Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the National Deaf Children's Society

  The National Deaf Children's Society is the leading voluntary organisation concerned with the education and well-being of deaf children, their families and carers. We run an information, advice and training service for parents, deaf young people up to 25 and professionals. The Society has 10 regional staff which includes a Development Officer in Northern Ireland who is assisted by the Society's Education Adviser. Our response has been added to and agreed by four local Deaf Children's Societies in Northern Ireland. We hope you will accept this as a holding response until such time as we receive case study evidence from contacts with Northern Ireland. We received the document only very recently.

  We are pleased to be invited to comment on the above. However, given our role as a voluntary organisation, we feel it is appropriate to restrict ourselves to addressing the following three issues identified in your letter of 9 March 1998.

    1.  Delays in the assessment and statementing process.

    2.  The implications of parental right to request an assessment.

    3.  Shortfalls in provision.


  1.1 Whilst we approve any measures to improve financial planning in SEN and the most cost-effective use of public funds, we are disappointed by the implied notion of reduced access to the assessment and statementing process. Without clarifying the purpose of reviewing the effects of the parental right to request a statutory assessment, parents may be forgiven for thinking that access to a statement is likely to be restricted. We would welcome clarification on this or indeed any reassurance that the Committee can give.

  1.2 We would strongly oppose any proposal to establish a mandatory or non-mandatory quota on the proportion of children issued with a statement. This is a feature of Green Papers in England and Wales. The Society believes that such quotas will remove an essential safety net and guarantee of some provision from outside the school's resources for many children with moderate to severe hearing loss. The quota in England and Wales is actually based on a figure from work by educational psychologist Cyril Burt based on London's special school population in the immediate post-war period. It would have no validity for Northern Ireland today. Again we would welcome any reassurance that the Committee may be able to give to parents.

  1.3 However, we are pleased to see that the Committee will be looking at shortfalls in provision and the causes of delays in assessments and the production of a statement.


From our experience delays are caused by:

    —  lack of information and awareness by health and by social services staff in referring newly diagnosed deaf children, largely of pre-school age, to education services;

    —  parents' lack of information about rights and procedures;

    —  complex and multiple needs which may require highly specialist reports/input;

    —  ELBs proposals to issue several amended draft statements;

    —  lack of clear criteria as to when a reassessment is needed, e.g., following an annual review;

    —  parents receiving details of school options just before issue of draft statement (which means parents may need more time to visit schools before expressing a preference);

    —  difficulty in finding a suitable placement.


  NDCS is very strongly opposed to any proposal to withdraw the parental right to request an assessment. In the past we have seen schools refuse to instigate the process despite the fact that changes to Stage III provision have not worked. Relying totally on the school's decision would seem to go against principles of democracy and the notion of parents working in partnership with professionals.


  4.1 NDCS would like to see more accurate measures of the academic attainments and personal achievements of deaf children. Whilst there exist many instances of good practice throughout the UK, we are aware that there are no nationally agreed standardised assessment tools to measure the real cognitive abilities of deaf children, regardless of communication method. NDCS is to be involved in a national initiative which is to begin this year to try and resolve this issue and to set standards in assessment. However, we are also aware that there is a need for all professionals, including mainstream staff and learning support assistants, to be aware of appropriate methods of testing, how to apply them correctly and to draw the right conclusions. We recommend therefore that the Committee and Department of Education for Northern Ireland consider the training needs of such staff in this area.

  4.2 Although a high proportion of deaf children may have additional needs, deafness itself is not a learning difficulty. Deaf children may find themselves disadvantaged in terms of access to the curriculum on account of prior language input difficulties and because the major part of lessons is delivered through the spoken word. We would therefore recommend that DENI investigates the training needs of school boards, mainstream staff, educational psychologists, school inspectors and education officers in appropriate communication methods and the educational, social and developmental implications of deafness. They will also need training in listening to and involving parents and deaf children.

