Alison Seabeck MP: Let’s give deaf children the education they deserve

Labour MP Alison Seabeck opens debate on educational achievement of deaf students and raises concerns about ‘disappointing’ figures. Deafness affects over 45,000 children across the UK. Over three quarters of these children attend mainstream schools, yet their grades do not match those of their peers who do not have any special educational need. I myself am deaf in one ear, after contracting mumps at the age of 16. I know the difficulties that deaf children, and indeed adults, can experience in both learning and work environments and that’s why yesterday I opened an adjournment debate into the educational achievement of deaf students in the UK. According to the Government, 73% of deaf children achieve 5 GCSEs (including English and Maths) at grades A* to C. This is compared to 89% of children with no identified special educational need. Whilst this is an improvement on figures 5 years ago, the gap is still disappointing and there is a clear shortfall in both health and educational services. In my own constituency this is a particular concern, fuelling my desire to debate this issue in Parliament and challenge Ministers. We have too few specialist teachers of the deaf in Plymouth, with just 2 teachers trying to manage an impossible case load of over 140 students. I am glad that the Minister, Edward Timpson, accepted some of these disappointing figures, and that he will be raising concerns about the provision of hearing aids and the quality of audiology services with his colleagues in the Department for Health. This was a debate about education, but one which quite clearly has a significant health angle. The work by charities, teachers and pupils themselves is often outstanding, and we need to support them as best we can. We need to be doing all we can to ensure that deaf children, who are generally taught in mainstream schools, have the best opportunities possible to achieve the grades of their peers. Communications is key, and therefore we need to make sure that audiology services are adequate, hearing aids work, and they are properly set-up. If children cannot hear and communicate with their teachers and fellow pupils then they are obviously going to struggle to learn. There is no reason why, given the rights support and services, deaf children cannot achieve the same academic success as their peers. Just over 50% of deaf people of working age are in employment, actively contributing to society. The more young deaf people who leave school with a good education, the more likely this figure will rise. Being deaf may be a disability, but it shouldn’t be one which prevents young people succeeding in life, and that’s why ensuring all deaf children get the education they deserve is so important.