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Remote learning in further education and what this means for deaf young people

Published Date: 06 Aug 2020

As students return to colleges in September, we expect the coronavirus to continue to impact the delivery of education. The Government in England has said that colleges will have the flexibility to decide the ‘appropriate mixture’ of face to face and online learning, with the Governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales making similar statements.

Deaf young people have been particularly impacted by move to online learning during the lockdown. Issues that come up include:

· Struggling to access classes because it is much more difficult to lipread teachers and their peers on a computer screen

· The quality of sound can sometimes be poor on online platforms such as Zoom which impacts deaf learners who depend on good quality listening conditions

· Watching a communication support worker or a BSL interpreter on a screen or following live captions can require more concentration than usual meaning deaf students can quickly become tired

· Struggling to ensure communication support workers or BSL interpreters are visible on the screen the whole time

· Not having access to staff that usually support them when completing coursework at home

The good news is that there steps that further education providers can take to ensure access for deaf learners. Remember not to assume that deaf young people who didn’t have additional support before coronavirus are fine – remote learning is throwing up new barriers.

Here are some ways you can make remote learning more inclusive:

· Talk to deaf young people about what is changing with their courses, what they might find difficult and find time to review how things are going.

· Ensure all video materials are subtitled. If you are making your own videos you can upload them to YouTube where automatic transcription is available. This technology far from perfect so it is important for teachers to scan the transcript and correct errors – it makes a big difference.

· Consider concentration fatigue – make sure there are regular breaks

· If a college goes back into lockdown, ensure support staff such as communication support workers or learning support assistants are available remotely to support students with independent study and accessing written materials

· Use automated captions cautiously (seen for example in Microsoft Teams or on YouTube videos) and only if appropriate for the deaf learner. Teachers should have those captions visible so that they can see any errors in the subtitles which might change understanding of what is being said

· Where exams and assessments are moved to online formats, providers must make sure the same access arrangements (e.g. extra time, modified papers, etc.) are still available.

Not all deaf young people will have the same access requirements as each other so a flexible, student-centred approach will be required. Our guidance provides more detailed information for further education providers, covering issues such as face masks, safe use of radio aids and classroom layouts. The guidance is also available in Welsh.

Martin McLean

Lead: Post-14 Policy and Practice

The National Deaf Children's Society