Supporting deaf children during school closures - coronavirus info for professionalsPublished Date: 20 Jul 2020
Closure of schools and other education settings
To help limit the spread of coronavirus, nurseries, schools, colleges and universities across the UK have been partially or fully closed. Many have remained open only for children of key workers or for children regarded as especially vulnerable whose needs cannot be safely met at home (i.e. those who have significant other additional needs that mean they need ongoing personal care or significant social care support).
Re-opening of education settings
The different UK governments are taking different approaches to the re-opening of education settings. Even with each nation, there are likely to be differences in how this works in practice. For example, it is likely that some schools may introduce a ‘part-time’ timetable or ‘blended learning’ where children will receive a mix of on-site and home learning. This means that some children may be asked to come in for part of the day or week, and to learn at home the rest of the time. There may also be a ‘local lockdown’ where schools in a specific area are asked to temporarily close for a short time.
Currently, schools are remaining open, as much as possible, for children of key workers and children who are the most vulnerable.
The definition of ‘vulnerable’ children includes those who have an Education, Health and Care plan. Previously, Government advice was that these children should only attend school if they had significant other needs that meant they could not be safely cared for at home. This advice has now changed and the Government now expects and encourages ‘vulnerable’ children to return to school now, where appropriate.
Education settings are now able to re-open to other pupils, as follows:
- All early years settings – although some may need to impose a cap on the numbers who can attend.
- Primary aged pupils who are in reception year, year 1 or year 6 – i.e. those children who started primary school in the last year, or will be moving onto secondary school in the autumn.
- Pupils who are in year 10 or 12, or pupils aged 16 to 19 in the first year of a two-year study programme will not be returning to school or college full-time – but they may be asked to return for some face-to-face time to support their home learning. This is to help them prepare for exams next year.
- Special schools, colleges and post-16 institutions can re-open more widely to all pupils as they see fit.
Beyond this, primary schools have the flexibility to open to more pupils if they are able to. The Government has said that its aim is for all children to be back at school full-time in September.
Schools are expected to start re-opening from late August. It is expected that they will re-open gradually over the autumn, with a mix of school and home learning in place.
In the meantime, schools are expected to remain open, as much as possible, for children of key workers and vulnerable children.
Separately, the Government is funding additional emergency childcare provision to care for vulnerable children and children of key workers. Other childcare settings are now open for all parents, not just keyworkers, with guidance for childcare providers on how to operate safely.
In Scotland, the Government has said that schools will start to re-open from the 11 August, depending on scientific advice.
Childminders and outdoor early years settings are already allowed to re-open to some children. The Government has said that it hopes to allow other early learning settings to re-open during the summer but, at the time of writing, no date has yet been given.
In the meantime, schools and early learning settings are expected to remain open, as much as possible, for children of key workers and vulnerable children.
Schools and early year settings in Wales reopened from the 29th June. Whilst most schools have confirmed the term will end in line with normal term-times, some schools are extending the summer term by an extra week - therefore ending on 27th July.
Further education colleges have been asked to prepare to re-open for face-to-face learning from 15th June. They will prioritise those students requiring licence to practice assessments and vulnerable learners.
From September, all pupils in mainstream education in Wales will be able to return to school full time.
Schools can reopen from September 1st. However, the Welsh Government have granted schools the flexibility to spend the first two weeks concentrating on planning, reorganising and focussing on priority year groups such as: reception, years 6, 7, 12, 13, special units and those sitting exams next summer. All pupils will be expected to return to school from September 14th unless they have a medical/health reason not to.
Please note that local authorities will not be expected to continue to provide emergency childcare provision in the autumn term.
Further government guidance will be published on supporting vulnerable and disadvantaged groups and early years and nursery provision shortly.
What will happen when children return?
In order to limit the spread of coronavirus and keep children and teachers safe, it is clear that there will be some changes when children return. These may include:
- Class sizes will be reduced to smaller groups or ‘bubbles’. Some groups may be led by a teaching assistant, working under the supervision of a teacher.
- There may be limited mixing of groups within the school. Exemptions to this may need to be made for children to access specialist teaching in wider groups (for example, such as for a deaf child who attends part of the day in a resource provision).
