University of Edinburgh

Including deaf children in mainstream schools

Presented on Thursday 14 September 2006

Can we meet the needs of a deaf child in mainstream?

Eileen Burns, NDCS

Standards in Scotland’s Schools Act etc 2000

Presumption of mainstreaming: 3 exceptions

  • Would not be suited to the ability or aptitude of the child.
  • Incompatible with the provision of efficient education for the children with whom the child is being educated.
  • Where mainstreaming would result in unreasonable public expenditure.

The Salamanca Statement (UNESCO 1994)

The statement urges all governments “to adopt as a matter of law or policy, the principle of inclusive education, enrolling all children in regular schools,unless there are compelling reasons for doing otherwise.”

Owing to the particular communication needs of deaf and deaf/ blind persons, their education may be more suitably provided in special schools or special classes and units in mainstream schools.


SENDA:- Special Educational Needs Disability Act (2001)

It is unlawful for Local Authorities to treat a deaf pupil 'less favourably' than a hearing pupil.

Local Authorities must take 'reasonable steps' to ensure that deaf pupils or prospective deaf pupils are not placed at a 'substantial disadvantage'.

Education (Disability Strategies and Pupils' Educational Records) ( Scotland) Act 2002

All Local Authorities have a duty to produce an 'Accessibility Strategy'. This should outline how they aim to give disabled pupils better access to:- a) the curriculum b) the physical environment c) improved communication.

Specialist Deaf Schools


  • Access to a larger deaf peer group.
  • Deaf adults employed.
  • Deaf children of hearing families learn about the Deaf community.
  • Surrounded by similar language users.

Deaf Pupils in Mainstream Schools.

Over 90% of deaf pupils attend a mainstream school.

the most dangerous move yet against the early development of a deaf person’s character, self-confidence and basic sense of identity (Ladd 1991)

the school belonged to others he was merely a special student (Padden and Humphries 1999)

Friends which you have things in common apart from being deaf are hard to come by
(Lane, Hoffmeister and Bahan 1996)

The NDCS (2001) My School in Scotland project extensively collated the views of deaf pupils. It found that many children had similar concerns about their mainstream school experience:-

a) 62% do not always follow their classes.

b) Problems encountered due to lack of deaf awareness amongst mainstream teachers, for example:

  • Speaking too fast for pupils to lipread.
  • Speaking with their backs to pupils making lipreading impossible.
  • Having their faces in shadows.
  • Expecting pupils to hear perfectly with equipment/technology aids.
  • Talking for long periods of time which makes it difficult for pupils to concentrate on lipreading.

c) Deaf pupils are often isolated from groups as they find it difficult to join in and are unable to keep up with what is being talked about.

d) It is essential to have a resourced unit or base: a space where deaf pupils can catch up, seek clarification and get subjects reinforced.

e) Stories of pupils getting embarrassed by having support staff with limited signing skills who cannot understand what pupils are trying to say. As a consequence this may lead to hearing pupils in the class thinking deaf pupils are stupid.

Other Experiences

I have to sit near the front of the class so I can lipread the teacher but the noise from the overhead projector drives me crazy, I just can't concentrate Alice 14 years

When we go to the hall for assembly I turn my hearing aids off because it’s too noisy, I turn them off in the dinner hall too Fatima 12 years

Teaching English in a Mainstream School

English(oral) - Sign Language
Use hearing aids

Deaf children using either language have limited access to English.

Is a mainstream approach to teaching English appropriate for a deaf pupil?

Deaf Awareness

  • Many deaf people feel that a lot of the problems they encounter are due to the attitudes of the hearing majority. (Jacobs 1989)
  • Staff should have regular Deaf Awareness Training
  • Pupils should have Deaf Awareness Training
  • Sign language classes for staff and pupils should be available.

Deaf Peer Group

  • Where possible, placements should ensure access to at least two other deaf pupils of a similar age and with the same communication methods. (NDCS 2000)
  • Video conferencing, etc, could help decrease isolation.
  • To deny the chance of contact with other deaf children of similar intellectual levels and interests is cruel. (Mother of a young deaf adult)

Support for Deaf Pupils

  • “Sometimes I like to use communicators but sometimes I get embarrassed because they sit too close to me and I remind them that it’s my work, not theirs”.
  • Do class teachers get to know their supported pupils as well as those unsupported?
  • Should support teachers have a whole class remit?
  • How can we ensure that deaf pupils become independent learners?
  • Is your deaf pupil getting enough support?
  • Can any support teacher support in Higher Physics?

Deaf Role Models

Tuesday is my favourite day of the week because Simon and Joanne come. They are both deaf like me, but Simon goes to college and Joanne work… Before I met Simon and Joanne I had never seen a young deaf person, everyone else I saw with a hearing aid was really old. Philip, 14 years old

The Unwritten Curriculum

  • Social inclusion must extend to the wider life of the school.
  • Communication must extend to wider members of the school community.
  • Information sharing.
  • Extra curricular activities. ...I can't stay for football because my taxi comes but I want to. Ahmed 11 years old.

Deaf Studies

  • Incorporating a deaf perspective into some aspects of the curriculum.
  • I thought history was all about hearing more clever than deaf (West 2002)