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

Published Date: 11 Jan 2021

Government guidance from across the UK on school closures is currently changing quickly. We will do our best to keep this blog up-to-date with the latest information.

School closures

Across the UK, many schools and colleges are currently closed to most children. Instead, remote education is being provided.

  • England. Mainstream schools and colleges expected to remain mostly closed until February half-term. Special schools and early year settings will remain open.
  • Northern Ireland. Schools and colleges expected to stay closed in January.
  • Scotland. Schools and colleges to close until the 1st February.
  • Wales. Schools and colleges to mostly close until February half-term, unless there is a significant drop in cases by the 29th January. As well as children of key workers and vulnerable children, schools can remain open for children undertaking exams or assessments. Childcare settings, special schools and specialist units can remain open. 

In most cases, universities are providing remote teaching only, except in a number of priority courses (for example, medicine).  

In most cases, schools are remaining open only for children of key workers or children who are ‘vulnerable’ in some way, and the classroom experience is likely to be very different for those still attending school.

Generally, the definition of vulnerable includes children with a plan or statement around special or additional needs support, or those who are receiving support from social care. In England and Wales, the definition of ‘vulnerable’ children can also include those who may have difficulty engaging with remote education at home. If you are not sure if your child is eligible, you should get in touch with your child’s school.

Though these continue to be really 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.

If your child has a statement of special educational needs or an Education, Health and Care plan, these documents currently remain in force. Though there may be some practical challenges around how support is provided, with schools being closed, any support set out in these documents should legally continue to be provided.

Remote teaching and online learning

Though many schools and colleges are closed for face-to-face teaching, this should not mean that your child will stop receiving any education. Schools and colleges are instead expected to provide some kind of remote education.

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 and to publish information on their website (by the 25th January) 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.

Even where schools are closed, they are still expected to remain open for children of key workers or children who are considered ‘vulnerable’ in some way. In England, the definition of vulnerable children includes those who may have difficulty engaging with remote education at home. Depending on what education and support is being provided in schools in these cases, returning to school may be an option to consider for your child. 

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, with schools and colleges closed, there may be some practical difficulties around how support is provided.

It is possible that the England or Northern Ireland Governments may issue a notice to allow statements and plans to be suspended again. It is also possible that the Welsh Government may also allow this for the first time. To do so, the Government will have to issue a notice to allow this. We will be keeping a close eye on this and will update this blog if any new notice is issued.

When education settings re-open

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

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • If your child is in a resource provision, there may be new rules to restrict the movement of children between the classroom and the resource provision. 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.
  • 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 when 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 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

When schools and colleges re-open to all children, some children will be required to wear a face covering in education. Prior to the current lockdown, there were differences in the UK Governments’ positions on face masks/coverings in education. There were also differences on whether face coverings are required in communal areas, school transport and/or in classrooms. The below sets out what was required prior to the current lockdown:

  • In England, if you live in an area where the level of coronavirus is high or very high (tier 2 or above, and during the national lockdown), face coverings should be worn by students in year 7 or above and staff when moving around the school or in communal areas in secondary schools. In other areas, schools and colleges can require that face coverings be worn in communal areas. Pupils in year 7 or above should also wear face coverings when using school transport. However, in terms of face masks in classrooms, 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 must be worn by post-primary pupils when travelling to school, and are strongly encouraged for children of any age when travelling, if they can do so safely. 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 in the classroom by senior secondary-aged pupils (in S4 to S6) and teachers/other staff if your child’s school is in a level 3 or 4 area under the Scotland Covid Protection Level. Elsewhere, they 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). They should also be worn by parents when drop-off or picking-up children at any school. Apart from S4 to S6 pupils in level 3 or 4 areas, 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 impact of using face coverings with deaf children and should explore reasonable adjustments when these present a barrier to learning.
  • In Wales, face coverings should be worn by staff and 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, although individual 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.

If a decision is made to allow or require 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. 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
  • 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 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. 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. 

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