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Deaf campaigners call for commission

A NATIONAL commission is needed to investigate low attainment levels among an estimated 1,500 deaf pupils, says the National Deaf Children's Society in Scotland.

Veronica Rattray, the society's development officer, is stepping up the campaign for an inquiry, distinct from the current Scottish Office review of special education, following concerns about Aberdeen School for the Deaf and Donaldson's College in Edinburgh.

Mrs Rattray's two sons went to a special grammar school in Berkshire for able deaf children, and one has gone on to university. The reality for many others, she says, is massive under-attainment, particularly because of difficulties in adjusting to the many subjects and teachers in secondary school.

"Children are not reaching their potential given that deaf children have the same range of abilities as other children. There is no reason why they should not attain the same levels. They just take longer," she stated.

More than nine out of 10 deaf and hearing impaired pupils are in mainstream schools. "Some children thrive in this environment but some feel very isolated and lonely and do not develop good self-esteem or confidence. A small minority will develop mental health problems that need to be addressed when they leave school," Mrs Rattray said.

She believes a Scottish Office inquiry would establish whether it was time to call a halt to integration, 20 years after the Warnock report. "Schools are not preparing to take deaf children and there is not enough support for pupils and their families," Mrs Rattray said.

Patchy provision across Scotland was accentuated by the advent of smaller councils which sometimes struggled to provide services. "In the worst scenario we find one teacher for the deaf in a whole unitary authority, line managed by community education and trying to cater for all the needs of deaf children and their families," Mrs Rattray said.

In contrast, there were many examples of good practice and teachers working hard for pupils but parents found difficulties in persuading authorities to provide the provision they wanted. "Some authorities will agree to placing requests but not provide the transport," she said.

A national centre for deaf education, which trained teachers and offered specialist residential facilities, would be a breakthrough, although she accepted there could be doubts about its viability in terms of numbers.

Not all teachers or auxiliaries who work with deaf pupils are trained in deaf education, Mrs Rattray pointed out.

Carolyn Finlayson, east of Scotland information officer, said events at Donaldson's College precluded it as a national centre. "We cannot turn Donaldson's College into a school to support academically able children across Scotland. While the college has in the past claimed to cater for such pupils, the report by HMI showed there was some way to go," Ms Finlayson said.

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