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

Published Date: 24 Mar 2022

Changes to specialist support

Schools and colleges will be continuing to take a range of steps to help prevent the further spread of coronavirus. Some of these changes may impact on the specialist support that your child receives. Whilst coronavirus continues to be a challenge, education settings remain under a legal duty to do as much as possible to ensure that your deaf child receives the support they need.

Examples of changes that may be made:

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. UK government guidance allows such visits as follows:

  • England - there are no restrictions in government guidance on visits into schools.
  • Northern Ireland - specialist staff can visit schools, although as much should be done remotely as possible.
  • Scotland - there are no restrictions on professionals or visitors in general entering schools. All visitors will, however, be expected to comply with the school’s routine measures and arrangements for managing and minimising risk.
  • Wales - the Government has said that peripatetic teachers and therapists can continue to visit schools. However, they will be required to follow the school’s local risk management policies.

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.

Ventilation

Improving ventilation by opening windows and doors has been identified as an important measure in reducing the spread of coronavirus. However, this may result in there being increased background noise in the classroom, making it harder for deaf children to hear their teacher.

If this is the case, we expect schools to take steps to reduce background noise, as much as possible and/or to place deaf children in quieter rooms. The use of additional listening devices, such as radio aids, may also become more important.

Carbon dioxide monitors are being used in many schools as a way of identifying if rooms need extra ventilation or to provide reassurance that doors and windows do not need to be opened.

Teaching assistants

It’s possible that some schools or colleges may be using teaching assistants differently to deal with coronavirus measures. 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 and should provide the support required as needed.

Equipment

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

Many schools have previously had rules around keeping children in certain groups or ‘bubbles’. This could create issues where deaf children were in resource bases, where they would normally move between classes.

  • England - there is no restriction in government guidance on the intermixing of children within the school
  • Northern Ireland – children will no longer have to stay in ‘bubbles’, and so there should be no restrictions on mixing when needed
  • Scotland – schools will no longer have to maintain groupings or bubbles
  • Wales - schools will no longer have to maintain groupings or bubbles unless the Covid-19 risk is assessed to be very high.

Our view is, in light of the above, deaf children in resource bases should be able to move between classes and access the specialist support they need, as appropriate. Where any restrictions apply, we expect the school to set out how they will ensure that deaf children will not be disadvantaged by any such restrictions.

‘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.

We have also produced more detailed guidance for education professionals on this. These guidance documents were last updated in February 2021 when there were different rules and restrictions in place. However, much of the advice may still be helpful.

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 about any changes that have been made, 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. In any risk assessments being carried out, we expect there to be a consideration around the risks to individual deaf children if they do not receive specialist support as usual (e.g. if they cannot receive direct support from a peripatetic Teacher of the Deaf) and for these risks to be considered against public health concerns. We also expect there to be robust consideration of any mitigating actions that can be taken to address any such concerns.  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, pupils are no longer required to wear face coverings in classrooms in schools and colleges. Face coverings are also no longer required to be worn in indoor communal areas. In some areas where there is a localised outbreak of coronavirus, staff and pupils may be asked by the local director of public health to wear face coverings in communal areas and/or classrooms for a temporary period. Guidance states that, in these circumstances, transparent face coverings, which may assist communication with someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expression to communicate, can be worn.
  • In Northern Ireland, face coverings are no longer required in classrooms. However, they are still recommended for use in corridors, communal areas and on public and school transport. 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, the Scottish Government has said that from 28 Feburary face coverings will no longer be required in classrooms, including for learners in the senior phase sitting exams. Learners and staff should continue to be supported to wear face coverings if they choose to do so. However, 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 transparent or see-through face coverings.
  • In Wales, the Welsh Government has said that from 28 February face coverings will no longer be routinely recommended in classrooms. Guidance states that face coverings should however be worn by secondary aged learners, staff and visitors in all schools when moving around indoor communal areas outside of the classroom, such as corridors, where physical distance cannot be maintained. Schools who, based on their local context and advice need to operate at the ‘Very High’ risk level can continue to recommend that face coverings are used in classrooms by staff and secondary aged learners. Guidance continues to note that some learners and staff are exempt from wearing face coverings and that “the wellbeing of individuals is critical to any considerations around whether staff or learners should wear face coverings.” The guidance particularly highlights the impact of face coverings for deaf children.

Where coverings are required or recommended, 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. Teachers of the Deaf will have a key role to play in advising on the impact of face masks on your child and the reasonable adjustments that should be made. 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 and what to look out for.
  • Using radio aids.
  • 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.

Our infographic for schools and colleges summarises the reasonable adjustments that can be made where face coverings are being worn in classrooms. We have also 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.

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.

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.

Where education settings are creating new resources, we have also published accessibility ‘how-to’ guidelines for providers and companies on how to make their resources accessible to deaf children and young people.

In England, schools will be legally required to provide remote teaching if your child cannot attend school because of coronavirus. Government guidance is also clear that they should make reasonable adjustments to ensure disabled children can participate. If this is not happening, the Department for Education states that parents should 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.

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

If your child has a statement or plan, it has the same legal force as it did before the coronavirus pandemic. It is possible there may be some practical challenges around how support is provided if, for example, a key member of staff has to self-isolate. If this is the case, we expect schools or colleges to be open about this and 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. 

Mental health

Many children have struggled with mental health during the pandemic. Schools will be able to provide advice, support or signpost to organisations and services that can help. They should involve your child’s Teacher of the Deaf to make sure this is deaf-friendly. Our blog summarises some of the resources available to education professionals to support children’s emotional wellbeing at this time.

If you think your child might need more support with their mental health, our website has more information on the help available.

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