Education & Family

Poor reading 'points to UK schools' neglect of deaf'

Deaf pupils
Image caption "Oral deaf" children, who communicate by speaking rather than sign language, are "needlessly falling behind" with reading, the report says

Britain's deaf children are being "failed by the education system", a new study suggests.

Researchers say more than half the deaf children they assessed had reading difficulties as severe as the problems faced by hearing dyslexic children.

The team found there are no specific interventions routinely offered to deaf children to support reading.

The Department for Education says it is giving £1m to councils in England over two years to help deaf children.

The study was carried out by a team from City University London, and was funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

It compared two groups of children across the UK aged 10 to 11.

'Needlessly falling behind'

One was made up of deaf children who communicate orally rather than by using sign language (known as "oral deaf"), and the other hearing children with dyslexia.

In all, 79 children with a severe-profound level of deafness took part in the study, representing a significant proportion of oral deaf children in the UK in this age group.

As a result of their hearing loss, deaf children have difficulty hearing the speech sounds that make spoken language and upon which reading is based.

The report says that hearing children with literacy difficulties are "likely to be described as dyslexic", which results in them being given the specialist support they need.

The team found that the oral deaf children were not offered the right kinds of support, and were "needlessly falling behind" their peers.

Dr Rosalind Herman, one of the report's authors, said: "Too many deaf children continue to fail at reading.

"Poor reading is not an inevitable outcome for every deaf child," she said.

"With a proper understanding of their reading deficits and appropriate support, the outlook for deaf children in the UK can change."

'Identify difficulties'

Josh Hillman, of the Nuffield Foundation, said the report "reveals the extent to which the education system is currently failing to address the needs of deaf children with reading difficulties".

However, he sees some cause for optimism.

"It also demonstrates that it is possible to identify and address those difficulties at an early stage," he said.

"We now need to see specialist reading interventions for deaf children who communicate using spoken language to ensure they receive the equivalent support to their hearing classmates."

The Department for Education points out that in 2013 "more deaf children than ever before achieved five good GCSEs including English and maths" in England.

Last year, 42.7% of deaf children achieved 5 GCSEs at A* to C including English and maths. This is compared with 37.4% in the previous year and 28.3% in 2007/08.

"We are providing £1 m over two years so that councils can work together more effectively to help deaf children," a DfE spokesman said, "and we are also funding the National Deaf Children's Society and the National Sensory Impairment Partnership to look at how well councils support deaf students."

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