Parents call on SEND Minister to invest in deaf children missing vital support in schools

with Juliet, the mum of a profoundly deaf child

I've got two deaf children. They've left the SEND system now, having seen the absolute best and the toxic, gamma-spitting worst of it. We know, first-hand, what a life-changing difference talented specialists make to the life chances of deaf children: Teachers of the Deaf, speech and language therapists, and others.

If you read the Green Paper, you'll know that SEND system leaders bigwigs see spiralling “demand” as one of the biggest challenges the system faces. But for deaf children, they couldn't be more wrong. The growth in the number of deaf children with EHCPs is slower than the growth in the overall school population. Instead, there's a decade-long supply crisis. There aren't enough Teachers of the Deaf - because numbers have been cut, the training pipeline is tiny, the workforce is ageing, and there's no central plan to improve things. There aren't enough specialist units and special schools for the deaf, because neither central nor local government wants to invest in them.

Meanwhile, all too often, social and academic outcomes for deaf children are disgracefully poor - despite genuinely revolutionary improvements that are happening outside the SEND system. Right now, kids like mine are often disabled more by the SEND system than they are by their deafness.

This is a problem that predates the current SEND crisis. The Green Paper is desperately short of credible solutions to improve life for deaf children. But talk to parents, and they will tell you that specialist support is vital - that the solution, as early as possible and for as long as necessary, is to #SENDInTheSpecialists.

Juliet and Shikha are parents of deaf children, like me. Read what they've got to say below - and if it strikes a chord, please sign their open letter.

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Our deaf children need a level playing field at school to succeed—which means appropriate support By Juliet, the mum of a profoundly deaf child

My daughter Bess is nine and she is profoundly deaf. Together with another mum and her son, we are asking members of the public to sign our open letter for more Teachers of the Deaf.

The support we’ve received from Teachers of the Deaf - qualified teachers who have taken further training to teach deaf children - has been vital for our families. They provide support to deaf children, their parents and families, and to other professionals who are involved with a child's education, particularly mainstream schools which may only have one deaf pupil.

After Bess’s diagnosis, they supported and signposted us to other services. They were excellent in helping Bess transition from nursery to primary school. Their ability to train teachers (as well as the whole school and peers too) has been so important for Bess’s deaf identity, confidence, and her social skills.

Juliet with her daughter Bess. They are white, Juliet has shoulder-legth brown straight hair, Bess has long blonde hair. Both are smiling.
Juliet and Bess

They’ve advised the school on best practice for acoustics, trained the teachers on deaf awareness and how to use technology, and they’ve helped Bess feel included and develop friendships with her peers. It would have been extremely difficult for our family to cope without their support.

This makes it so concerning that research from the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) shows a decline of 17% in numbers of Teachers of the Deaf in England since 2011. We also know that the NDCS hears many stories from deaf young people about a lack of deaf awareness at school or college.

“Invaluable” support for families- but a post-code lottery

Shikha is the mother of Ayaan, who’s four-years-old and profoundly deaf. Like most parents of deaf children, Shikha and her husband had no previous experience of deafness. Shikha describes the support her family received from their local Teachers of the Deaf after Ayaan’s initial diagnosis, as “invaluable”.

Their Teachers of the Deaf visited them every week, supporting them emotionally, giving them advice and information about deafness, and helping to encourage Ayaan’s language and communication through play.

When Ayaan was 18 months old, the family moved to a different local authority, which saw a big change in the support they received. Shikha experienced first-hand the postcode lottery of support that exists for deaf children and their families in England. This is very unfair – every deaf child should have access to the best possible support, no matter where they live in England.

Thankfully Ayaan is now thriving at a specialist school for deaf children, where he is supported by Teachers of the Deaf every day.

Shikha and Ayaan are at the beach. Shikha wears sunglasses and is smiling. She has dark hair. Ayaan is smiling wearing a black and white t shirt
Shikha and Ayaan

Why the Government must invest in Teachers of the Deaf

The practical help and support that Ayaan, Bess and our families have received from Teachers of the Deaf since they were born has made all the difference.

The Government is currently reviewing how disabled children are supported in schools as part of its SEND Review. Shikha and I have co-written an open letter asking the Government to take urgent steps for more Teachers of the Deaf.

We agree with the National Deaf Children’s Society that the Government’s plans to reform SEND services should include:

  • action to recruit and train more Teachers of the Deaf, such as a bursary scheme
  • a workforce strategy to increase the number of specialist SEND professionals
  • deaf awareness training for all teachers and SENCOs (Special Educational Needs Coordinators).

Investing in deaf children right from the start will give them the opportunity to thrive in education, move into aspiring careers and build positive futures. We need to make sure they are given this chance. 

The stats

  • More than half of all teachers will teach a deaf child during their careers. Yet more than two-thirds of teachers say they are not confident they can do so.
  • Deafness does not impact intellectual ability, yet deaf children achieve less than their hearing classmates at every stage of school, including an entire grade lower at GCSE on average, because they do not get the right support.  
  • Sadly just 5% of teachers believe that deaf children will achieve their potential without changes to the education system.[1]
  • There are currently around 33,000 deaf children in schools across England, with the vast majority (84%) in mainstream schools. 

The Government must use the SEND review to finally level the playing field for deaf pupils by investing in more Teachers of the Deaf. Failing to do so will leave thousands of deaf children to struggle on alone.

Almost 2,000 people have already signed our letter to the Government demanding better support - #SENDInTheSpecialists.. You can read our letter here. We’d be incredibly grateful if you could join us in asking the Minister to make a change for deaf children by adding your name


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References

[1] Teacher Tapp survey of around 5,700 teachers on 13 August 2022 on behalf of the National Deaf Children’s Society.

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