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Face masks in schools: A Scottish parent’s campaign win

Published Date: 03 Nov 2020
Photo: 11-year-old Niamdh smiling.

Sam Braid, Chair of the Fife Deaf Children’s Society, has campaigned to get support for her deaf daughter Niamdh since she was young. Sam raised concerns with Niamdh's school as soon as face coverings became mandatory in communal areas. To improve her social interaction with peers, Sam requested clear face masks for Niamdh's classmates.

The impact of face masks in school for 11-year-old Niamdh

Niamdh Braid is a deaf 11-year-old from Fife, who uses hearing aids and lip-reads. This year Niamdh made the big move from primary school to secondary school. Niamdh takes great pride in her deaf identity and had a positive start to the new school. But when face masks became mandatory, she struggled to communicate and make friends with her new classmates. This change made school life very difficult for Niamdh as mum, Sam, explains:

“I bought clear face masks to share with Niamdh’s existing friends from primary school, but none of those friends were in her new class. I picked Niamdh up from school that week and she broke down in tears. She said ‘I can’t do this anymore. Mum, I am so lonely, I feel so left out, I just can’t make friends."

Campaigning for reasonable adjustments

“We brainstormed about what we could do to make it better, and identified that as well as clear face masks, that some deaf awareness within her new class would also benefit Niamdh. Only three weeks into her new class, Niamdh put together a presentation about being deaf and what it means to her. She exposed her vulnerabilities to the entire class and got a list of 15 classmates who were keen to wear clear face masks.”

Sam and Niamdh fed this back to the school. Sam also contacted us at the National Deaf Children’s Society and sent an email to her local authority, local MSP and the Scottish Government. Soon after, the school provided 15 clear face masks to Niamdh’s classmates as a pilot.

Progress for Niamdh

“Niamdh has been getting on so much better since the clear face masks were purchased, she has been able to make friends and is much more confident. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not been perfect. There are still barriers, but she feels much more included.”

Sam’s advice for other families of deaf children

“The main thing I want to say to other families of deaf children in Scotland, is absolutely know your rights, and push for them. You’re not asking for something you’re not entitled to. If you don’t push for your child, who is going to? If we keep accepting what they’re getting, the statistics around the attainment gap in education and the statistics around poor mental health and isolation will remain. And it’s up to us as parents, to push for this.”

Each deaf child is different

“It’s always an individual experience, you won’t get two deaf children the same. I’ve spoken to other parents, who have said they don’t like clear face masks, it’s not going to work for everyone and I know that. But they should be accessible for everyone who wants or needs them.”

What can schools do to help?

Schools have a legal responsibility to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act (or the Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland). Learn more about your child’s rights in education. 

At the National Deaf Children’s Society, we encourage parents to ask for support with reasonable adjustments for their child from schools and Teachers of the Deaf. This can include:

  • extra communication support
  • access to radio aids or other technology
  • one-to-one teaching
  • removing background noise in the classroom.

If you need support with the wearing of facemasks in schools, have a look at our blog. 

Next steps – supporting deaf children across Scotland

“I appreciate there is a cost for clear face masks, but we need to be offsetting that with the cost of trying to support the mental health issues in the future, for the local authorities, the government and the NHS, which will far supersede the provision of these masks."

"This isn’t just an issue in Fife, this is a national crisis. It is not localised to a certain local authority. I think there is also lessons to be learned here across all industries. The deaf community as a whole has been completely forgotten about. All of this, I see as a starting point.”

Tell us your stories

Sam’s brilliant campaigning work shows how challenging schools on decisions which impact deaf learners can transform their experiences in education. If you have a similar story to tell of a campaign success, please email [email protected], we’d love to hear about what happened.