Deaf charities have severely criticised Ofsted after learning that only four of its inspectors have the required training to judge whether a school is providing the best care for hearing-impaired pupils.
The Royal National Institute for Deaf People and the National Deaf Children's Society said the watchdog is not doing enough to improve provision for children with hearing difficulties. They also criticised the inspectorate for giving a an overly positive impression of the standard of special needs provision in schools.
Brian Lamb, the institute's executive director on policy who is conducting a review of special needs in schools for the Government to be published in September, said there were "long-standing concerns" about the role of Ofsted inspectors and the provision for deaf children.
"There is a list of worries when it comes to inspectors who would not be in a good position to give an informed view of specialist provision for deaf children," he said. "There have been instances where they have said provision is good, but this does not match up with the parents' view, which is a major worry."
Mr Lamb said Ofsted had become more aware of the issue, but it needed to employ more inspectors with the appropriate training.
Brian Gale, director of policy and campaigns at the NDCS, said his society had examples that showed Ofsted was not conducting inspections with "rigour and awareness". He echoed Mr Lamb's concerns that the watchdog was giving the wrong impression.
"Four inspectors is a very low number," he said. "We want to know that when an inspection is being carried out, does the inspector have the knowledge and experience to know what best practice is? We have evidence of an inspector giving a school a 'good' rating for its deaf provision only for the headteacher having to intervene because she felt it did not provide an accurate picture to prospective parents."
The institute cited a 2008 Ofsted report on a London primary which stated that children in the school's unit for deaf pupils "progress well" because they are supported by "highly experienced staff". But an independent investigation showed the unit did not have anyone in charge qualified to deal with deaf pupils, or who was even a teacher.
According to the institute, the inadequacy of the unit was known to the local authority and came to light in a subsequent tribunal.
The society said the skewed picture of SEN provision added to the gap in attainment between deaf children and those without special needs. It also said deaf children are 42 per cent less likely to achieve the Government's benchmark of five high grades at GCSE.
A spokesperson for Ofsted said: "Whenever Ofsted schedules an inspection, it arranges with the inspection contractor to ensure that the team of additional inspectors has the specialism appropriate for the school concerned, drawing from a pool of nearly 2,000 available inspectors. These include inspectors skilled in a variety of special educational needs, including working with the deaf. There are 200 HMIs employed directly by Ofsted, of whom four are particularly skilled in issues relating to the education of deaf children."
How they fare
- Three babies are born deaf every day: 90 per cent of deaf children are born to hearing parents with little experience of deafness.
- Of 35,000 deaf children in the UK, 80 per cent attend mainstream schools.
- There are 22 special schools for deaf children in England - NDCS
12 per cent of deaf children attend special schools (more than 4,200 pupils in total). School Census 2007.
- In 2007, deaf children in England were 42 per cent less likely to achieve five high-grade GCSEs than their hearing contemporaries. Only 33 per cent of deaf children achieved this benchmark compared with 57 per cent of 16-year-olds nationally. - DCSF.