The Scottish Office is being urged to follow England's lead and make specialist training for teachers of the deaf mandatory. The call comes from the National Deaf Children's Society, which has voiced concerns about the severe shortage of suitably qualified teachers for Scotland's 1,900 children with hearing impairments.
The society says the situation is unacceptable, and predicts a further deterioration unless a shift in policy on training brings Scotland into line with England and Wales. Making a special needs qualification mandatory, as south of the border, would guarantee funding.
The issue is a central plank of the society's new campaign, which is launched next Monday with the appointment of a Scottish development officer. Veronica Rattray has pledged to make the fight for more teachers a priority and is seeking talks with the Scottish Office.
"There is a danger that some children are missing out on vital support. As an organisation we feel very strongly that all deaf children should be taught by teachers who are properly trained," Mrs Rattray said.
She has identified two main areas of difficulty in Scotland: only Moray House Institute offers a diploma in deaf education compared with mandatory courses offered at five universities in England and Wales; and there is a worrying trend towards a predominantly female, middle-aged profession with teachers retiring faster than local authorities can replace them.
In the past 12 months, no new teachers have qualified from Moray House and in the current session just five will complete the course. John Landon, co-ordinator of the training diploma, said: "The reason why few teachers are coming through is because local authorities don't have the money to send teachers. It is a funding question rather than a supply question."
In Glasgow, one specialist teacher is responsible for 39 pre-school children, scattered across the city in various nurseries and family homes.
At the Scottish Office, which last year provided pound;1 million in grants for training special needs teachers and finances the Scottish Sensory Centre, a spokesman said: "The responsibility for ensuring that there is an adequacy of trained staff in their areas is for the local authority. The Scottish Office is always willing to consider representation from any source on standards of training in any area of education. Clearly if there is a consensus among groups in a specific area of education the representation would have more weight."