Deaf children were among the first groups of pupils with disabilities in the UK to have their special educational needs met by mandatory provision.
That provision has changed dramatically in recent decades. In 1982 there were 75 schools for the deaf in the UK. Today there are just 25. They cater for 8 per cent of deaf children; and a further 12 per cent are in special schools. Most children with hearing impairments are now taught in mainstream schools - around a quarter have units led by qualified teachers of the deaf.
ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
As education authorities came under pressure to improve integration for children with special needs, they moved to establish local support services. Today, most peripatetic teachers of the deaf work for local authorities, while some work for health services. A small number work for non-maintained schools for the deaf. Assessing children under the statementing process is always an important part of their job.
Those within local authority services support deaf children in mainstream and special schools. They also work with under-fives, supporting parents, offering advice, guidance and teaching. In some areas, teachers of the deaf help further education colleges provide for post-16 students.
Teachers of the deaf require a broad range of qualities and skills. As well as teaching and having an advisory role, they have to be technicians, able to maintain and keep up-to-date with the latest hearing aid equipment, and train children and teachers in its use.
SPOTTING THE PROBLEM
Around one child in 1,000 has significant hearing loss. Developments in the field of audiology have led to earlier diagnosis and ensured that fewer children go undetected.
Since March this year, all babies in England are screened for hearing problems within a few days of birth. Once a child is diagnosed with significant hearing loss, parents have to decide what communication approach they and their child should use. These fall into three main categories:
* auditoryoral communication, which makes the most of residual hearing and interaction using spoken language
* manually-coded English, which consists of spoken language with some signs to aid support
* sign bilingualism, which makes the child's main language British Sign Language.
There are wide variations in provision between local authorities. An urban authority, such as a London borough, is more likely to have separate units for different approaches. Pupils can also attend provision in neighbouring authorities and still return home at night. But some rural authorities have no units in schools because of transport difficulties. A service like Telford and Wrekin's, for example, has a team of 15 peripatetic teachers covering the whole of Shropshire.
Some areas have a shortage of teachers of the deaf, with services unable to fill vacancies. Teachers tend to come into the profession later than in other careers, and family ties then often keep them in a particular area.
The nature of the training also makes posts difficult to obtain and fill.
All teachers of the deaf have specialist training and qualifications, and trainees must be qualified teachers with some classroom experience.
FIND A JOB - THEN TRAIN
Teachers used to be able to take a full-time course while on secondment, with tuition paid for by the employer, but this is increasingly rare. Most now take part-time in-service training while already working with deaf children. While this means the training is more effective, would-be teachers of the deaf have to first find a job in the profession before they can train.
Once teachers have gained the mandatory specialist qualification, they can earn between pound;30,000 and pound;35,000 for a full-time post.
But it seems that teachers of the deaf do not always receive the recognition they deserve, especially if they work in local authority support services. Paul Simpson, secretary of the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf, says that the General Teaching Council, the teachers'
practice and standards body, hardly ever mentions them in its publicity.
"Government consultation documents don't often recognise them either," he says. "We have to make the same point over and over again: please remember the role of the unattached teacher."
Another concern for the profession is the increased delegation of funding away from local authorities and into schools proposed in the Education Bill. Simpson fears that when schools are urged to buy in deaf teaching services they will begin to be eroded.
"The more money that goes to schools, the less money is left in the local authority to provide the service in the first place," he says.