Deaf-specialist teachers are a lifeline – the state must not cut them
How much is a child’s education worth? If they’re deaf, not even £4m it seems. Or at least that’s how much will be cut by English councils from their deaf educational support budgets this year, according to analysis by the National Deaf Children’s Society. It follows massive reductions that have already occurred in the number of specialist teachers employed by councils to support deaf children and their families. The charity estimates that one in 10 have been axed over the past four years.
I’m deaf in both ears. I wear hearing aids and rely heavily on lip-reading. I had a specialist teacher in my mainstream primary and secondary schools, and the support was crucial to me succeeding. The picture for deaf and hard-of-hearing children in education today is bleak. They fall behind their peers at every stage in school, and Department for Education statistics show around 60% don’t achieve government GCSE targets.
Faced with such a glaring disparity, a government that took education seriously would be pumping more cash into support services for deaf children, not less. Instead, shamefully, the lack of government funding has forced councils to exacerbate the crisis in support for children with special educational needs. These cuts won’t just risk deaf children being let down or prevented from reaching their full potential. Worse, they will fuel one of the most harmful prejudices that deaf people face: that being deaf is somehow the same as being unintelligent.
But the value of teachers of the deaf isn’t just in having someone who can make sure you’re learning as best you can or matching your classmates in GCSE results. It’s about having someone to talk to who understands what it’s like to be deaf in a mainstream school. It’s the person who gives you the perfect line to use when you’re inevitably asked “What are those in your ears?” in the playground. The adult who understands what you mean when you complain about your teacher because “their lips move funny”. The reassurance that comes with someone able to comfort you when you’re being teased for “talking weird”.
Teachers of the deaf also helped me match my classmates in another way. They helped me develop skills to keep up with the flow of conversation during breaktimes, so that I wasn’t left out. It’s easy to measure how many deaf children do not attain good grades when they don’t have an adequate support structure. It’s harder to measure how many friendships they miss out on or jokes they don’t share in because they don’t have the right support in place to socialise properly with everyone else at their school.
Schemes that are run under those budgets give deaf children who are born into hearing families and attend mainstream schools the chance to meet other deaf people too. When I was nine or 10, deaf children from different schools in the area were taken by our teachers of the deaf to a pantomime. It was the first time I had properly met other children who also wore hearing aids. Being taken to see a show might not seem that important, but it was: it made me feel normal. As if I wasn’t the “only deaf in the village”.
You can only educate a child once. That’s why it’s so important that they have every opportunity possible to reach their full potential – I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support that I was given. The government says it wants every child to succeed. It should prove it and invest properly in support services for deaf kids. Anything less would be a betrayal of their futures.
• Josh Salisbury is a freelance journalist