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Jasmine's a singing sensation

Photo: Jasmine likes to sing to unwind after school

Jasmine (13) has always loved performing, but one bad exam experience very nearly put her off. Luckily, her supportive singing teacher helped turn things around.

As a baby, Jasmine was constantly babbling and singing to her mum, Rebecca. “She had a really loud, powerful voice,” Rebecca says. “As a toddler, she’d open the windows upstairs and sing out of the window. She didn’t care what people thought and I loved that.”

Rebecca, who is also deaf, explains that Jasmine failed her newborn hearing screening but the doctors weren’t worried at the time. “She would turn and respond to the dog barking,” she says. “It was when she was about six that they diagnosed her with mild hearing loss and gave her hearing aids.”

Jasmine didn’t have any problems at primary school, but things changed as she got older. “I found moving to secondary school quite difficult,” Jasmine explains. “Primary school was very quiet and there were less kids, so I found it hard dealing with all the noise. Sometimes I had to leave lessons if it got too much.

“I also find it hard when I have my hair tied back and people stare at me or ask, ‘What are those in your ears?’” Although Jasmine’s school has generally been good at making adaptations for her, the family did have some issues with mask wearing during the pandemic. “There was one teacher who refused to remove her mask for me,” Jasmine says. “She told me to ask my friends if I couldn’t understand what she was saying.”

“That wound me up,” Rebecca adds. “The school also said if they saw students remove their masks they’d get in trouble. When I challenged that, they told me Jasmine was at school to learn and not to socialise, which I didn’t agree with.”

Things have been easier since the rules around face masks were relaxed, but Jasmine has always found her hobby of singing to be a way to unwind after a busy day at school. “I’ve liked singing since I was really little,” says Jasmine. “The neighbours used to love that they could hear me making up my own songs!

“In Year 7, I decided to start having singing lessons. I’d had piano lessons before, but I didn’t enjoy them, so I was quite nervous to start singing, but my teacher Jill is so nice. I can talk to her about anything. She gives me tips on singing and about life as well!”

When they first met, Jasmine explained to Jill that she had a mild hearing loss. “Jasmine doesn’t need many adaptations,” says Jill. “I just make sure the piano or track accompaniment is loud enough and angled towards her. When giving her instructions, I make sure we’re looking directly at each other.”

Jasmine was enjoying her singing lessons and Jill was impressed with her progress so decided she was ready to take an exam. “I was excited to take exams,” Jasmine says. “But I was really nervous too; I was scared I’d get my songs wrong. The first exam went well, it was pre-Covid-19 and I did it face-to-face.”

“She got a merit,” Jill adds. “The examiner was brilliant and made a lot of effort to make sure she could access the exam.”

It was during a virtual exam, Jasmine’s third, that things didn’t go to plan. “Jill submitted my songs on a video and also told the examiner that I was deaf,” explains Jasmine. “I felt reasonably confident because I’d heard them back and thought I did quite good. But I failed.”

“The feedback was generally unhelpful,” Jill adds. “I believe the comments made stemmed from a lack of appreciation that deaf people can sound a little bit different when they first start singing a song. It can take slightly longer for Jasmine to stabilise her internal pitch reference. Unfortunately, if a marker makes a swift judgement, I believe they’re at risk of missing much of the good in the performance. The feedback also concentrated on intonation, and I thought that was unduly harsh. I was angry as I believed she’d been discriminated against.”

Jill didn’t want to leave it there, so she wrote a letter of complaint to the examining board and got in touch with the National Deaf Children’s Society to ask for advice. We explained that examiners should make reasonable adjustments to allow deaf students to access exams fairly. “With support from staff at the National Deaf Children’s Society, I’ve been in communication with the examining board, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by them. They’ve been in touch with us to ask for advice and have begun a review of their disabled learner’s policy.

“I believe music should be accessible to everyone. By raising the issue, I was hoping to redress the balance for deaf candidates and educate examiners on how to assess them more fairly.”

Jasmine isn’t going to let one bad exam experience put her off singing. “I’m still doing singing lessons,” she says. “I hope in the future I can do theatre shows at school and maybe even be a professional singer.”

And with her mum and supportive singing teacher behind her, it’s likely Jasmine will go far.

“Deafness is a hidden disability,” Rebecca says. “One of the hardest challenges we’ve faced is having Jasmine’s needs taken seriously. She may look like she’s coping well but sometimes it can be a struggle. I’m grateful to Jill for highlighting this to the examining board.”

“I hope Jasmine continues to love singing and music,” Jill adds. “I hope that she and I can have confidence that in the future she’ll get a fair deal in all her assessments.”

See more information and tips for accessing music.

If you think your child has been discriminated against in a performing arts exam, please do contact our Freephone Helpline.