Educating deaf children

Deaf Awareness Week

Deaf Awareness Week – 4th to 10th May 2015

The NDCS (National Deaf Children’s Society) has this week announced that there is evidence to show that deaf children with mild to moderate hearing loss ‘struggle in classrooms‘, mostly caused by poor acoustics and a lack of understanding by staff (you can read a summary and a link to the full article here).

The initial report is shocking enough – mostly because it absolutely highlights, for me, how very little has changed since I was a child in mainstream education. While the report focuses – and quite rightly so – on what needs to be done to improve matters for deaf children in education NOW and in the future, today I’d like to write about the implications of what has been noted, particularly if things do not change.

In a nutshell, deaf children will continue to struggle at school. They will continue to leave with lower qualifications, substantially worse access to further and higher education, and lower prospects for success in careers and life (although, as Charlie Swinbourne has written, many are currently wondering if they should even bother to strive for a career).

This makes access for mature (over 21) deaf students to Further – and then from there – Higher education even more crucial. It is the only way, that if the measures above are NOT addressed, that deaf people have any kind of chance of redressing their poor education, of learning what they need to learn, in order to get on in life and succeed. Deaf people already have so much stacked against them that really, they need every single positive tick on their side in the education box to help them. [and yes, I count myself in that criteria as well.]

The troubles besetting deaf people’s access to higher education have been fairly well publicised – the challenges to Disbled Student’s Allowance, for example. The changes to further education have been less well publicised, less well known, perhaps because they aren’t aimed specifically at deaf people, but at further education in general. But they will impact on deaf people just as hard, mostly because – and I have no statistics to back this up – I suspect that proportionally, deaf people would be more likely to need to access further education when they left school.

I had a substantial chat with someone who works in further education about the impact of these cuts on deaf people. Naming no names, or the institution, or even the location as this is happening across the country (to the person that I had the chat with though: thank you for all this information!) This is what has been happening:

1. EMA has been cut – in England at least (it is still available in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). Education Maintenance Allowance used to be given to help young people with the costs of studying in further education. Instead, in England, there is a bursary for those aged 16-19. You can also get a loan if you are over the age of 24 to help with career development. If you’re aged 19-24, you’re outta luck. This is general, by the way, not specific to deaf people, BUT, as my contact pointed out: the general cuts to funding ‘all affected the deaf and people with disabilities disproportionately, as they are generally less privileged and less well off, so it becomes the death of a thousand cuts…’.

2. Additional Learning Support is the term given to all disabled students, a generic term covering the various technologies and personal support that can be given to disabled people to assist them in learning environments – that’s schools, FE colleges, universities, the lot. Here’s the thing though: in FE colleges, funding for ALS is provided by the local authority. That means that every time someone applies to go to college with a disability, their needs are identified, and then someone from the college has to go to the Local Authority and ask for that funding.

That funding isn’t ringfenced.

Too often the local authority, struggling with cuts all over, with too many things they need to cover and nowhere near enough money, simply tries to deny, or only partially grant the package of ALS that is requested by the college. While there has to be accountability, they seem to too often query the level of support given, with financial motivations, rather than the motivations of what’s best for the person (which is as it should be). Greater amounts of work need to be put into ALS requests, which can lead to disabled students being undervalued, or worse, being actively resented because of the additional work that is required.

At the same time, colleges, which, like the local authorities, have had their budges slashed, are looking to actually make money from disabled students, from the ALS. If they can make a discrepancy between what the student’s requirements actually cost and what they get from the local authority, then they essentially make a profit from the student. Which makes the local authority question the budgets for ALS more tightly, which… oh, you can all see where this is going, can’t you?

Decisions on ALS are also often being made late, which means that the support teams in colleges often just don’t have time to find and bring in the appropriate person – which means that support teams are chronically understaffed, underpaid, and overworked.

3. Factor in the fact that FE colleges have had their budgets cut so badly (up to 40% in some cases), that 190,000 adult education places will be lost, and the picture looks truly, truly bleak.


What does all that mean for deaf people?

Very simply, this. Imagine you’re one of these children, highlighted by the NDCS, that leaves school with less than stellar qualifications, even if you’re actually pretty intelligent and capable of a lot more. You struggle, you manage to find a job you enjoy, and you work hard. But you watch people being promoted over you. You wonder why, you talk to people, and it transpires that you don’t have the qualifications needed to be promoted, even though you have the capability. So you think about going to college in order to get those qualifications.

Good luck with that one. Colleges have warned that by 2020, adult education simply will not exist in England.

By driving forward with these cuts, the government is condemning deaf people. Condemning them to a childhood with poorer access to education, to leaving school with poorer qualifications, poorer prospects of a good job. Poorer access to further and higher education, which could make the difference to a good job. Poorer assistance with the job, in making the difference so that deaf people actually CAN do the job, regardless of their hearing loss. Poorer help with benefits, so that, if after a lifetime of being given these poorer chances, you can’t find a job, you’re kicked when you’re down anyway.

… death of a thousand cuts indeed.



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