- Classroom layouts may change.
- Break times are likely to be staggered. Drop-off and pick-up times may also be staggered.
- Children will be expected to wash their hands regularly and follow new rules around social distancing.
- Some teachers and teaching assistants may not be able to return to school if they have medical conditions which mean they’re more vulnerable to coronavirus or if they are pregnant.
In Wales, face coverings are only recommended in education where social distancing is difficult - for example, in the delivery of personal care. Schools have also been told to specifically consider the implications around face coverings for deaf children, as well as other learners.
In the rest of the UK, the use of face masks in education settings has not been recommended by the other UK Governments. Exceptions to this are if a child has personal care needs which means protective equipment would normally be used anyway, or if a child develops coronavirus symptoms whilst at the education setting.
We anticipate that there may also be changes to how deaf children receive specialist support. In particular:
- Education settings may want to restrict the number of external visitors coming in and ask for support to be provided remotely instead. This might include peripatetic Teachers of the Deaf. However, in England and Wales the Governments have explicitly said that peripatetic teachers can continue to visit schools.
- Some teaching assistants may be used differently. For example, they may be asked to ‘lead’ groups within the school. They may also be asked to observe social distancing rules when supporting individual children. Our view is that, where teaching assistants or communication support workers have a specific role in directly supporting individual deaf children, they should not be redeployed to other roles.
- There may also be new hygiene restrictions around handling or sharing equipment or devices, such as radio aids. For example, teachers may be asked to ‘clean’ radio aids before using them. This must be done carefully to avoid damage to the radio aid – see later section on ‘Handling radio aids’.
We encourage parents, schools and Teachers of the Deaf to discuss how any return to school will work in practice and how deaf children will be supported. Our guidance sets out a number of issues and questions around the needs of deaf children to consider for the planned re-opening of schools (guidance also available in Welsh).
Whilst we recognise the challenges and public health considerations in this area, we encourage professionals to continue to be creative, pragmatic and flexible in ensuring that individual deaf children receive the support they need, as much as possible. We know that many professionals will be carrying out risk assessments in considering how deaf children and other children will be supported. Teachers of the Deaf should be involved in such discussions. In addition, as part of this, we expect there to be a consideration around the risks to individual deaf children if they do not receive specialist support as usual (e.g. if they cannot receive direct support from a peripatetic Teacher of the Deaf) and for these risks to be considered against public health concerns. We also expect there to be robust consideration of any mitigating actions that can be taken to address any such concerns.
In England, the Department for Education has said that education settings are expected to liaise with external agencies to plan for the return of children with SEND.
Some schools or colleges may be providing ‘catch-up’ support or tuition to individual children or young people. It is likely that they will focus on the most disadvantaged children or young people. It may be helpful for Teachers of the Deaf to be involved in advising on any such catch-up support or tuition for individual children, particularly if this support is provided by someone who has not worked with a deaf child before.
Even if deaf children fall into the category of those who can return, they should not attend if:
- They are displaying symptoms of coronavirus.
- They have a medical condition which means they’ve been asked to ‘shield’ from others.
Deaf children may also be asked not to attend if someone in their household has been asked to shield, and there is a concern that the child will not be able to follow or understand rules around social distancing.
Our advice to families is that if they are concerned that their child should not be attending school for health reasons, they should seek medical advice and discuss their concerns with the education setting.
Children are encouraged to return to education, as appropriate and if requested by the education setting. However, parents will not be fined for non-attendance at this time.
More information from the each of the UK Governments
- Information for parents about the closure and re-opening of education settings
- Government guidance on support for children and young people with SEND as schools and colleges re-open
- Framework for re-opening of schools
- Protective measures that education settings are expected to adopt
- Support for vulnerable children
- Full list of government guidance on coronavirus and education
- More information about local arrangements should also be available on the website for your local authority.
- Guidance for schools on coronavirus
- Guidance on vulnerable children
- FAQs on the education restart programme
- 'The New School Day' guidance on reopening schools
- FAQ for parents
- Guidance on re-opening of schools
- Guidance for professionals around changes to the curriculum
- Guidance for professionals around ensuring continuity in learning
- Guidance on re-opening of early learning and childcare settings
- More information about local arrangements should also be available on the website for your local authority.
