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Education support for deaf children – coronavirus information for professionals

Published Date: 10 May 2021

Changes in schools and colleges

As before, it will be important to ensure that any changes to the classroom environment, in response to coronavirus, do not disadvantage deaf learners. In particular:

  • External specialist support. 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 and speech and language therapists. However, in England and Wales the Governments have explicitly said that peripatetic teachers and therapists can continue to visit schools. However, in Scotland, the Government has said that such visits should be minimised and that support should be provided remotely instead as much as possible. Similarly, in Northern Ireland, specialist staff can visit schools, although as much should be done remotely as possible. Our view is that peripatetic support should continue to be provided as much as possible, especially if children will be significantly disadvantaged without this support. There should be no ‘blanket policies’ where a decision is made not to allow any external visits or visitors without taking into account children’s individual needs. Any such blanket policies may be seen as unlawful.
  • Teaching assistants. 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.
  • Resource provisions. Where children are in resource provisions, there may be new rules to restrict the movement of children between a classroom and the resource provision. Our view is that any such rules should take into account the individual needs of deaf children and the importance of being able to access specialist support. In both England and Wales, government guidance explicitly allows for the intermixing of children of different age groups for the purpose of specialist support.
  • 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’. 
  • ‘Catch-up’ support. 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. Our view is that it will be important 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 being provided by someone who has not worked with a deaf child before.

Advice to schools and colleges

More detail on the issues to consider around education support for deaf children and young people in schools and colleges can be found in the below guidance documents.

In Northern Ireland, the Sensory Service has also produced guidance on how to support the learning of deaf children in schools and classrooms.

As before, 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, and that the necessary reasonable adjustments are made. In any risk assessments being carried out, 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. 

A joint open letter (updated in May 2021) from the National Deaf Children’s Society, the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf and the National Sensory Impairment Partnership to schools and colleges sets out the importance of continuing to meet the specialist needs of deaf children.

In the event that it is not possible to carry out face-to-face assessments, our blog provides advice on carrying out assessments virtually with deaf children.

Face masks in education

The UK Governments’ have slightly different positions on face masks/coverings in education:

  • In England, face coverings are no longer advised or required by law in classrooms or communal areas. However, the Government has said that face coverings are still recommended in enclosed or crowded spaces (such as school transport). In addition, where there is a localised outbreak of coronavirus, pupils and staff may be asked to wear face coverings in classrooms and/or communal areas for a temporary period. Guidance states that ‘transparent face coverings’ can be worn and sets out the benefits of these in supporting clear communication. It also says that face visors or shields can be worn when communicating with deaf people, as an alternative to the exemption. Guidance also highlights that reasonable adjustments should be made to support disabled young people and that those adjustments should be discussed with the young person and the family. We have produced an infographic for schools and colleges that summarises these adjustments. 
  • In Northern Ireland, it is compulsory for post primary pupils to wear face coverings in school and at drop off/pick up areas unless an exemption applies. For younger children, face coverings are still not recommended in routine classroom settings but the Government has said that it is “acceptable” for staff and pupils to use face coverings during the routine school day if they wish. Detailed guidance on mitigating the impact of face coverings on the education of deaf children was issued by the Department of Education as an annex to revised guidance for schools.
  • In Scotland, face coverings should be worn at all times by staff and young people in secondary schools (including S1-S3 learners and not just the senior phase as before) in classrooms, in communal areas and when moving about the school.Schools have been told to specifically and carefully consider the impact of using face coverings with deaf children and should explore reasonable adjustments when these present a barrier to learning. Schools can also consider the use of transparent or see-through face coverings.
  • In Wales, from September, the Welsh Government will no longer be recommending the routine wearing of face coverings in the class for staff or learners. Guidance states that schools and settings may wish to encourage face coverings in areas where there is likely to be more social mixing, such as in communal areas. It says face coverings should continue to be worn by learners in secondary schools and settings when travelling on dedicated school transport. The guidance also specifically highlights the importance of talking to deaf learners where face coverings are used.

Where face masks or coverings are required, exemptions will apply. For example, a face mask/covering can be removed if needed to communicate with someone who lipreads. Our blog for families on face masks provides more information on these exemptions.

