Wales: Mind the Gap!

Debbie Green, Policy & Campaigns Officer Wales

Debbie Thomas Policy and Campaigns Officer Wales

Every year, a pile of statistics finds its way into my inbox. I’ve never been a fan of stats and spreadsheets, but nevertheless, I am always grateful to receive these ones on the attainment of deaf pupils in Wales.

Just a few years ago, there was no published data on the number of deaf pupils in Wales – let alone information on their attainment.

Such data is a key part of the picture when looking at how well our deaf learners are supported in Wales and NDCS Cymru campaigned for the data to be available.

We know that deaf pupils face challenges, but with appropriate support they can achieve on a par with their hearing peers. Unfortunately, the stats show significant attainment gaps between deaf learners and their peers. Last year, deaf pupils were 30.2% less likely to achieve A*-C GCSE grades in the 3 “core subjects” (English/Welsh, Maths and Science.)

Whilst this paints an upsetting picture, it is important to consider what it actually means. It certainly isn’t an indictment of our Teachers of the Deaf! We know we’re lucky to have many dedicated and talented Teachers of the Deaf working across Wales. But we also know that these professionals are often working beyond capacity with sky-high caseloads. We know that we desperately need to ensure new professionals are trained up for the next generation, especially since many of our current Teachers of the Deaf are nearing retirement.

But we also need to look beyond the Teacher of the Deaf. We need to find ways of addressing the numerous barriers and challenges that deaf pupils can face – barriers that deaf young people themselves tell us about. To name but a few these include the need for; greater deaf awareness among educational staff generally, improved classroom acoustics and more support workers with BSL skills.

The attainment statistics upset me, but they also keep me passionate about my work – campaigning to make a difference for deaf young people in Wales.

NDCS Cymru has been campaigning hard on behalf of deaf learners. Although there is still much to be done, some good changes are happening.

Even as positive steps are taken, it will be essential that we keep accessing this attainment data to monitor the attainment gap and ensure it closes. Essentially, we need to mind the gap. That’s why NDCS Cymru is calling on the Welsh Government to make sure this valuable information is not lost as it reviews the way in which attainment data is collated across Wales. It may sound like a boring topic, but it is vitally important!

So, when it comes to this year’s attainment data, let’s not read it and weep. Let’s read it and:

  1. be grateful for the fact that we have it;
  2. recognise the work of fabulous professionals who work hard to support our deaf learners;
  3. keep campaigning to ensure all deaf children can have the support they need.

Make it the law to close the gap

Katie Rafferty, Policy and Campaigns Officer Scotland

Katie Rafferty, Policy and Campaigns Officer Scotland

That is what the Scottish Government is aiming to do through their proposed Education (Scotland) Bill. The Bill contains fresh proposals that would require public authorities to report on how they are succeeding to close the education gap for the most disadvantaged young people.

The Scottish Government’s vision for children and young people is to make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up and learn. The wide attainment gap that exists between those leaving school with the best and poorest outcomes undermines that vision. The Bill, along with the Government’s Attainment Challenge Fund work, aims to tackle this issue.

How do deaf children and young people stand to benefit? With the right support, deaf learners can achieve the same outcomes as their hearing peers of similar ability. Despite this, deaf learners are among the lowest attainment groups in Scotland. This has been acknowledged through the recent Inquiry into the attainment of pupils with a sensory impairment.

However, the challenge lies in how the Bill defines “disadvantaged” and its focus on socioeconomic deprivation. Of course, there is a strong connection for all young people, including those who are deaf, between poverty and poorer educational outcomes.

However, poverty is not the only factor which can affect how well a deaf young person does at school. National and local investment into the things they might need at school: qualified interpreters, specialist teachers, good acoustics and effective technology, all have an important role to play. No matter how well off a family is, if something a deaf child needs is missing in their local community they won’t be supported to reach their full potential.

NDCS welcomes this ambitious new Bill, but we are calling on the Scottish Government to take the opportunity to address the multiple factors that cause attainment gaps, including Additional Support Needs. You can read our response to the committee here.

You can find out more about the Bill and follow its journey through Scottish Parliament here.

Closing the gap in Scotland

Katie Rafferty, Policy and Campaigns Officer Scotland

Katie Rafferty, Policy and Campaigns Officer Scotland

Last year NDCS published the Close the Gap report which highlighted the unacceptable education attainment gap which exists for deaf young people in Scotland. Data published in 2014 showed that almost 10% of deaf school leavers had no qualifications compared with just 1% of pupils with no Additional Support Needs. With the right support deaf young people can achieve just as much as their hearing peers. There is no reason why such a shocking statistic should be the reality facing as many as 3850 deaf children and young people in Scotland today.

A year on from our report’s publication the Scottish Parliament announced an Inquiry into the attainment of pupils with a sensory impairment. This marks real progress and commitment from Scottish Parliament and Government towards closing the education gap for every child.

The Inquiry was solutions-focused and asked: what action can be taken to close the education attainment gap for sensory impaired pupils? Here are our views on what were the most important recommendations highlighted by the Inquiry:

1. Address the challenges affecting the specialist workforce for deaf learners including the consistency of qualifications Teachers of the Deaf have and their ageing profile.
2. Improve early intervention and support in the early years and establish Scottish Government early years standards that can inform care pathways and provision following newborn hearing screening diagnosis.
3. Improve data about deaf children so that local authorities can plan the services they need more effectively.
4. Ensure school buildings are meeting high quality acoustics standards – benefitting all learners, not just those are deaf.
5. Explore how we can use new technology to better support deaf learners, and in some cases centralise learning to offer deaf young people more opportunities and higher quality supports.
6. Support the confidence and resilience of deaf young people to help them prepare to succeed in whatever they do when they leave school.

The Education and Culture Committee are due to publish their Inquiry report in September, and NDCS will be responding to its recommendations then. Watch this space.

For more info contact: campaigns.scotland@ndcs.org.uk