Last week a debate took place in the Scottish Parliament on Educational Disadvantage and Deaf Children in Scotland, following the submission of a motion by Kenneth Gibson MSP. The motion was supported by 33 MSPs and was debated on 11 December 2014 with 16 MSPs attending.
• MSPs congratulated the National Deaf Children’s Society on the work we do to support deaf children and their families and our campaigns to break down barriers experienced by this group.
• It was highlighted that all levels of hearing loss can affect educational attainment (Kenneth Gibson MSP & Liam McArthur), with those having mild hearing impairments consistently scoring under average too.
• The stigma around how we think about young deaf people was discussed with it being reiterated by a number of MSPs that deafness is not a learning disability and that “we have to get away from the perception that deaf children are different. They are not.” (Dennis Robertson MSP).
• Attention was drawn to the lack of qualified teachers of the deaf (ToDs) with it being highlighted that 1/3 of ToDs are underqualified. It was proposed by one MSP that there should be laws in place regarding the minimum level of qualifications of ToDs, with a suggested minimum Level 3 BSL qualification as there is concern the current Level 2 requirement might not be sufficiently advanced. The 6% decrease in numbers of ToDs over the last 3 years was highlighted and ½ of the workforce being due to retire in the next 10 – 15 years described at a potential ‘recruitment nightmare’ (Jayne Baxter MSP). The Minister was also asked to address the problem in regulation and monitoring of ToDs.
• Jenny Marra MSP probed the Minister on this point and asked whether he will put targets in place in order to move steadily towards more teachers being appropriately qualified.
• Lack of national data on numbers of deaf children in Scotland was addressed and that there needs to be accurate and relevant data in place in order to develop good policy (Kenneth Gibson MSP).
• Lack of statutory acoustics guidance was addressed with there being no standards in Scotland and a need to improve school acoustics (Liam McArthur MSP).
• The importance of early years and families was highlighted with a need to look beyond school and think about support families need to provide rich supportive home environments (Dennis Robertson MSP).
• In his closing speech the Minister accepted that an attainment gap exists for young deaf learners which needs to be closed by working together to develop an education system that unlocks the potential of all young people, including those with a hearing impairment. He also accepted that families need the skills to promote the development of language in the early years with the Curriculum for Excellence supporting personalisation. It was accepted that work needs to be done to improve the qualifications of teachers working with deaf children. The debate concluded with the Minister announcing the Scottish Government will be supporting the passage and principles of the BSL Bill.
NDCS view on the debate:
This was a successful debate which highlighted some of the most important issues affecting the education of deaf children. We were really pleased to have MSPs raise crucial issues around early years support, qualifications of teachers, acoustics regulations, as well as the need to promote better deaf awareness and inclusion generally in our schools and communities.
It is positive that the Minister has reiterated that he accepts an attainment gap exists for deaf learners and reaffirmed his commitment to working to close this. We are meeting with the Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages in January and will pick up on these points. Our recommendation remains that Education Scotland carries out an Aspect Review into education provision for deaf learners. We are also pleased to see the Education Committee’s interest in deaf education through both the BSL Bill and its work programme around the attainment gap – we are keen to support this work in any way we can.
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