Education29th January 2015

Education System Suppresses Deaf Achievement

Communication barriers in school deny deaf children equality of learning

by Sarah Lawrence

The deaf community has long since questioned the decision to place deaf children in mainstream education without first ensuring the education system can support their learning. More so than any other aspect of life, the ability to communicate effectively with school children is essential if deaf children are not to have inflicted upon them life limiting educational standards.

Problems with deaf education go back 135 years, when European hearing teachers gathered together in Milan to make a decision that saw sign language teaching withdrawn from nearly every school in the UK and across Europe. Ill-informed and ill-advised in light of the benefit that early signing is believed to have on the language development of deaf children, today's publication of the academic achievements of the Yr 13/14 school leavers demonstrates just how bad things are.

Shockingly for the policy makers and senior educationalists, only 36.3% of deaf children in England left secondary school having hit the national GCSE benchmarks, according to figures released by the Department of Education (DfE) today. This compares with 65.3% of their hearing classmates. Thrust into the workplace with a disability that already puts deaf applicants on the back foot with the vast majority of employers, their academically light weight CVs often means they don't even get through the paper sift, let alone get called for an interview.

Sadly, the plight of our deaf children is unlikely to reach the front pages of any of the national newspapers, with the slight worsening of the overall results due to counting changes, and the resulting political debate about those accounting changes, more likely to be the headline grabber. No-one will care that a huge percentage of the people put into our schools to support deaf children do not have signing skills above a casual conversational level. Many have no exposure to the deaf community, to deaf culture or have knowledge to signpost deaf children and their parents to deaf circles.

Deaf children are often isolated in education because they are deaf, picked on because of hearing aids or cochlear implants. Left without friendship groups or supporters in school who can communicate effectively with them, none of the essential pillars for good educational attainment are present. The most recent CRIDE report shows that the number of qualified teachers of the deaf is dropping, and the level of sign language continues at a woeful level. Critics might even question whether the tag of teacher of the deaf should be applied to some of these support workers.

Creating shock waves across a concerned deaf community, the academic results justify the questions that have been repeatedly asked by many deaf people. Rob Wilks, a deaf dad with an interest in the education of deaf children said of today's announcement, "This is extremely worrying and quite clearly illustrates that the Government's mainstreaming policy is not effective and needs a rethink before more d/Deaf children fall on the wayside as they grow up into adulthood."

Braam Jordaan, an advocate for deaf youngsters within the United Nations said of the results, "We still have a very long way to go to achieve quality education. We also need to look at the inclusive leadership in decision and policy making processes".

Tessa Padden, an experienced BSL teacher, interpreter and translator who also has a 25 year old Deaf son said, "Both Deaf and Haring babies are born with the same brains. If there are no other health issues, they should bachieve equallly, i.e. via spoken language for hearing babies and sign langauge for Deaf babies, if the Deaf baby developes more slowly, then there is something not right!"

Commenting on the figures, Susan Daniels, CEO, at the National Deaf Children’s Society said;

“Deafness is not a learning disability so having a widening gap in GCSE attainment is simply unacceptable. The dwindling support from local authorities for qualified deaf teachers is resulting in deaf children being set up to fail and lagging behind throughout their education. It’s crucial that the Government takes action to clarify how local authorities will be properly held to account for failing deaf children.”

Deaf children and their trusting parents are being let down by the education system. SLFirst believe it is high time the discriminatory and prejudiced decisions made in Milan in 1880 are urgently reconsidered. Deaf adults, teachers and intellects should be consulted to avoid the hearing world again making decisions for deaf people without the knowldge and understanding of the issues deaf people face.

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Community / Education

29th January 2015