Education28th February 2016

Mainstream Education Continues To Generate Unfair Results

With under half of deaf students achieving 5 A*-C GCSEs, options for higher education becomes limited

by Sarah Lawrence, Editor

Let’s talk education of our deaf youngsters. A few weeks ago, the 2015 exam results became formally agreed, allowing examination of the official results by different categories of students – boys/girls; race; disability; hearing impairment (their description, not mine). Raising little public interest or challenge, the under-achievements of deaf students went largely unnoticed. Why should anyone care you might ask?

Well education has always been important, but in the mid 1990’s Tony Blair raised it to the top of the Government priority list because he acknowledged the impact education has on whole life experiences (cradle to grave). In the Deaf community we know all about that. Delivering his speech to party conference in October 1996, Blair told us all, "Ask me my three main priorities for government, and I tell you: education, education, education."

In other speeches, Blair rightly talked about the importance of a good education:

“(we need good education)…….To overcome decades of neglect and make Britain a learning society, developing the talents and raising the ambitions of all our young people.”

“We have one asset - our people, their intelligence, their potential. Develop it, we succeed, neglect it, we fail.”

The more you learn, the more you earn. It is your way to do well out of life - your route to jobs, to growth, to the combination of technology and know-how that will transform our lives.”

“They say give me the boy at seven, I’ll show you the man at 70.”

Twenty years later, the UK languishes well down the international league table, leading Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education at the time the new Pisa league table was published, to tell us, "Our performance in these league tables has been at best, stagnant, at worst declining. In the latest results we are 21st amongst 65 participants in the world for science, 23rd for reading and 26th for mathematics," a performance well below what a country like the UK should aspire to achieve, you might think.

It is against this background of education as a whole in the global arena, that the achievements of deaf students must be examined.

Deaf people like me know that below average educational achievements by Deaf students, is not about their brain power. We are ‘Deaf not Daft’ after all. Any difference in achievement between deaf and hearing students should not be blamed on deaf children. If we are to assign blame, it should be aimed at advice given to parents from the point at which their child is found to be deaf, teaching methods, teaching culture, and failed policies and procedures that underpin a deaf child’s social and educational development.

The current achievements of our deaf youngsters is about ineffective communication in those all important first months and years of life, and then teaching methods that still don’t match each deaf child’s intellect. This is happening despite the ever increasing number of deaf students wearing the latest digital hearing aids or cochlear implants, and the improved chances of effective communication in a hearing world (school) that is promised to accompany that. Just why is mainstream education still suppressing Deaf achievement?

Policy and practice in the area of teaching deaf children remains largely unchanged over many years, despite Government prioritisation of education and the continuing under-achievement of deaf students. It seems Blair and his predecessors didn’t mean deaf education when they got on their soap boxes promising improvement!

So, what is the position today on educational outcomes?  In the key area of achieving five GCSE’s (including Maths and English) at grades A* to C, 41% of deaf children hit this mark compared to 57% of other mainstream students.

Assessment of the results over the last six academic years shows no little real improvement, meaning that not enough deaf children get the grades they need to access 6th Form Education and University after that.

Despite this stagnation, nothing seems to be changing. Full signatories to UN Conventions on the Education of our deaf children, the Government response and interest in deaf education seems woeful. The problem it seems is just too difficult to resolve, so things just stay the same.

If the results of deaf children were representative of the overall mainstream results, I have no doubt that scrutiny would fall quickly on the quality and methods of teaching. The national media would be all over the story, giving front page space to what would be seen as an outrage. And yet, because these are deaf children we are talking about, nobody in a position of influence is in the least bit interested. Deaf children are not worth the effort it seems.

For me, this is front page news, not just for deaf school children, but also for the implications it has for adult education, when deaf people might want to make good on their school education later in life. The outcome for the study of English in school is so key to deaf people later accessing adult education, that failure in school will undoubtedly hinder a deaf person’s access to lifelong learning.

Everyone involved in educating Deaf children needs help and support to turn this around. Plans must include parents who play such a key role in achieving successful outcomes at Year 11. School Inspectors need expertise in assessing teaching methods and Deaf academics must lead on the development of a blue print for education of Deaf children. Somehow, the Government needs to be held to account, because without that challenge, nothing seems to be changing.

What will success look like? Success will be Deaf children achieving their full academic potential, and that means getting the same results as all other mainstream students.

Article by Sarah Lawrence, Editor

posted in Community / Education

28th February 2016