further drop in the number of Teachers of the Deaf. 

The other possible alternative source of funding was effectively giving trainee teachers of the deaf the option to take out a government loan to undertake the qualification. However, the intel we have is that very few trainee Teachers are likely to do this. And the loan is only available for a Masters qualification when most teachers of the deaf qualify via a post-graduate diploma. 

What next

Taking all of this into account, we resubmitted a new proposal to the new SEND Minister, responding to the above points and, in light of the work around apprenticeships, reducing the duration of the bursary to one year instead, aiming to recruit around 160 new Teachers of the Deaf. 

The National Deaf Children’s Society have also set up a new campaign action. If you want to help make sure deaf children continue to get support from teachers of the Deaf, please do let your MP know and ask them to support the campaign. 

Final thoughts 

Funding a Teacher of the Deaf bursary would show that the Government gets it. Deaf children, their families and their teachers all need specialist support from experts. Someone would have to invent teachers of the deaf if they didn’t exist. 

So it’s disappointing that there seems to have been a blind spot among the Department for Education in recent years on the specialist SEND workforce. 

A focus on upskilling mainstream teachers is important. But it can’t be the only solution for all SEND children. Most mainstream teachers will only come across a deaf child only occasionally. We found out earlier this year that 57% of schools have no deaf children in them at any one time, whilst 22% only have one deaf child enrolled. How are mainstream teachers going to learn or remember how to support deaf children if they don’t have that specialist input on call when needed?

And what happened to early intervention? Surely it’s obvious that investment in Teachers of the Deaf will help make sure that families get the support and advice they need in the early years, so that deaf children start school with good language skills? 

Investing in the voluntary and community sector is important. But it’s no substitute for funding the specialist SEND staff working on the front-line day-in day-out with families and teachers. 

As a deaf adult, this one is personal to me and I genuinely hope that the new proposal can persuade the next minister to take a different approach. Many years ago, I was a shy little deaf child trying my best. For the sake of all the same deaf children growing up today, I really hope she decides to invest in their futures. 

Finally, as it's an election period we would like to say... Let’s make this general election about what counts – improving support for disabled children. Complete our two-minute NDCS survey now and help us to put disabled children at the top of the political agenda - https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/3VC9825

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Matt Keer

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