Listening carefully

27th October 2000 at 01:00
The Mead infant school in Ewell contains a 15-place deaf unit in its roll of 350 (which includes a 70-place nursery). All are fully included in mainstream classes. Sign language is not used, though natural gesture is; children use very powerful equipment to make the most of residual hearing. Pat Clasby, deputy head of the Mead and head of the unit, says: "We use the oralauditory method because that's what families want. Parents say 'I want my child to speak'; they want them to have equal opportunities for learning."

SATs results are "at least as good as those for hearing children", deaf children are in most classes and staff includes 1.4 teachers of the deaf and four learning support assistants. Inclusion has been part of the Mead since 1994. Children are only taken out to the resource room for small-group work if they are having specific problems. From games to assemblies to dance and drama, they participate; planning for the whole school always includes them.

The school recently gained funding to carpet and put in sound-deadening ceiling material in all classrooms, which has helped the concentration of hearig children as well as the deaf pupils. A model behaviour policy stressing respect has created a positive ambience in which all children feel secure; the Mead is heavily subscribed.

In class, you can pick the deaf children out by the battery packs they wear round their waists and by their expressions of concentration as they watch the teacher. More noticeable is the keenness: hands shooting up to estimate numbers of conkers, thoughtful contributions about why the lion roared, giggles over a shared joke.

Pat Clasby says: "We have a meeting for all new parents and we tell them about our hearing impaired children and say, 'Please ask them home to tea, they would love to come and play'. And they do, they go to the parties and the others take care of them."

Parents' involvement is crucial. As well as home-school books, the Mead also uses regular workshops, meetings and video to communicate with home and to map children's progress.

Although Mrs Clasby is a trained signer, sign at the Mead is eschewed, simply, she says, because "it's an English-speaking world out there, they need to speak English".

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