Deaf pupils hit by teacher shortage

Scotland's largest local authority has accepted criticism that education for deaf children is being hampered by a shortage of trained teachers, a mismatch of provision and a lack of co-operation between some of the new councils.

A conference organised by the National Deaf Children's Society in Dundee last week was told by Veronica Rattray, the society's Scottish development officer, that only 11 specialists had been trained in the past two years despite a shortfall of 50 teachers..

The vast majority of deaf children are educated in mainstream schools but only teachers in special schools must have a mandatory qualification.

Mrs Rattray said: "In the whole of Glasgow there are 25 teachers of the deaf but only 12.7 hold a qualification. Nine of them teach 14 children in two schools, both of which have seven pupils. But there are 118 children in the peripatetic service who need support. That is what happens when the qualification is only mandatory for schools of the deaf."

Ken Corsar, Glasgow's director of education, said the city was currently carrying out a review of empty places in special schools because money was being spent on buildings rather than teachers.

Mr Corsar added: "Many parents still want a strong special school for the deaf and that could become a centre of excellence."

Mrs Rattray and Mr Corsar appealed for local authorities to co-operate in providing services. "We must ensure children and families are given quality education and it may mean going outwith the council boundaries," Mrs Rattray insisted.

South Lanarkshire and North Lanarkshire have agreed to run complementary systems with South Lanarkshire schools specialising in sign language and North Lanarkshire using methods that concentrated on speaking and listening. Parents can send their children to either type of school.

Other councils, however, want distinct policies of their own. East Renfrewshire wants to set up network teams to cover various impairments. But Mrs Rattray warned that breaking up pools of trained staff into geographical areas was counter-productive.

Inter-authority arrangements were a major issue, Mr Corsar said, and no one council could provide a complete range of services. There were tensions between authorities and inside them.

"Provision for deaf education should be decided by children's needs and not by geography," he argued.

Parents wanted choice and authorities had to provide flexible provision with different teaching methodologies. Children needed to have enough of their age-group around them for support.

Mr Corsar also appealed for parents to continue their fight for improved funding. "The more people speaking the same message about deaf education, the better," he said.

Ten years ago, organisations like the NDCS might have been seen as "an annoying lobby" but were now regarded as a "watchdog and monitor of quality".

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