  4.3 We recommend that consideration be given to the national shortage of teachers of the deaf and speech and language therapists. Deaf children's needs for such therapy is rarely medical unless, for instance, they have a disfigurement which requires physical rehabilitation or medical intervention. Despite guidance in the Code of Practice, speech therapy continues to be specified in Parts V and VI of a statement as a non-educational need. As language and, for many children, speech are the building blocks of learning and fundamental to expressive and receptive communication, without such educational therapy deaf children will fail to access the Northern Ireland Curriculum and the overall school curriculum. This may even jeopardise requirements on Part III of a child's statement of needs and school board's legal duty under the Education Order 1995 to ensure that children with SEN are able to join in the life of the school. Research by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists revealed that there are only 38 therapists with the Additional Clinical Skills Qualification in administering such therapy to deaf children.

  4.4 Advances in medical science now mean that congenital hearing loss can be detected within days of birth. Early identification of deaf children has great implications for pre-school provision. Parents will need high quality information, advice and specialist input to develop language as early as possible. The early stages are critical for language acquisition and, if deaf children are to keep up with their hearing peers, Early Years Development Forums and Plans will need to consider how they apply specifically to deaf children in order to avoid the specific needs around deafness becoming lost or diminished within a generic plan.

  4.5 We would like to see a legal duty on children's services to provide post-diagnosis support in terms of the educational, social and development implications of deafness.

  4.6 We recommend that all schools with deaf children should have a text telephone, fax, CD Rom and video telephone. This would allow educators to develop early keyboard skills. There should also be national and international link-ups with the Internet and a phased introduction of video telephony which would help deaf children in rural areas.

  4.7 We recommend that all Education and Library Boards be required to carry out regular, perhaps triennial, audits of adaptations for deaf children in order to make mainstream and unit learning environments more accessible. It is important that schools and Boards work towards improving acoustic environments and creating quiet spaces so that deaf children can make maximum use of residual hearing.

  4.8 NDCS maintains a policy of parental right to choose a communication method and hence a type of school placement. Such decisions should be made upon the basis of clear, high quality and impartial information on the full range of options to enable patents to express an informed choice. Parents' concerns need to be listened to and it is our experience that many lack adequate awareness of help and provision available during the statementing but particularly during the school based stages of assessment.

  4.9 We recommend therefore, that parents are made aware of rights, procedures, options and sources of help, i.e., NDCS, at all stages of assessment. Access to independent support at the earliest possible opportunity may help head off or defuse conflict between parents and professionals. Advocacy support and unbiased and timely information may prevent parental anxiety and suspicion that Board staff are acting unilaterally and without regard to parental viewpoints and observations.

  4.10 Many deaf parents have deaf children. Deaf parents will need equal access to the range of information about assessment/statementing and this may need to be provided through alternative formats, e.g., signed and subtitled videos or through communication support workers or staff with appropriate communication skills. Similar consideration needs to be given to deaf parents from ethnic communities whose first language is not English.

  4.11 The new independent tribunal system is a much fairer system of appeal. However, tribunals may be hamstrung by the fact that they are unable to specify a date by which an ELB must comply with an order/decision. In England and Wales where the tribunal system has been in operation for over three years, some LEAs have resorted to inordinate delays in placing children or even failed altogether to fulfil provision on Part III of a Statement, thus causing the family to have to appeal directly to the Secretary of State. Tribunals should establish timescales in consultation with parents and providers.

  4.12 NDCS is concerned by the proposal in the current draft Education Order concerning local management of schools which allows schools to vire money for SENs to other categories of expenditure; the only requirement being that delegated funding is spent "for the purposes of the school". We therefore recommend that LMS funding for SENs be ringfenced.

  4.13 We believe there is a conspicuous shortfall in provision for under twos. For all children this is a critical time in language acquisition and development. However, parents of deaf children take longer to learn new skills to help their child's communication and development so many early language learning opportunities are lost. We therefore recommend that there should be some statutory provision for deaf children under two in the form of a peripatetic teacher of the deaf conducting home visits to empower parents to take responsibility for their child's learning and development. With new money coming into the Province for nursery placement for three-year-olds, we believe that deaf children should be a funding priority. Similarly, many four year old deaf children in nursery provision will require enhanced funding above the current £1,100 allowed if they are to be integrated or have their special needs met in a specialist setting.

  4.14 A particularly important aspect of education for many deaf pupils is the development of self-esteem and a positive deaf identity. Much of this hinges around good communication and language skills, an age appropriate deaf peer group, deaf-aware staff and access to deaf culture and deaf adult role models in education settings.

2 April 1998

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