The wider use of face masks or coverings in education is something that has significant implications to many deaf children, and which causes anxiety to many families. The key point to emphasise is that education settings are still required to make reasonable adjustments to ensure deaf children are not disadvantaged. Teachers of the Deaf will have a key role to play in identifying the impact on deaf children where face masks or coverings are being worn and advising on reasonable adjustments. Examples of reasonable adjustments might include:

  • Where face coverings are required/being worn, wearing clear face masks/coverings instead. However, it should be emphasised though that clear masks/coverings may still cause communication challenges. Our blog provides information on clear face masks/coverings that are available to purchase and what to look out for.
  • Using radio aids. This may include providing radio aids to children who had not used them before
  • Taking more stringent steps to optimise the listening environment and reduce background noise
  • Taking additional steps to remind everyone in the school of the importance of good deaf awareness
  • Securing additional communication support, including remote speech-to-text reporters and sign language interpreters
  • Separate one-to-one teaching and support, without the use of face masks/coverings and in rooms where social distancing can be achieved and/or through a Perspex panel.

We are calling on all UK Governments to ensure that any guidance or advice on face coverings in education emphasises the impact these have on deaf children, and the need to take reasonable adjustments to ensure continuity of learning. Our position paper provides more information. The British Association of Teachers of the Deaf have also published guidance in this 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 device being contaminated. 

Where there is a specific concern, 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. 

Emotional wellbeing

Our blog summarises some of the resources available to education professionals to support children’s emotional wellbeing at this time.

Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans or statements of special educational needs

Last year, local authorities in England and Northern Ireland were able to ‘suspend’ a child’s statement or EHC plan for a short time. These powers are not currently in force, and statements and plans have the same legal force as they did before the coronavirus pandemic. We recognise that continuing coronavirus restrictions may mean there may be some practical difficulties around how support is provided. However, we encourage professionals to continue to be as flexible and pragmatic as possible in ensuring that the necessary specialist support is provided, as much as possible.

Remote support for deaf children

Where children are receiving any kind of remote education, it will be important that schools and colleges take steps to ensure these are, as much as possible, accessible and appropriate for deaf students. Education settings are required to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that deaf students can continue to access any remote teaching or online learning alongside their peers.

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.

In England, a Temporary Continuity Direction has been issued. This requires schools to provide remote teaching if a child cannot attend school because of coronavirus. This duty applies to children from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland if they attend schools in England. Schools are expected to provide three to five hours of teaching a day, depending on a child’s age. If this is not being provided, the Department for Education advises that parents should first contact their child’s teacher or headteacher, and then report the issue to Ofsted. Schools and colleges are also expected to publish information on their website about their remote education offer.

Some things to think about

We have published a separate blog which provides a checklist for teachers on how they can ensure any remote teaching is deaf-friendly. We also have a separate blog on remote learning in further education.

If you are creating new resources, we have also published accessibility ‘how-to’ guidelines for providers and companies on how to make their resources accessible to deaf children and young people.

Some specific issues to consider:

  • Subtitles or BSL content. Some education providers are adding subtitles to some of their online content, e.g. BBC Bitesize, whilst all of the videos at the Oak National Academy are subtitled and some BSL interpreted.
  • Consideration will need to be given to how any live streaming of lessons will be made accessible to deaf pupils – in particular in terms of positioning, ensuring that the deaf pupils can clearly see the teacher and is able to participate in any discussion.
  • For remote 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 children and 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.
  • If a child already had a radio aid, 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.
  • Whether families have access to any equipment they need for their child to access remote teaching or online learning at home. Funding may be available from UK Governments to purchase laptops, tablets or connection packages. Some mobile phone companies are also allowing free access to some education websites on their mobile phone packages.

In Northern Ireland, the Sensory Service has produced tailored guidance on online learning.

Even after additional support is provided, if a deaf child is finding it difficult to engage with remote learning, there should be a discussion between the family, school and Teacher of the Deaf on how to ensure the child can still access education.

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 families with home learning can also be found on the UK Government websites: 

More information from each of the UK Governments

Guidance from the UK Governments can change quickly. Below, we have included what we think are the most useful links at this time.


Northern Ireland