Jim Fitzpatrick MP: Deaf children are being prevented from reaching their full potential
Our children are simply not getting the support they need to ensure an equal education to their hearing peers, says the Chair of the APPG on Deafness, Jim Fitzpatrick MP.
Earlier this year, many of us became enchanted by the story of a child who had lived in silence, cut off from the world due to her profound deafness. Her life was transformed by a social worker who introduced her to British Sign Language, and in doing so, opened her up to friendships, new experiences, and a desire to connect with the outside world.
The Silent Child (2018) told the fictional story of six-year-old Libby, but really it represents the stories of thousands of children in the UK. The National Deaf Children’s Society estimates that one to two in 1000 children are born with hearing loss every year, and around half of those are profoundly deaf.
If given access to hearing aids or cochlear implants, specialist therapists and supportive teachers in the early years, deaf children can grow up communicating on a par with their peers and succeeding academically without disadvantage.
Sadly, research shows this is not the case for most of our deaf young people. Services which provide vital specialist teaching to deaf children have been declining rapidly over the past 8 years, and this year over a third of our Local Authorities are set to cut £4m from their educational support budgets for deaf children. Since 2011 there has already been a 14% cut in the number of Teachers of the Deaf; with further cuts on the horizon, our children are simply not getting the support they need to ensure an equal education to their hearing peers.
NDCS found that in 2017, around two thirds of deaf children arrived at primary school having not reached a good standard of development from their early years education. This figure is maintained later in childhood, with 61% of deaf children leaving primary school having failed to achieve the expected standard at reading, writing and mathematics – compared to 30% of children who do not have Special Educational Needs (SEN). In GCSE’s, deaf children under-achieve on average by a whole grade per subject.
These statistics make clear that every year, deaf children are being prevented from reaching their full potential. Not only educationally, but also socially; the NDCS tell me that deaf children are more likely to face issues around isolation and bullying, often arising from a language delay in their early years.
Mental health problems also disproportionately affect children in the deaf community, with 40% of deaf children suffering from depression and anxiety-related problems, in comparison to 25% of their hearing counterparts. This gap widens in adulthood, where according to the charity SignHealth, deaf adults are twice as likely to experience mental health issues. The impact this must have on the careers of suffers, as well as their families, our economy and the NHS, cannot be understated.
The outlook for the prosperity of deaf children through education and into adult life does not look encouraging; but all of these statistics could so easily be turned on their heads. With more investment in SEND services, our deaf children could be reached at their crucial development phase and have their needs met at the earliest opportunity. That’s why we’re calling on the Government to release funding for Local Authorities to channel into training more Teachers of the Deaf, expanding their other educational support, and creating ways for children to engage and communicate with others as early as possible.
No deaf child should ever be held back from making the most of their school experience. We want to see them thriving academically, socialising abundantly and seizing opportunities to grow along with their peers. With the support to do so, I hope for the next generation of deaf children to overturn their prospects, just like Libby, and flourish into confident, creative and effective citizens.
Jim Fitzpatrick is Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse and is Chair of the APPG on Deafness