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Schools and other education settings - coronavirus info for families of deaf children

Published Date: 02 Oct 2020

School re-openings

The different UK governments are taking different approaches to the re-opening of education settings this autumn. Even with your nation, there may be differences in how this works in practice, depending on where you live. For example, some schools may introduce a ‘part-time’ timetable or ‘blended learning’, where your child 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.

What will happen when your child returns?

In order to limit the spread of coronavirus and keep children and teachers safe, there will be some changes. These may include:

  • Class sizes may 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.

If your child receives specialist support in the classroom, there may also be changes to how this is provided.

  • 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. In England and Wales the Governments have explicitly said that peripatetic teachers 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.
  • 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 and devices, such as radio aids. For example, you may be asked to carry out checks on all hearing equipment before your child goes into an education setting, even if this was normally done within the setting. In addition, teachers may be asked to ‘clean’ radio aids before using them. This must be done carefully to avoid damage to the radio aid. The British Association of Teachers of the Deaf have produced advice on this.

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 your child’s Teacher of the Deaf to be involved in advising on any such catch-up support or tuition, particularly if this support is provided by someone who has not worked with your child before.

Remote teaching and online learning

Your child may receive remote teaching or be signposted to online learning if they are forced to self-isolate of if there is a local/national lockdown. If so, education settings are legally required to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that your child can still access any teaching or learning. It will also be important that any such remote teaching is accessible and appropriate to your child – our separate blog has more information on this.

In England, schools will be legally required (from the 22nd October) to provide remote teaching if your child cannot attend school because of coronavirus.

Face masks in education

There are slight differences in the UK Governments’ positions on face masks/coverings in education:

  • In England, if you live in an area where there is a local lockdown or your school and college has decided it is necessary, face coverings should be worn by students over the age of 11 when moving around the school or in communal areas. Face coverings may also be required when using school transport. However, the Government has said that face coverings are “not necessary” in classrooms and “should be avoided”.  
  • In Northern Ireland, it is strongly recommended that students over the age of 11 wear face coverings in school corridors and communal areas. Face coverings are also recommended when using school transport. Face coverings are 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.
  • In Scotland, face coverings should be worn by pupils aged over 12 when moving around the school (such as in corridors) and in communal areas. They should also be worn when using school transport (if aged over 5). The Government has advised that face coverings are not necessary when in the classroom. At the same time, teachers and pupils can wear face masks or coverings if they would like to. Schools have been told to specifically consider the use of face coverings with deaf children.
  • In Wales, education settings and local authorities may decide that face coverings should be worn by pupils over the age of 11 in communal areas and/or on school transport. Otherwise, Government guidance does not require their use in the classroom. Schools have also been told to specifically consider the implications around face coverings for deaf children, as well as other learners.

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

If a decision is made to allow face coverings to be worn inside the classroom, you should discuss with the school and any Teacher of the Deaf how this will impact your child. Education settings are legally required to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that your child is not disadvantaged. Depending on the needs of your child, examples of reasonable adjustments might include:

  • Where face coverings are required/being worn, wearing clear face masks or coverings instead. However, it should be noted that clear masks/coverings may still cause communication challenges
  • Using radio aids. If your child hasn’t previously used a radio aid in school before, it may be helpful to explore if it would now be helpful
  • Taking more steps to make sure the classroom is as quiet as possible with little background noise
  • Taking additional steps to remind everyone in the school of the importance of good deaf awareness and clear communication
  • Providing 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 know that many families will be feeling anxious about this issue. We have produced some template letters for you to use if you are concerned that face masks or coverings are being worn in your child’s school or college without reasonable adjustments being made for your child.

We are also calling on all UK Governments to ensure that any guidance or advice on face masks/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 on what we think about face masks/coverings in education.  

Questions to ask your child's school

Our blog sets out some possible questions for you to raise with your child’s school to ask how they will meet the needs of deaf children as they fully re-open. You can also take a look at our infographic for a summary of this checklist.

We have also produced more detailed guidance for education professionals on this:

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

We have also written an open letter to schools and colleges to set out the importance of continuing to meet the specialist needs of deaf children as education settings re-open. You may wish to share this with your child’s school/college.

If you have any questions or concerns on how this will work in practice, you should speak to your child’s teacher, the person responsible for special or additional needs at the education setting, and your child’s Teacher of the Deaf. Whilst we recognise the challenges in this area, we encourage professionals to continue to be creative and flexible in ensuring that deaf children receive the support they need, as much as possible. As before, education settings are legally required to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that your child is not disadvantaged.

If you are concerned that your child should not be attending school for health reasons, you should seek medical advice and discuss your concerns with the education setting. Children should not attend school if you or anyone in the family home has coronavirus symptoms.

In England, unless there is a good reason for non-attendance, you may be fined if your child does not return to school.

More information from the each of the UK Governments


Northern Ireland