What happens after GCSEs?

Martin-Mclean-cropped

Martin McClean, Education and Training Policy Advisor (Post-14), National Deaf Children’s Society

When GCSE results get released each year for deaf students, the statistics receive a lot of attention as they are an important measure of how well deaf children perform in education. However, what do we know about what happens after GCSEs in school sixth forms or in colleges? Arguably, this is even more important because few people go straight from taking GCSEs into employment these days.

Last week the Government released several tables of statistics on the achievement of those aged 16 to 19 in England including breakdowns for deaf students. I am probably a bit odd to get very excited about a set of numbers but the amount of data available to us on the progress deaf students make after the aged of 16 is pretty limited. So, I spent several hours poring over these tables to work out what they were telling us about the progress of deaf students.

What did we find out?

Firstly, it is important to understand that students take a wide variety of qualifications after the age of 16. It is not just A-levels but NVQs, BTECs, diplomas, functional skills courses, etc at different levels. We split students into two groups:

  • Those that have achieved Level 2. This is the equivalent of having five GCSEs at grades A* to C.
  • Those that have achieved Level 3. This is the equivalent of having at least two A-levels (of any grade).

The main findings were:

  • Less than half of deaf students* (43%) achieve Level 3 by the age of 19 compared with 66% of students without SEN.
  • 77% of deaf students achieve Level 2 by the age of 19. This compares with 92% of students without Special Educational Needs (SEN). This suggests that the attainment gap at Level 2 has narrowed by the age of 19.
  • However, when we look at whether students have achieved Level 2 with English and Maths the attainment gap increases to a massive 38%. This suggests that deaf students are particularly struggling to make up ground in the core subjects of English and Maths.
  • It’s not all bad news. Attainment rates have increased significantly in the last decade. For example, the Level 2 pass rate was 58% in 2007 and it is now 77%. However, large increases have also been seen for students without SEN meaning attainment gaps have stayed roughly the same.

On the whole, disappointing reading when we know that deaf students are capable of doing just as well as hearing students with the right support through their lives.

Earlier barriers to education and language development can have a knock-on effect that makes academic progression very challenging for some students. However, questions do need to be asked of post-16 providers. A recent Ofsted report into further education for learners with high needs found great variation between colleges in the quality of their support. Also, progress in Maths and English was found to be too slow.

NDCS will be looking to engage more closely with the further education sector and apprenticeship providers to make sure that they have access to information and resources to ensure that deaf students are properly supported. What happens after GCSEs? We want make sure the answer is a positive one!

*The statistics show the results for deaf students who are described as having ‘Special Educational Needs’ (SEN) in secondary school with deafness as their main type of SEN. This is not all deaf students. For example, students with mild or moderate deafness are more likely to not be recorded as having SEN. It also includes students who have additional needs that are considered secondary to their deafness.

Deaf children are being failed by the education system

Susan Daniels, Chief Executive

Susan Daniels, Chief Executive

Imagine a world where nearly two thirds of children were leaving school without getting good GCSEs. Parents would rightly be furious that their child hadn’t got the right support at school. There would be outrage and a clamour for urgent action.

But when it comes to deaf children, this is the reality that we face. The latest figures from the government, published today show that just 36% of deaf children achieved the government’s benchmark for GCSE success, compared to 65% of their hearing friends.

This is happening despite the fact that deafness is not in itself a learning disability. At the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), we strongly believe that, providing that the right support is provided from the start, deaf children can achieve just as well as anyone else.

But in too many areas that support is being denied to deaf children. We regularly hear from families who are concerned and anxious for their child’s future. For example, a mother of 16-year-old Jodie told us:

“Jodie has never received any kind of formal support with her education. Time and again I’ve raised concerns and begged for help, knowing how badly she was struggling and failing to keep up with her classmates and that when crunch time came she’d be falling off the edge of a cliff.

“If Jodie had received the extra help that I was fighting for, who knows what she could have achieved and where life could have taken her.”

That so many deaf children are being set up to fail is a tragedy. But worse still, is the very real possibility that in coming years, the situation will get worse, not better. Recent government initiatives to support children with special educational needs and disabilities will come to nothing if we don’t recognise the realities on the ground.

For example, a recent report issued by NDCS on behalf of the Consortium for Research into Deaf Education (Cride) raises serious concerns that deaf children will have less access to specialist support in future years. It found that the number of specialist Teachers of the Deaf – who provide expert support to deaf children – is actually going down, falling below 1,000 for the first time last year. A retirement crisis is also looming – over half of all Teachers of the Deaf are due to retire in the next 10 to 15 years.

All of this is happening at a time when local authorities are cutting back on the support that deaf children need, leaving families desperate for support and worried for their child’s future.

It’s heart-breaking to see deaf children like Jodie being failed because they haven’t received the right support. But unless we see urgent action from the Government to address these failing local authorities, we are likely to hear more stories of heartbreak from parents of deaf children.

This is not the future that any parent wants for their child.

This article was originally posted on The Huffington Post.