- Information on schools and coronavirus
- Guidance on the September re-opening of schools
- Guidance for professionals on re-opening of schools
- FAQ on school re-openings
- You can also check the website of your local authority for up-to-date information on the plans for reopening in your area.
Handling radio aids
We don’t believe that the handling of radio aids presents a risk which is any larger or smaller than the risk of handling any other devices within a school in relation to coronavirus.
The NHS advises that everyone should wash their hands with soap and water frequently. Regular hand-washing will help to reduce the risk of surfaces of any devices being contaminated.
Where there is a specific concern, we understand that radio aids can be wiped in the same way as mobile phones. However, professionals must take care to ensure that any cleaning is done in a way which ensures the device does not get wet. Any moisture entering the device could result in damage. Teachers of the Deaf should ensure that education settings are clear on how to do this safely. The British Association of Teachers of the Deaf have produced advice on this.
Remote support for deaf children
Many schools and colleges are introducing some form of remote or online teaching to ensure students can continue to access education. Other schools and colleges may provide workbooks and written tasks for students to complete.
It is important that schools and colleges take steps to ensure these are, as much as possible, accessible and appropriate for deaf students. Peripatetic Teachers of the Deaf will have a key role to play in supporting education settings to make these adjustments according to the individual needs of deaf students.
Some things to think about
- Ensuring that any online content is subtitled. Some education providers are adding subtitles to some of their online content, e.g. BBC Bitesize daily lessons whilst many of the videos at the Oak National Academy are subtitled and BSL interpreted. We are challenging other providers to follow suit. For online teaching, some software (e.g. Google Hangouts and Microsoft Team) is available with automatic speech-recognition translation and there are some apps that do the same – however, the feedback we have from young people is that the reliability of this can vary.
- Additional communication support, beyond what they would normally receive, may be required for deaf young people to access online teaching. Remote speech-to-text support and BSL interpreting are now both well-established and can be delivered through software for online meetings (e.g. Zoom). Professionals should explore the availability of funding to support this.
- Ensuring that deaf children and young people are able to take radio aids home with them. For many deaf children, radio aids will support them in being able to continue their learning and access sound on their computers, tablets or mobiles. Radio aids may also help them to keep in touch with family and friends and avoid feelings of isolation. Deaf children and their families should be provided with information on how to manage radio aids independently and carefully, including how to troubleshoot any issues. Given the alternative is to deny deaf children access to education, we expect local authorities to waive any requirements they might have around insurance at this time.
- Establishing mechanisms for deaf children to keep in touch with their education setting, any specialist support staff and their Teacher of the Deaf. Options include Facebook groups, Skype video calls or webchats, FaceTime, Zoom conference calls, Google Hangout, Microsoft Team, etc. Professionals may need to be creative in finding solutions. Our website features a blog from an auditory verbal therapist on telepractice, which colleagues may find helpful. Separately, although aimed at deaf adults in the workplace, a blog on The Limping Chicken website helpfully summarises the different options available for video calls.
In England, the Department for Education has produced guidance on ‘SEND risk assessments’. The guidance suggests that local authorities, education settings and parents should consider moving equipment (such as “sensory equipment”) or services (such as online sessions or telephone support for parents in developing interventions) into the home. Qualified Teachers of children with sensory impairments are cited as examples of professionals who could be involved in designing/adapting interventions or learning materials.
Resources for home learning
Professionals should consider which resources they can share with families so that they can support their child’s education if they aren’t able to attend school. For example, Teachers of the Deaf may wish to share our top tips blog or our Helping your deaf child to learn resources for families. The British Association of Teachers of the Deaf website also includes a list of useful resources for home learning.
Guidance to support home learning can also be found on the UK Government websites:
- Northern Ireland
- Scotland (information also available for families who use BSL)
- Wales and also The Hwb
In these challenging times, it is recognised that local authorities may need to redeploy staff, including Teachers of the Deaf, to support the most vulnerable children. We encourage professionals to work together to explore the most effective ways of providing critical support, whilst maintaining, as much as possible, peripatetic support to deaf children and families as needed.