Accessing high quality education is absolutely vital for every child, hearing or deaf. Yet on average, a deaf child falls a whole grade behind their hearing friends at school. This isn’t because deafness is a learning disability. It isn’t. It’s because although deaf children can achieve anything anyone else can – they need the right support, right from the start.
That support can come in many different forms. But chief among them is the specialist Teacher of the Deaf. Teachers of the Deaf are highly qualified staff who do everything from providing intensive one-to-one tuition, organising specialist technology in the classroom, and training classroom teachers to be able to communicate with a deaf child. On top of this, they’re a huge support to parents, to families of deaf children and to deaf young people themselves.
But recently published research by the Consortium for Research in Deaf Education (CRIDE) shows that this support network, that is imperative for the future of 45,000 deaf children across England, is under threat from many different angles.
The research shows that in the last seven years, despite a 31% increase in the number of deaf children that councils have a legal duty to assess and provide support for, the number of Teachers of the Deaf has been cut by 14%. These aren’t isolated cuts in one area. 68% of councils have made cuts since 2011.
While this data is enough to cause concern for all of us working with deaf children, this is not the end of the story. On top of cuts to support, a third of councils are also finding it increasingly difficult to recruit new staff to posts they want to keep. Demographics play a part too. 60% of all Teachers of the Deaf are due to retire in the next 10 to 15 years.
Adding each of these pressures together means only one thing: deaf children not getting the support on which they so desperately rely.
Over a quarter of services now have one specialist teacher for over 80 students. In 15% of services, there is one teacher for over 100 students. Talking to Teachers of the Deaf themselves, I know one teacher cannot properly and effectively support more than 100 students. Sometimes it’s many more than this. And at the end of the day, it is deaf children and their families who will suffer the most from this.
The sheer numbers of students being supported means that corners will be cut. There will be less time spent in the classroom, less time spent supporting families as a whole, and fewer opportunities to work with health professionals to give each deaf child the proper support they need
This means that many families find themselves in increasingly difficult situations, such as Caroline who has a four year old daughter who is deaf. She told us that due to cuts to the service in her area she feels ‘completely failed by the system’. This is a heartbreaking, but sadly not an isolated response.
This situation cannot continue. At the National Deaf Children’s Society, we are calling on the Government to take two actions. Firstly, to set up a centralised bursary to fund trainee Teachers of the Deaf, alongside a concerted recruitment drive to get more of them into the classroom.
Secondly, the Department for Education must properly fund the education of deaf children in order to get a grip on the mounting funding crisis that is putting so many deaf children’s futures at risk.
Without action we face one of the biggest crises for deaf children I have seen in my lifetime. As Damian Hinds, the new Secretary of State for Education, gets to grips with his brief, I can only hope he gives a thought to deaf children across the country. He must act now to ensure deaf children get the vital support they need – anything less is unacceptable.