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

Published Date: 06 Apr 2021

Though these continue to be challenging times, education settings remain under a legal duty to do as much as possible to ensure that your deaf child receives the support they need.

Changes in schools and colleges

As schools and colleges re-open again to all children, you can expect there to still be some changes. These will probably include:

  • There may be limited mixing of groups within the school. Exemptions to this may be made where needed 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.
  • 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 will also be changes to how this is provided.

  • External 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. Our view is that peripatetic support should continue to be provided as much as possible, especially if your child will be significantly disadvantaged without this support. There should be no ‘blanket policies’ where a decision is made not to allow any external visitors or visits without taking into account your child’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.
  • There may also be 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.
  • Resource bases. If your child is in a resource base, there may be new rules to restrict the movement of children between the classroom and the base. 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.
  • ‘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 Teachers of the Deaf should 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.

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 re-open. This blog was written in September 2020, but many of the suggested questions may still be relevant.

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

You can also share with your child’s school or college an open letter from us, the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf and the National Sensory Impairment Partnership on support for deaf children.

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

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. Our vlog has more information on your education rights.

Face masks in education

There are different rules in place across the UK on face coverings in education.

  • In England, staff and students in secondary schools and colleges are advised to wear face coverings in all areas, including classrooms, where social distancing cannot be maintained and as a temporary extra measure until at least the 17th. It is also recommended that face coverings are worn in communal areas in secondary schools too. In primary schools, it is also recommended that staff and adult visitors wear face coverings where social distancing is not possible, though children do not need to. Schools and colleges are expected to be sensitive to the needs of deaf children in deciding whether it’s appropriate to wear a face covering. Guidance states that ‘transparent face coverings’ can be worn. 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 (not just the senior phase) 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 transport or see-through face coverings.
  • In Wales, face coverings should be worn by pupils over the age of 11 on school transport. They should also be worn anywhere on the school estate, by students and staff, where social distancing is not possible, apart from at mealtimes and outside. Otherwise, Welsh Government guidance does not require their use in the classroom, although individuals may choose to wear them. 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.

Where face coverings are being worn, you should discuss with the school and any Teacher of the Deaf how this will impact your child. Again, 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/coverings instead. However, it should be noted 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. 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. We have produced some template letters for you to use if face masks or coverings are being worn in your child’s school or college without reasonable adjustments being made for your child. You can also take a look at our vlog on face masks.

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.

Remote teaching and online learning

If your child is unable to attend school because, for example, they are self-isolating, they should still receive support from the school to continue their learning.

What this looks like will vary. It may involve teachers delivering live lessons to your child’s class, with your child following a similar timetable as before. It could also involve children being given worksheets to do at home or directed to a website (such as Oak National Academy) for online learning.

In England, schools will be legally required to provide remote teaching if your child cannot attend school because of coronavirus. They must also publish information on their website about their remote education offer. 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 states that parents should first contact their child’s teacher or headteacher in the first instance, and then report the issue to Ofsted. We suggest you tick the ‘any other complaint’ on the webform on this page to refer the issue to Ofsted.

It will be important that any such remote teaching is accessible and appropriate to your child – our separate blog has more information on this. Education settings are legally required to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that your child can still access any teaching or learning.

If your child doesn’t have a laptop or PC at home or if the internet connection is poor, you should speak to your child’s school or college to see if they can provide you with a laptop and/or an internet data package. Some mobile phone companies are also allowing free access to some education websites on their mobile phone packages.

Even after additional support is provided, if your child is finding it difficult to engage with remote learning, you should discuss with the school and your Teacher of the Deaf how they will make sure that your child can still access education.

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. If your child has a statement or plan, it has the same legal force as it did before the coronavirus pandemic. However, there may be some practical difficulties around how support is provided. If this is the case, we expect schools or colleges to discuss what alternative arrangements will be in place to make sure that your child continues to receive the support they need, as much as possible. 

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.

England

Northern Ireland

Scotland

Wales