University of Edinburgh

Deaf Students in Scottish Higher Education

Chapter Eight: Transitions

Part of the remit of this project was to examine the transition between FE and HE. However, inevitably, both staff and students raised issues which relate to school/HE transition and school/FE transition as well as FE/HE transition. Some of the same issues apply across the board. In all cases, there are differences between the type of access provision which the student might be leaving behind and that which is available within the new context. It is not simply a question of going from a negative to a positive situation or vice versa: the types of access, the systems in place for delivering access and the level of responsibility which the student needs to accept are all variable and, in almost all cases, different from the previous situation. In order to probe a complex and variable situation, this section will focus on several key issues in relation to:

  • audiological provision;
  • English language;
  • British Sign Language (BSL);
  • access courses.

Transition issues: audiological provision

There were indications from a number of students that their audiological requirements were not adequately catered for. Student evidence suggests that individuals who are not audiological experts may nevertheless be making judgements about audiological issues:

"The woman told me that I was too deaf in my left ear for a hearing aid and able to hear in my right ear, therefore she couldn’t help me as I was only partially deaf. She made me feel like I was asking her to do too much."

Another student said:

" I have been totally deaf in my left ear since birth. Last year I went to the student support services, as I was having difficulty in hearing my lecturers. The woman who had the interview with me said there was nothing she could do for me. In one sentence she said I wasn’t deaf enough as I don’t require a hearing aid, then the next sentence she said I was too deaf as I can’t get my hearing back in my left ear."

There may also be additional access issues here: it could be that arrangements were not in place to ensure that the student had full and accurate information. There is also a broader dilemma: even where an Assessor or a Disability Advisor is alert to the student’s needs, they may find it difficult to enable the student to access appropriate audiological advice. Nancy Newton, Educational Audiologist, in a paper to the Cross- Party Group on Deafness within the Scottish Parliament (CPGD Minutes 26.02.03), has drawn attention to the transition needs of deaf students. She points out that many students are disadvantaged by the move from paediatric audiology services to adult audiology services. Nancy Newton gives the following example:

"… in Lothian, if a deaf young person requires a hearing aid review, they can either be referred to Adult Audiology by their GP (wait of 56 weeks) or they can self refer (wait of 55 weeks). Most young hearing aid users will require an appointment at a more specialised clinic where they can discuss their specific needs (wait of 105 weeks). There is no priority given to deaf students in FE or to those wishing to return to education (that is, lifelong learning)."
(Newton, 2003)

Such waiting times would inevitably have a very detrimental effect on deaf young people who make use of hearing aids. They would mean that a student could be well into their second year of undergraduate study — or have completed a Masters degree — before they even see a specialist. Nancy Newton also points out that radio aids are returned to the LEA when a deaf child leaves school. Therefore

"… many young deaf people are placed in a vulnerable position as they do not have access to equipment they rely on at a time when they are attending job/college interviews."
(Newton, 2003)

The Needs Assessment Report on NHS Audiology Services in Scotland (PHIS, 2003) recommended that there should be both supported transition from paediatric to adult services and more adequate liaison between different services and sectors:

Recommendation 10.
"Audiology services should ensure that there is a phased transition to the adult environment from the extensive support in a paediatric service. The transition should be tailored to the special needs of individual young people and should include liaison with education, social work and employment services."
(PHIS, 2003)

There was no evidence, either from students or staff, that there had been any significant developments in this area. There were individuals who had reasonable knowledge about the types of audiological support that was required, and one independent assessor was herself an audiologist. However, there was no overall system in place that ensured appropriate liaison, eg; between Audiology Clinics and University Disability Offices: such links as were in place appeared to be dependent upon individual goodwill.

