In February, Prime Minister Theresa May said that the country needs an education system “which serves the needs of every child”, while the Department for Education’s vision is to provide a world-class education for everyone, “whatever their background.”
Despite the Government’s promises however, councils and schools are facing a growing struggle to fund the services that deaf children need. Meanwhile, the attainment gap between deaf and hearing children is increasing.
Deafness isn’t a learning disability, but on average deaf children fall a grade behind their hearing classmates at GCSE. Only two in five will achieve two A-levels by the age of 19, compared to two thirds of other young people.
Much of their educational support comes from Teachers of the Deaf, but in the past four years alone, one in 10 have been cut. Almost one in seven councils now report these teachers have caseloads of over 100 deaf children.
To make matters worse, over a third of local authorities plan to cut their budgets for deaf children’s services this year. More than £4 million of support for deaf children will be lost, with schools getting less support for their deaf students and teachers from specialist Teachers of the Deaf.
On Thursday September 13th, MPs from every major party met to debate the crisis engulfing deaf children’s education. The challenges are great, but there are simple steps the Government can take to tackle this head on.
1) Relax the rules on school funding
Current rules mean almost all ‘schools block’ funding is ring-fenced, meaning less than 1% can be transferred to special educational needs education, where funding pressures are greatest.
If ring-fencing rules were relaxed, a local authority could move money to where it was needed most – whether this was support in a school, or externally to special schools or hearing impaired units.
2) Introduce a centralised bursary for Teachers of the Deaf
Deaf children rely on specialist Teachers of the Deaf to help them develop language and communication skills in early life. They also provide crucial advice and support for deaf pupils, parents and schools. As deafness is a less common disability, many schools may have little or no experience with deaf pupils, meaning the specialist training and support provided by Teachers of the Deaf is in invaluable. SENCOs in school are a vital resource, but they can’t be expected to replicate the role of a specialist Teacher of the Deaf.
However, the number of these teachers has fallen by 14% over the past seven years and more than half of those remaining will retire in the next 15 years. Caseloads are already way beyond reasonable limits, but as staff numbers continue to fall, local authorities struggle to recruit.
If the Department for Education set up a central bursary scheme to fund the training costs of new Teachers of the Deaf, it would solve both problems and help local authorities and schools to support every deaf child, and for a relatively small cost.
3) Incentivise local authorities to work together
For those rarer disabilities like deafness, it’s essential for local authorities to work together and share resources. With councils collaborating and working more closely across their regions, overheads for services are reduced, and more funds are available to directly support deaf children and their families on the ground. Crucially, this can also improve the commissioning of special school placements for deaf children.
4) Strengthen accountability
Until recently, there was virtually no scrutiny of the quality of support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). New inspections of local area SEND provision were introduced in 2016, but detailed references to deaf children have been rare in final reports.
To address this, Ofsted needs to start carrying out ad-hoc in-depth inspections of different services for specific groups of children with SEND, alongside existing local area inspections. This would also help local authorities and schools to ensure they were getting the most out of their resources.
We also need to take a closer look at how well schools are meeting the needs of deaf children. Education Secretary Damian Hinds recently asked Ofsted to consider how schools can be better held to account on how they support pupils with SEND – and we agree.
To succeed in life, deaf children just need the same chances as everyone else. Whilst the current barriers to achieving this may be substantial, they are not insurmountable.
The Department for Education must act quickly and make vital changes if it is to fulfil its promise of a world class education for everyone – and avoid leaving England’s 45,000 deaf children behind.