Concern over shortage of teachers with sign language

5th September 1997 at 01:00
The need for teacher competence in British Sign Language was raised at an international conference on deaf education in Edinburgh last weekend. Michele Thew, assistant chief executive of the National Deaf Children's Society, said: "We want to move beyond the situation where the child is progressing faster than the teacher in terms of language levels."

Sue Unger, education strategist with the British Deaf Association, said: "Trained teachers of the deaf are being put in situations where they are being asked to deliver the curriculum through British Sign Language yet are not getting the support from either school, local or national government to acquire the necessary skills."

A former pupil of a specialist deaf school who is a teacher of British Sign Language recalled, in sign language: "As a result of not being able to communicate with my teachers in deaf school I lost a lot of confidence. "

But Anne Morris, Fife's head of educational service for the hearing impaired, dismissed the possibility of every teacher of deaf children being trained in sign language. "Nor would they need to." Ms Morris advocated a "holistic" approach, but admitted: "We do have to increase specialisms with regard to British Sign Language."

Ken Corsar, Glasgow's director of education, said: "We have a duty to ensure teachers have the required competencies. There does seem to be a deficiency of teachers of the deaf who are capable of signing."

There was general agreement on the need for more deaf people who were "native" speakers of British Sign Language to become teachers themselves, providing hearing teachers role models.

Scotland has only three fully qualified deaf teachers. Thelma Petty, who teaches at Hamilton School for the Deaf, told, through signing, how her burning ambition to become a teacher had helped her overcome "hard work, struggle and stress, and the barriers there are for deaf people in Scotland to become teachers".

A helpline run by the National Deaf Children's Society has 12,000 calls a year, many from parents caught up in the professional controversy about methodology. "Parents are still getting confusing messages from the people they trust," Ms Thew said. Parents also complained of the array of professionals they had to deal with. "Sixteen per cent of parents said they would like one key worker."

John Hay, community advocacy officer in Scotland for the British Deaf Association, who is himself the deaf parent of two deaf boys said: "It is sad to see that hearing parents are not getting support from deaf parents. The deaf community need to be made aware of and should welcome other families of deaf children."

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