Take that! Deaf lobby fights for exam fairness

12th March 2010 at 00:00
Petition calls for Equality Bill amendment to remove all traces of discrimination

Fifteen years ago, a GCSE English question on Take That would have been every teenage girl's dream. But with the inability to hear music, it is a deaf student's nightmare.

When Arran Masterman, a profoundly deaf 18-year-old, sat his English GCSE exam two years ago, he was asked to describe the highs and lows of being a music fan. As a deaf teenager, he had never experienced music and did not know the meaning of "highs and lows".

"He came home from school on the day of his exam and asked me who Take That were," recalls his mother, Amanda Masterman. "He also asked: 'What is a group?'"

After a debate on the Equality Bill in the Lords, campaigners felt that the limited accessibility of examinations for children with special educational needs had still not been addressed.

In response, the National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS) has launched a Downing Street petition to instruct the Government Equalities Office to amend the bill.

"The Equality Bill was meant to remove all traces of discrimination in exams," said Jo Campion, head of campaigns at the NDCS. "Instead, (it) maintains a system which is unfairly loaded against disabled students."

Government figures show deaf children are already underachieving at school.

The NDCS wants Ofqual, the exams regulator, to tighten the law and take the issue more seriously.

Ms Campion said: "This is the first time the clauses give a lot of power to Ofqual, and we will continue to work with the regulator to ensure sufficient checks and balances are put in place for the benefit of deaf students."

The bill states that Ofqual must minimise disadvantage faced by disabled students and maintain integrity and public confidence in the qualification.

The NDCS believes that by seeking to minimise disadvantage, the bill accepts that some disadvantage and discrimination can remain.

A spokesman for Ofqual said: "We are aware that there have been particular issues regarding the assessment of oral communication skills for learners with hearing difficulties.

"The new role given to us by the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act and the responsibilities set out for us in the Equality Bill will allow us to challenge past practice where necessary."

Two years after his initial exam, Mr Masterman, from St Albans, Hertfordshire, is still working to achieve a C grade in GCSE English, while studying business at Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education.

"I immediately wrote to Edexcel about the music question," said his mother. "It's like asking a blind person to describe the colour of trees in autumn."

Mrs Masterman's is one of the 400 signatures supporting the petition. Another 100 are being sought before the Equality Bill enters report stage in the Lords on May 2. The bill is expected to become law before the election, but with at least 500 signatures, it is hoped to generate a government response.

Mrs Masterman added: "What exam boards need is a deaf professional or someone who is deaf to look at the psychological effect the paper may have on a deaf person."


Against the odds

There are more than 45,000 deaf children in the UK

- Nearly all deaf children (more than 90 per cent) are from families with no first-hand experience of deafness

- Deaf children are 42 per cent less likely than hearing children to achieve five GCSEs grades at A*-C, including English and maths

- Some 87 per cent of deaf children in England are taught in mainstream schools.

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