What are the implications of the #SENDReview for deaf children?

with Justin Cooke, National Children's Deaf Society

I’ve got two deaf boys. They’ve experienced some of the best and the worst that the English SEND system has to offer, under both the current system and the one that preceded it. 

The problems my kids experienced are the same as tens of thousands of deaf children experience each and every year.

So what will the SEND Review do about it? Here’s a whistlestop guide, from Justin Cooke at the National Deaf Children’s Society.

What could the #SENDReview mean for deaf children? by Justin Cooke NDCS

Coming up with a clear answer on what the SEND review proposals may mean for deaf children is not easy. There are a lot of proposals in the consultation. There are also lots of detail that the Department from Education will need to work out before they see the light of day in a school.

But from our early analysis, there is some good news and we think some of the proposals have real potential to improve the current system for deaf children. However, there are also some big gaps where we would like to see more action taken. 

The positives in the Green Paper

So, starting with the positives , there are two big one. One at the start and one at the end of a child’s school education that we warmly welcome.

  • Checks for two-year-olds

The plans to review and strengthen the checks that take place when a child is aged two, is a move we have been calling for here at The National Deaf Children's Society. We would like to see the involvement of specialist roles within these checks, such as Teachers of the Deaf.

We know that when this happens, it can make a real difference. At the moment, it is very ad hoc whether Teachers of the Deaf are included in these checks, so putting them on a more statutory footing is very welcome.

  • Improved career guidance

The Department also want to improve careers guidance for young people with SEND, something that our Deaf Works Everywhere campaign has been calling for over many years. The proposals look to tie in with local school improvement plans that should, when the guidance is drafted, take into account SEN and local disability employment gaps. We see potential here to make a real difference to deaf young people’s transition from education to work, if they get it right.

We are also cautiously optimistic about some of the structural changes proposed to the SEND system.

Potentially positive structural changes

Creating ‘national standards’ around how deaf children are supported, could end the postcode lottery of finding and staying in a SEND-friendly school. We think, reading between the lines, this looks like it may include setting out the reasonable adjustments mainstream schools are expected to make for disabled children. This would be a good thing if it helped deaf children get more consistent access to things like radio aids, visits from Teachers of Deaf children and British Sign Language (BSL) classes for families who need it. At the moment, the support you get as a deaf child very much depends on where you live, rather than what you need. (see our interactive map for more!)

However, this is one of the major proposals in the Green Paper where a lot more information is required. Will national standards simply mean lower standards? Will they raise underperforming schools and local authorities up to higher standards? Will they be detailed enough to take into account the needs of children with low incidence requirements such as deaf children, or will they be generic and so risk some children falling through the gaps?

Missing support for specialist teachers

But even being cautiously optimistic about some of these changes, there are still gaps which we see as worrying and on which we think the Department needs to think again.

We think that Teachers of the Deaf have a key role to play in the SEND system for deaf children. Disappointingly, there is very little in the SEND Review about the role that they, and other specialist support roles, play beyond SENCOs. We think this is a missed opportunity and were hoping to see action to reverse the massive decline we’ve seen in numbers of Teachers of the Deaf over the last ten years.

And with this decline being mirrored in other specialist support roles, the DfE really does need to have a look again at how it supports and funds these vital services. Specialist staff enable mainstream teachers to teach SEND children and schools to embrace inclusion - focusing on SENCOs alone is not enough.

Missing detail on improving teacher training

We would also have liked to see more improvements to teacher training so that all teachers have a better understanding of SEND and an awareness of the changes they may need to make to their teaching practice. Knowing when and where to go to get specialist help is also vital and could be addressed through training.

Deaf young people have told us that better deaf awareness within the classroom is the number one thing which would make school easier for them. This is why they’ve started their own campaign and petition calling on the Department to improve teacher training.

As with so many consultations of this scope, there are many other changes that could affect deaf children, particularly when you look at the interactions between the Green Paper and the Schools White Paper.

But the bottom line is the Department needs to get this right, they need to make improvements for deaf children and for all children with SEND. The current system is letting them down and denying them the education that they deserve.

So, I would urge you to read the proposals, respond to the consultation, and write to your MP. This is our chance to improve the system and we need to take it.

Note: The new SEND figures are out tomorrow. Because of changes to the details being reported, our usual review post will be slightly delayed until Monday, so we can give it proper attention.

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Matt Keer
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