Support needed for deaf children

Fiona Onasanya column
Fiona Onasanya column

At my party’s annual conference this year, I discussed the important issues affecting deaf children in Peterborough and across the country with the National Deaf Children’s Society – a leading charity that aims to create a barrier-less society for deaf children and their families.

There are around 45,000 deaf children in England, and according to their data, 314 of these children reside in Peterborough.

The charity emphasised to me that deafness is not a learning disability, and that there is no reason, with the correct provisions put in place, why the majority of deaf children should achieve any less than hearing children.

However, speaking with one of their young campaigners, made it very clear to me that without these provisions, deaf children and young people are often victims of isolation and bullying in school.

With 78 per cent of deaf children attending mainstream schools that don’t have special provisions, it is evident that we can do much more to provide the support that can unlock the potential of deaf children across the country.

This is particularly important in Peterborough, as the NDCS informed me that deaf children in our city are regularly falling a GCSE grade behind their hearing classmates in school.

One campaign the charity are pursuing that could be of great help is the introduction of a GCSE in British Sign Language in schools across the country. To be able to learn their first language in school would be liberating, and improve the school experience for many deaf children.

Department of Education figures show that the attainment gap between deaf and hearing children has actually widened over the last year. Surely, a GCSE in British Sign Language is a solution that can help buck the trend, and foster a more promising learning environment?

The root cause of this problem is clear. Deaf children’s services are facing a further £4 million worth of cuts this year. Moreover, throughout the government’s austerity agenda – there has been a marked reduction in the number of specialist services and teachers that councils are able to provide.

For the last eight years of Conservative rule, devolved austerity has had a stark impact on those who need our help the most – including deaf children. These cuts should be immediately reversed as a matter of urgency. At the Conservative party conference, the Prime Minister declared that “austerity is over”. My challenge to this government is that they actually fulfil this promise and tackle the shocking funding crisis in SEND education. Otherwise, they are complicit in stifling the potential of thousands of deaf children across the country who deserve better.