Deaf children and social wellbeing: The evolution of the special school for the deaf
Research has shown that deaf children experience disadvantage in the education system (Berry, 2017). This disadvantage is associated with a lack of tailored pedagogy, being educated in deaf-unfriendly environments, and missing out on peer learning. Deaf children are also at greater risk of experiencing mental health problems. Researchers from the National Deaf Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (NDCAMHS) are so dismayed about the current situation for deaf children that they recently wrote to the Guardian to express their concerns (Wright, 2020).
For deaf children in lockdown there are concerns about the impact of isolation on pre-existing communication difficulties. Deaf children who use a national sign language may have limited access to signing peers and role models during lockdown. Similarly, home learning and limited support from services such as speech and language therapy may result in regression in hard won spoken language skills. Without support to access the curriculum, deaf children learning at home may struggle to keep up with their peers. While these issues are not new for deaf children, they could be exacerbated during this current crisis. In my recent paper published in the British Education Research Journal, I interviewed deaf adults about their educational experiences (Anglin-Jaffe, 2020). The main themes that emerged related to the isolation they had experienced and their aspiration for a more positive future for deaf children.
‘Deaf children who use a national sign language may have limited access to signing peers and role models during lockdown [and] home learning and limited support from services such as speech and language therapy may result in regression in hard won spoken language skills.’
The study invited deaf adults to reflect on their schooling and to consider the ways in which placement decisions had had an impact on their educational opportunities, achievement and identity. The findings revealed a tension around the need for deaf children to access deaf culture and sign language, while maintaining the positive achievements of inclusive practice. In the study, the deaf adults described their educational experiences in special schools for deaf children and in mainstream environments. The predominant experience was of regret and frustration for missed opportunities and limited life chances. However, this was balanced by an optimism for change.
For the participants, special schools for deaf children held cultural significance beyond educational provision. However, with the closure of many of these schools alongside the decline of traditional deaf clubs, there has been a reduction in the opportunities for access to culturally significant places for deaf children and adults. Recent statistics also suggest a decline in the number of resourced provisions for deaf children within the mainstream (NDCS, 2019). With this decline there is a need for a further evolution of social spaces that meet the needs of deaf children and adults. This situation may have been further exacerbated by the current Covid-19 situation.
One possible solution for this, which I explore in my paper, is the idea of ‘deaf-centric hubs’ (Anglin-Jaffe, 2020). I suggest that these could be organised around the existing community provision in schools and other social spaces – such as libraries or community centres – by harnessing the power of social enterprise. Community centres could house a further iteration of the special school for the deaf and the deaf club, by meeting the need for a congregation of deaf peers, specialist provision, pastoral support and social activity. These deaf-centric hubs could provide expertise on visual learning methods, sign language tuition for children and their families, and could also facilitate a meeting place for deaf people of all ages akin to the deaf club. Working in partnership with mainstream schools and peripatetic teachers of the deaf, these hubs could enable access to a broad mainstream curriculum with local friends and support for family relationships.
Young deaf children could be supported to spend part of their learning and socialising in the hub with the majority of their time being in mainstream educational spaces local to their families. The hubs could empower deaf children to engage as bilingual and bicultural learners moving between different languages and modalities and developing positive identities. The aim would be to promote social wellbeing. With deaf children particularly disadvantaged during this current crisis, virtual deaf-centric hubs could be a vital source of support to mitigate against mental health issues and to provide much needed relief from isolation.
This blog is based on the article ‘Isolation and aspiration: Deaf adults reflect on the educational legacy of special schooling’ by Hannah Anglin-Jaffe, published in the British Educational Research Journal.
Anglin-Jaffe, H. (2020) Isolation and aspiration: Deaf adults reflect on the educational legacy of special schooling. British Educational Research Journal. https://doi.org/10.1002/berj.3658
Berry, M. (2017). Being deaf in mainstream education in the United Kingdom: Some implications for their health. Universal Journal of Psychology, 5(3), 129–139.
National Deaf Children’s Society [NDCS]. (2019). Data on deaf children with special educational needs in England. Retrieved from https://www.ndcs.org.uk/information-and-support/being-deaf-friendly/information-for-professionals/research-and-data/
Wright, B. (2020, June 7). Lockdown and the impact on deaf children. Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/jun/07/lockdown-and-the-impact-on-deaf-children