In touch with each other

27th October 2000 at 01:00
Victoria Neumark looks at the context for new RNID guidelines and visits Surrey schools that exemplify good practice

While the Code of Practice is still out to consultation and the SEN and Disability Rights in Education Bill being drafted, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) has published some educational guidelines to help teachers working towards inclusion of deaf pupils. Integration - "fitting deaf pupils in" to mainstream education as Diane Blackmore, education officer at the RNID puts it - needs to be replaced by education provision which brings the needs of deaf pupils to the fore with the mainstream.

There are about 14,000 pupils in the UK education system with severe or profound deafness. (Deafness increases with age: there are 8.7 million people with hearing problems.) Some hundreds of children (one in 1,000) are born every year with hearing loss (half moderate, 25 per cent severe and 25 per cent profound); childhood viral infections including meningitis, and "glue ear", can leave children with hearing problems. Language acquisition and development can be badly delayed with consequent frustration and emotional upset: early diagnosis is, says Diane Blackmore, "crucial" to effective education. "We don't want to languish in low achievement," she says.

There is a national picture of improvement. Before 1945 only six deaf people had obtained degrees from British universities. Twenty years ago a survey showed that deaf children left school with an average reading age of nine years. In 1995 14 per cent of deaf pupils in mainstream schools achieved five A*-C grades at GCSE compared with the English average of 44 per cent; 70 per cent got five A*-G compared to the English average of 86 per cent; in 1996 the figures were, 18 per cent compared with 45 per cent at A*-C; 75 per cent compared with 86 per cent at A*-G. But last year at the specialist Mary Hare grammar school, 75.3 per cent gained five or more A*-C grades, and 88 per cent passed A-levels, enabling every student who applied to higher education to gain a place. "If it can happen once it can happen all over the place," says Diane Blackmore.

In 1998 the RNID began collating examples of good practice across the country, published in 1999 as A Review of Good Practice in Deaf Education. Working collaboratively with such education authorities as Solihull, Oxfordshire and Surrey (see the case studies below) the RNID has now issued the first three in a series of nine publications of education guidelines: Effective Inclusion of Deaf Pupils in Mainstream Schools, Using Residual Hearing Effectively and Guidelines for Mainstream Teachers with Deaf Pupils in their Class.

For decades a fierce debate has raged over the use of sign language in teaching deaf pupils. British Sign Language (BSL) is a complete language, with vocabulary, grammar and syntax. Many deaf people feel it is central to their identity. Opponents of its use feel it stigmatises and disables deaf people, who have to live in a hearing world. Over the past few years both sides have moved closer to compromise; the RNID is clear that each child should find the mode of communication that meets his or her needs, whether it be in the oralauditory mode of hearing aids and lip-reading, or "total communication", which uses a mix of BSL, sign-supported English (SSE), fingerspelling and cued speech (with hand signals to describe key sounds).

Either method can be used inclusively, as our case studies show - as can the bilingual classroom favoured by a few. Most deaf people do have some residual hearing, which can be amplified with powerful hearing aids, or accessed more thoroughly by cochlear implants, which insert a device to bypass dead hearing cells. Comprehension is maximised by learning lip-reading. Such children can learn to speak and participate in hearing classrooms. Others, though, process language skills more visually and are most fluent in BSL. Schools can include such pupils by spreading knowledge of sign among those who can hear, by using videos and letters to communicate with families and by first developing linguistic competence within sign language to foster skills transferable to English. Then the whole marvel of modern silent ICT (text messages, e-mail, minicom) can open up to deaf students.

In Surrey, Pauline Hughes runs the hearing division of the Physical and Sensory Support Service. Of the 1,100 children on the Service's database, just under 400 are severely or profoundly deaf, 320 attend local primary schools and 380 local secondary schools. About 80 go to six mainstream schools with hearing-impaired units. Most schools with hearing-impaired pupils are visited once a year; the 20-odd schools with "high need" pupils are supported weekly.

Mrs Hughes, a teacher of the deaf (TOD) for 32 years has seen deaf children's education transformed by technology and the rise of Deaf Awareness and the Deaf Rights movement. She feels that Surrey's centrally funded service, employing TODs, audiologists, technicians and administrative staff, has the flexibility to foster inclusion by reinforcing high expectations on the one hand and responding to additional difficulties on the other. Separate specialist schools for the deaf operate only on a regional basis.

Paradoxically, says Diane Blackmore, inclusion need not mean attending a mainstream secondary school. Teenagers with hearing problems may need to be with peers, as the Mary Hare experience suggests. They must be included in local and national thinking: "We are insisting on raising standards," she says.

Teachers who order the guidelines will find information on adapting teaching styles, liaising with specialist staff and modifying materials and classroom environments. Freephone: 0808 808 0123.


Guidelines for mainstream teachers with deaf pupils in their classDesigned for use by mainstream teachers with little or no experience of working with deaf pupils, the booklet explains the philosophy behind inclusion and the importance of liaison with specialist help on one hand and parents and families on the other.

Basic information on how the ear works and the range and impact of deafness leads on to a discussion of how mainstream teachers can help in detecting hearing loss and a breakdown of help which is available.

A clear discussion of how deaf pupils communicate looks at oralauditory approaches (used by 67 per cent of deaf pupils), total communication (26 per cent) and bilingualism (2 per cent).

Thorough and thoughtful suggestions on working with sign interpreters, modifying teaching styles and minimising distractions, both auditory and visual, and differentiating within the curriculum will give teachers the confidence to help deaf pupils be truly included.

Effective inclusion of deaf pupils in mainstream schoolsFor specialist teachers, teachers of the deaf, learning support assistants and special educational needs co-ordinators, this booklet offers advice on teaching deaf pupils from key stages 1-4, whether withdrawn for small groups in a resource centre, supported by assistants or teachers of the deaf in mainstream classes, or simply in mainstream. There are sections on using video and television, on different support options available, working with other professionals and adapting the environment.

Many suggestions will improve general practice, such as speaking clearly and at a moderate pace, allowing deaf pupils enough time to answer a question, avoiding the use of throw-away comments - which may amuse the class but confuse deaf pupils - and using praise, encouragement and clear expectations. Others are more specific, such as a checklist for monitoring inclusion, discussion of modifying the curriculum and examples of adapted texts.

Using residual hearing effectivelyDesigned for use by teachers of the deaf and learning support assistants, this booklet assumes some prior knowledge. Information about management of milder, unilateral and fluctuating hearing loss is offered but the main focus is on children with severe or profound deafness. There is advice on working with audiologists and explanations of the mechanisms of deafness.

Hearing aids, earmoulds and cochlear implants are explained, with everyday checking routines and advice on co-operating with parents. Advice ranges from a "listening kit" for parents to technical explanations on running personal FM systems. FM systems are very useful: they enable a teacher's voice to carry directly to users fitted with a receiver and cut out a lot of background noise. There are also suggestions for activities including singing games to develop listening.

All publications are photocopiable, have glossary and bibliography and cost pound;5.99 each from the RNID, 19-23 Featherstone Street, London EC1Y 8SL. Tel: 020 7296 8000. E-mail: helpline Web: Freephone 0808 808 0123.

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