Alex aces his GCSEs
Thanks to a combination of hard work, the right support at school and exam access arrangements, Alex (16), who is profoundly deaf, is celebrating big GCSE success.
Holding their breath, Michelle and Chris watched their son Alex open the envelope and scan the contents. Delight spread across his face as he read out his exam results, “A* in Maths, B in Maths Numeracy, B in English literature, C in English Language, A in History, B in Science (A in Physics, B in Biology and C in Chemistry) C in Art, and a B in Welsh Baccalaureate!” he beamed proudly.
Alex, who is now in the sixth form at the mainstream school where he took his GCSEs, has lots of support from the hearing-impaired base. “I have a teaching assistant (TA) in every lesson to take notes, so if I don’t understand something I can ask – there are about 10 TAs and they can sign,” he says.
“They all have their speciality,” adds Michelle. “It’s really good because they’re highly qualified and all trained in teaching deaf children.” The notes they take are emailed to Alex within 24 hours, something he and Michelle both find useful. “If he’s falling behind, or had to take a day off for an appointment, he can fill in the gaps,” says Michelle. “It also gives me an idea of what he’s doing so we can chat about his homework.”
“Alex attends 90% mainstream lessons but also has base lessons. If he’s behind or hasn’t understood something, he comes into the base in a free lesson for some extra tutoring with the Teacher of the Deaf (ToD). He dropped some subjects to free up time. He also has lessons about how to be safe in the community and sessions on socialising.”
"I had 25% extra time in every exam."
Alex also benefits from good listening conditions at school. “It’s carpeted throughout so there’s no echoing in the corridors and every room is soundproofed,” Michelle explains. “I also use a radio aid in all lessons which really helps,” Alex adds.
Born at just 26 weeks, Alex was in hospital for his first four months. An initial test showed he had hearing but a second revealed a problem and he was eventually diagnosed as deaf at five months old.
“I was always very positive about him being deaf because he’d been so ill – I didn’t care as long as he was here,” remembers Michelle. “My biggest concern wasn’t him being deaf, it was how he was going to cope with communicating.”
Wanting to offer him every communication option, Michelle and Chris chose a cochlear implant for Alex which he had just before his second birthday, and he chose to have a second one when he was 15 – which he doesn’t find as effective as his first.
“They didn’t do bilateral implants in Wales when I was younger,” he says. “I would have liked to have had the second one sooner but there was a long waiting list.” Alex also learnt British Sign Language and is now equally comfortable using speech or sign.
Before sitting his GCSEs, Alex had exam access arrangements put in place for him by his school to make sure his deafness didn’t put him at a disadvantage.
“I had 25% extra time in every exam. I was in a room by myself with the invigilator and I was allowed rest breaks,” says Alex. “I was going to take Additional Maths but with the extra time the exam would have been four hours. That felt a bit too much, so I decided against it.”
Although Alex’s school is an hour and a half return bus journey away from their home, the family feel it was the right choice for him. “I was offered a scholarship to a deaf specialist school, but it was a long way away and I didn’t think I’d get to connect with hearing people there, so I turned it down,” says Alex.
“We also considered our local comprehensive school, but it didn’t have a deaf unit,” remembers Michelle. “Luckily it was no problem to get a place at our chosen school. We’ve been very lucky; we’ve had total support right from the start. Our sensory impairment team have been marvellous. Alex also has a statement of special educational needs which has come in handy.”
"I want to go on to university and become a History teacher."
School has still presented Alex with some challenges though. “Mixing with other people can be difficult,” he says. “There are nine other deaf children at my school but only two are the same age as me.”
Michelle adds, “The social side of things is different, but he has a few friends locally who’ve known him for years and so know how to communicate with him.”
Alex has lots of hobbies including collecting records, painting, history and skiing. He’s also a loving brother, keen babysitter and role model for younger sister Charlotte (4) who is also profoundly deaf.
Now taking History, English Literature, Maths and Biology AS levels with the same support in place at school, he has big plans for his future. “I want to go on to university and become a History teacher,” he smiles.
“We just want him to be happy and never disappointed that he hasn’t been able to do something,” says Michelle. “I’ve always just thought, ‘He’s here, he’s wonderful, he’s just got broken ears and that’s that’.”
Exam access arrangements like Alex’s are granted on an individual basis based on evidence. For example, for a student to be allowed extra time in an exam, their school would need to prove to the exam board that they normally needed more time in classes or tests to process what they are reading.
Not all schools will organise exam access arrangements automatically. Find out more about how and when to get the right arrangements in place for your child.