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Coronavirus and deaf education – what you told us

Published Date: 07 Jul 2021

This academic year we’ve done three snapshot surveys to ask you about the impact of coronavirus on your deaf child’s education support. We’ve heard from hundreds of families and we want to say thank you to everyone who took the time to share their views.

Your stories are invaluable. They have shown us how coronavirus restrictions in schools and colleges are impacting deaf children and young people – and this has formed the backbone of our campaigning work on education.

What you told us

Our most recent survey closed in May, with nearly 600 responses from parents of deaf children. Here are 10 things we learned from you:

1. 39% of deaf children are still not receiving visits from their Teacher of the Deaf at school or college in the same way as before the pandemic.

2. Many Teachers of the Deaf are offering support remotely instead – however, 38% of deaf children who are not seeing their Teacher of the Deaf in person at school or college, are not seeing them virtually either

Photo: Teacher of the Deaf support

3. But many parents also told us that their child’s Teacher of the Deaf has been very supportive during the pandemic. We love hearing your stories about Teachers of the Deaf going above and beyond.

4. For those deaf children who are at a school with a resource base, 29% are not getting the same support in class or from the resource base as before the pandemic.

5. In secondary schools, 76% of teachers are wearing face masks in class with a deaf child. In colleges, this figure goes up to 85%. In primary schools, where government guidance has never recommended the use of face masks in class, 42% of teachers are still wearing masks.

Photo: Face masks/coverings at school and college

6. More than two thirds of you told us that face masks in class have a negative impact on your child’s learning and their ability to understand teachers. Most of you also feel that masks have a negative impact on your child’s emotional wellbeing and on their ability to communicate with friends.

7. 1 in 10 parents of deaf children say that teachers are currently not using their child’s radio aid.

Photo: Radio aids in education

8. Some deaf children continued to go to school or college during the last lockdown. If your child was going in, some of you felt that smaller class sizes, more one-to-one support, and more focused attention from teachers or support staff really benefited your child.

9. Many of you said that your child struggled with home learning during lockdown because of inaccessible content, or not having the support they would usually get in class. However, some of you told us that your child’s school or college had taken steps to make online teaching accessible (e.g. adding captions to virtual lessons). In that case, remote learning had some benefits for deaf children – for example: less background noise at home, less ‘listening fatigue’ compared to being in class, and a chance for children to work at their own pace.

10. In our survey we asked you what catch-up support you would like to see introduced for your child. Many of you feel that your child needs:

  • more one-to-one or small group support
  • more time with their Teacher of the Deaf
  • more extra-curricular activities and emotional support
  • better deaf awareness at school or college
  • access to speech and language therapy
Photo: Catch up support for deaf children

You said, we did

We’ve shared the findings from this survey with key stakeholders and decision-makers across the UK to make sure that they know about the best solutions for deaf children. And together with you, we’ve achieved some campaigning successes on remote learning and face coverings in education.

Remote learning

During the first lockdown, we reached out to Oak National Academy to let them know that deaf children and young people were struggling to access their online video lessons. They took on board our recommendations about accessibility and have since added subtitles to all their lessons. They’re also offering British Sign Language interpreted English and Maths lessons for younger students, and some sign language assemblies.

In Wales, we worked with Welsh Government to ensure guidance on remote school counselling highlighted accessibility considerations when working with deaf pupils. More recently, we have been responding to early discussions from some quarters around the potential to use aspects of remote learning on a permanent basis, highlighting the access difficulties experienced during the pandemic.

In Northern Ireland, following discussions with the Department of Education and the Education Authority, special guidance was produced for teachers in mainstream schools on how to ensure good remote learning for deaf children.

Face masks/coverings

Since October 2020 we’ve been asking the Department for Education in England to update their guidance on face coverings in education to reflect the needs of deaf students.

More than 1,000 of you wrote to your local MP to ask them to support this campaign. And deaf young person Dinah (17) set up a petition to urge the Government to provide clear face masks and other adjustments to deaf young people. More than 45,000 people signed it!

In March 2021, we also took the first steps in legal action against the Department for not doing enough to make sure that deaf children are not disadvantaged by the use of face masks in class.

And… you did it! In April-May 2021 the Department for Education in England changed their guidance on face coverings to include recommendations on reasonable adjustments and clear face shields/visors – and, to highlight the potential benefits of clear face masks.

We also worked successfully with UK wide governments. In Northern Ireland, separate guidance was produced for schools. In Wales, the Government guidance to schools directly highlighted the barriers face coverings create for deaf learners and called on schools to consult with deaf learners when planning to use them. The Welsh Government also agreed to provide funding for clear face masks in schools. And in Scotland, guidance was updated to highlight the impact of face coverings on deaf learners, including a link to advice on our website.

Catch up support

In April 2021 we met with Sir Kevan Collins, the then education recovery commissioner in England. Deaf young people and parents of deaf children shared their experiences of learning throughout the pandemic and lockdown – and told Sir Kevan what they’d like to see as part of a catch up programme.

They talked about the challenges of extending the school day, the importance of accessible online learning, and the benefits of one-to-one support. We hope to see these recommendations for deaf students included in the Government’s education recovery plan for England.

In Wales, we have written to every Local Authority Director for Education, calling on them to use catch up funding provided to schools to specifically ensure deaf learners are supported. We have also met with the lead on the Welsh Government catch up funding programme for FE learners, calling for steps to ensure this programme reaches out to support deaf learners who have struggled during the pandemic.

What’s next?

We’ll continue to shape our campaigning work based on what you told us – making sure that deaf children and young people have access to the support and adjustments they need in education.

In England, we’ll continue asking the Department for Education to monitor the provision of specialist support within schools and colleges and to provide targeted catch-up support for deaf students, with input from Teachers of the Deaf.

Similarly, in Wales, we’ll call for catch up funds to support deaf learners and for new and emerging Welsh Government guidance to continue to highlight the needs of deaf learners.

Across the UK, we’ll keep urging schools and colleges to put in place all necessary reasonable adjustments for deaf students.  And we’ll keep sharing your concerns with decision-makers too. Would you like to meet with your own MP, or MLA, MS or MSP to tell them what school or college is like for your deaf child? Many now offer virtual meetings with constituents. Our campaigns teams can help you with this. Just get in touch, and we’ll give you everything you need to make your meeting a success.

Our coronavirus blogs have more information for families dealing with the impact of the pandemic – and about the different rules in place across the UK on face coverings in education.

In England, Government guidance changed on 17 May to no longer recommend face masks in secondary and college classrooms. However, we know that face masks may still be worn in some schools and colleges due to concerns about new variants of coronavirus. If your child is affected by this, please let us know. You can also share our infographic about reasonable adjustments with your child’s teachers.

Thanks again to all of you who completed the survey and shared your child’s experiences of being at school or college. We really appreciate it.

You can continue telling us what’s happening by emailing [email protected]. If you need support or advice, you can contact our free Helpline on 0808 800 8880 or [email protected]