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New report shines spotlight on educational outcomes of deaf children in England

Published Date: 09 Mar 2023

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) have published a report on the attainment of school-aged deaf children between 2011 and 2019.

The EPI is already well-known for the work they’ve done to look at attainment gaps between disadvantaged and other children. Last year, we commissioned them to take a closer look at the attainment gaps between deaf and all children.

What did they find?

Given the importance of English and Maths, the EPI focused on data on attainment of deaf children in these areas. Some of their key findings include: 

  • In 2019, the attainment gap facing deaf pupils was equivalent to:
    • 5 months of learning at Key Stage 4 (GSCSs)
    • 12 months of learning at Key Stage 2 (end of primary school)
    • 8 months of learning at Key Stage 1 (end of Year 2)
  • By their GCSEs, this leaves deaf children facing an average grade difference of 1.3 grades in each of English and Maths, in comparison to their non-deaf peers.
  • The deaf attainment gap at GCSE (17.5 months) was similar to the attainment gap facing socio-economically disadvantaged pupils in 2019 (18.1 months).
  • Deaf pupils who were also socio-economically disadvantaged, on average, faced a gap of 34 months; almost twice as large as the gap faced by solely deaf pupils. Attainment among deaf pupils also differs by ethnicity and whether deaf pupils use English as an additional language.

The EPI has also looked at the GCSE attainment of deaf children in different local authority areas. We think this is the first time that this kind of data has been published.

Better support is needed

The EPI make a number of recommendations to help make sure that all deaf children receive the specialist support they need. These include:

  • more effective, holistic support packages should be developed and used by government, schools and local authorities, that better recognise and support the varied and often complex needs of deaf children
  • the national funding formula for children with SEN should be improved, to take account of multiple additional needs of the same individual child, instead of simply summing the numbers of pupils with each separate additional need
  • SEN funding should be based on the actual costs of providing specialist support.

The EPI report comes close on the heels on the government’s SEND review improvement plan which was published last week. This committed the Government to ensuring there are enough Teachers of the Deaf, and to exploring further options for increasing numbers.

Important things to know

As far as we can tell, this is the best source of publicly available data on the attainment of deaf children. However, as with all data, it’s important to be aware of potential limitations and to be cautious in how the findings are interpreted.

  • The data comes from the government National Pupil Database and applies to all children with a who have been formally identified as having a ‘hearing impairment (HI)’ as a ‘special educational need (SEN)’ in the School Census. HI is the term used in the government School Census – however, we and the EPI use the term deaf children instead.
  • The data includes children where deafness is a ‘primary’ or a ‘secondary’ need. For example, this might include children who have complex needs, in addition to their deafness.
  • Schools are responsible for adding information about children with SEN to the School Census. We know that there can sometimes be variations in how well or how accurately this is done. This means that not all deaf children are included in the School Census. We don’t know for sure which deaf children are not included but we think it’s more likely to be children with mild deafness or who are deaf in one ear only.
  • Whilst children with mild deafness may be less likely to be included in the School Census, we know that even a mild deafness can still have a significant impact on children’s attainment.

Caution is especially needed when looking at the local authority data:

  • The number of deaf children doing exams or undergoing assessments in many local areas will be relatively low. When we have smaller ‘cohorts’ of children, there can be more fluctuation and variability in the figures from year to year.
  • For this reason, the EPI has brought together data over three or five years for each local authority. This makes the cohorts larger. However, in some cases, there are still some relatively small cohorts in some areas. In a small number of cases, the cohort is too small for the EPI to publish any data on that local area.
  • There may be differences in how schools in different areas have included deaf children in the School Census.
  • The data looks at the attainment of deaf children between 2011 and 2019. It may not reflect changes in the area since then.
  • The EPI report shows that other factors can have a big impact on deaf children’s attainment – such as socio-economic disadvantage. There are many local authorities that have higher numbers of disadvantaged children than other areas – this means that deaf children in those areas may be more likely to have lower attainment than in other areas. The EPI spreadsheets include figures for deaf children and all children in each local authority so that you can compare between the two.

The above means that you should be particularly careful in making comparisons between different local authority areas or when looking at changes over time in each area. 

Why are we focusing on educational attainment?

We think that the Government should have the highest expectations for what deaf children can achieve. Even though deaf children experience a range of disadvantages in life, we think it’s important they achieve the same range of outcomes as other children. We also think it’s important that they and their families receive the specialist support they need to help overcome these disadvantages, wherever they live and whatever their background.

We know that many specialist education services are working hard to do this. We hope that this report will strengthen the case for more funding for specialist education services for deaf children. We want to work in partnership with services to help achieve this goal.

At the same time, education attainment is only part of the pictures. Other outcomes, such as wellbeing are also important. Every child and every family is different and we acknowledge that what ‘success’ looks like for many will be different.

More information

Education Policy Institute report

Spreadsheet of educational outcomes of deaf children by local authority