Theme 3 of the Support for Learning review is “Maintaining focus, but overcoming fragmentation”. It is a shorter section, covering only two A4 sheets, but addresses an important issue. How do we ensure specialist knowledge and experience is available in the system for those who need it, without creating “silos” and giving the impression that additional support for learning is only for specialists?
In this, my second blog post to mark Deaf Awareness Week 2019, I wanted to look at the rights of deaf pupils at school. What are those rights, and how does that translate into actual support for deaf pupils in reality?
A child or young person has additional support needs if they require additional support in order to benefit from school education (Section 1, Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004). This applies to all children and young people for whose school education a Scottish education authority are responsible. So, anyone at a local authority school or nursery, or placed at an independent or grant-aided special school by their local authority.
The type of additional support which may be required will vary from one deaf pupil to another, but the education authority has a duty to make “adequate and efficient” provision for those needs, whatever they happen to be (Section 4(1)(a) of the 2004 Act). The Code of Practice, for example, makes specific reference to support from a “peripatetic teacher of the deaf” (Chapter 2, para 13).
Also of relevance is the Equality Act 2010, which imposes a reasonable adjustment duty on schools in relation to disabled pupils – including deaf pupils. This duty applies to all schools in Scotland, whether they are public schools, grant-aided schools or independent schools. Again, what constitutes a reasonable adjustment for one deaf pupil will not necessarily mean that it is appropriate for another. It all depends on the individual child or young person, their needs and their preferences.
The Technical Guidance for Schools in Scotland does have some useful and instructive examples. At para 6.40, there is an example of a deaf pupil who reads lips – in that case “a reasonable adjustment would have been to train all staff to ensure that they face the pupil when speaking to him”. At 6.48, a list of potential reasonable adjustments includes “Assistance from a sign language interpreter, lip-speaker or deaf-blind communicator”.
Whether relying on the rights found in the 2004 Act or the 2010 Act, deaf pupils and their families have access to various dispute resolution mechanisms, including mediation, independent adjudication and the Health and Education Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (also known as the Additional Support Needs Tribunal).
I spoke to Alasdair O’Hara, Head of Policy and Influencing at the National Deaf Children’s Society (Scotland) , in order to get an idea of the current picture of support for deaf pupils in Scotland’s schools:
Deafness isn’t a learning disability and we know that deaf children can do just as well in life as any other child, so long as they get the right support.
Deafness is a low incidence need with 87% of deaf children and young people educated within mainstream schools, meaning those professionals and teachers that support deaf pupils often require access to specialist expertise such as Teachers of the Deaf.
The latest Scottish Government data shows that deaf young people are now 30% less likely to collect Highers or Advanced Highers than their hearing classmates, with only 42% deaf young people collecting the qualifications, compared to 60% of their classmates.
The data also shows that 10% of deaf children will now leave school with no qualifications at all, and are half as likely to go to university as their hearing friends.
To work towards closing this unacceptable attainment gap, other simple improvements can be made in mainstream education settings. Good classroom acoustics, deaf pupils having access to technology and ensuring teachers are deaf aware and know how to use the technology correctly are all vital in supporting a deaf child’s learning.
This tells me that while there is a good level of inclusion for deaf pupils within mainstream schools, more could still be done to ensure that there is a level playing field, allowing them to access education on the same terms as their hearing peers. Last year, the Tribunal reported only one case which concerned a deaf pupil. Where additional support and/or reasonable adjustments required are not in place, pupils and parents alike should be made aware of their rights – and how to enforce them.
Today marks the start of Deaf Awareness Week – a week aimed at promoting the positive aspects of deafness and the benefits of social inclusion. Organised by the UK Council on Deafness, this annual campaign brings together all organisations that work in the field and highlights the wide range of support available for deaf people and their families and friends.
This year’s theme is ‘celebrating role models’ across all sectors – with a different focus each day. Today is the turn of ‘Education and Employment’, so it seemed apt that I take the opportunity to recognise those that have, and continue to, inspire and educate me.
As many of you will know my work often sees me advocating for the rights of children with additional support needs, including those who are deaf. Deaf children have the right to additional support to enable them to benefit from school education. They are also entitled to reasonable adjustments which minimize or remove disadvantages arising from their disability while at school. But these rights mean little without individuals committed to making them a reality.
I have recently had an opportunity to work alongside the staff and management at Donaldson’s School – and have heard from parents about the excellent work they do with Deaf pupils who have autism or other additional support needs as well.
I also continue to work with the tireless family support workers at NDCS Scotland, who provide a national support service to families of deaf children throughout the country. Their commitment, knowledge and dedication is much appreciated by the families I know who have benefited from their input.
And, of course, there are teachers in classrooms across Scotland, implementing small (and not so small) changes which positively impact the lives of deaf children, and those with other additional support needs.
Who are your education role models?