There are ongoing technological developments within the area of audiological support. One example is the increasing use of digital, rather than analogue, hearing aids. These might be particularly suitable for some students, but they may be unaware of the advantages or find that, even if they are recommended by experts, their importance is not recognised by funders. Lilian Lawson, Director of SCoD has drawn attention to the case of a hard of hearing student who applied to the Students Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) for funding to purchase a pair of digital hearing aids for her use during her university studies. However, the application was turned down by SAAS, even though the student argued that the overall cost would be much cheaper than the costs of a notetaker. The student was loaned the aids by a commercial group, the House of Hearing, and she found the aids very beneficial. This student’s case was then taken up by SCoD who argued that the denial of the aids was a breach of the student’s right to full access to education. SAAS then reversed their decision and the full costs were met (SCoD, 2003). This is just one example which happened to come to the notice of SCoD: the evidence from this report and from the work undertaken by Newton (2003) suggests that many other students may be receiving inadequate audiological support.

In her evidence to the Cross Party Group on Deafness, Nancy Newton also argued that some of the additional money promised to Audiology Services should be designated to:

  • the setting up of prioritised hearing aid review clinics for deaf adults in FE or wishing to return to education;
  • the fitting of all deaf adults in or returning to education with appropriate quality hearing aids as a priority and
  • examining the possibility of having a pool of radio aids for deaf adults to borrow.
    (Newton, 2003)

The Director of the Scottish Council on Deafness suggested at the same meeting of the Cross Party Group on Deafness that a resource centre should be set up not only to provide aids but also to carry out student needs assessments: the Scottish Sensory Centre within the University of Edinburgh had been proposed as a possible centre. There was some discussion of the feasibility of a single central resource unit, given the geographical spread. It was also pointed out that locally based organisations were also involved in distributing equipment, such as environmental aids, loop systems etc. Nevertheless, there was recognition that currently there is an unmet need.

Despite the requirements of SENDA, students and staff reported that there was still considerable variation in the provision of appropriate audiological support. It is obviously important that staff are aware of both the potential and the limitations of certain types of support. Simply using a radio aid or an infra-red system will not automatically allow the individual to hear or access fully:

"I also use a radio aid — the one without wires, you know just wee things — and a conference aid — it’s called a Microlink. So that’s really useful. It’s not, like, perfect … I can still find it really difficult to hear what people are saying, but it’s helpful."

There is variable knowledge about, and availability of, audiological equipment in HEIs. Up to date information should be more easily available to staff and students. Some HEIs have installed loop systems, infra red systems and radio microphones. However, in many cases only certain rooms are fully equipped and there is absolutely no guarantee that these fully equipped rooms will be used by the courses which the deaf students are attending.

It is clear that some of the actions needed to ensure adequate audiological support for students entering FE and HE need to be taken outside of the education sector. However, there also needs to be a joined up approach. Some type of central resource, possibly linking up with existing more localised organisations, may be able to help bridge the gap, especially if such a unit also engaged in other support and training activities.

Transition issues: English language

Deaf people’s access to English is variable. Those who acquire deafness beyond childhood will have a spoken language, in most cases English, as their first language8. Those who are born deaf or acquire deafness very early will have varied access to spoken language. Deaf people who have BSL as their first language are likely to be highly fluent in that language. For them, English will be an additional language. The lack of full access to a form of language which enabled full and timely language acquisition means that a significant proportion of deaf applicants and students will not have fluency in spoken language and will not have high level literacy skills. Members of the Deaf community themselves are increasingly demanding the right not only to use their first language, BSL, but also to be given the opportunities to gain skills in English literacy (SCoD, 2004). One of the challenges for HE staff is to look beyond the level of English proficiency to the potential of the individual student concerned. Some staff may not be aware that BSL is a full grammatical language and they may therefore not recognise the person’s linguistic skills. However, the deaf student who does not use BSL, but also does not have high level literacy skills, is at an even greater disadvantage. Deaf students from both groups suggested that teaching staff could be unaware or insensitive:

"I remember once when I was at a meeting, one of the lecturers told me that my English was poor. I was explaining to him that English is my second language and it’s hard for deaf people. He said, ‘Well that’s your problem — you’ll have to work on it yourself’."

Students who have spent many years struggling to achieve higher level skills may feel that the way staff approach their English is only or primarily in terms of failure:

"The way of marking the work could have been better. They would see my mistakes in English — it wasn’t perfect. They would just underline the imperfections in the marking. There might have been one word wrong in a sentence and they would just underline it — and I would be expected to know what was wrong with the sentence."

The student in this case was not being given the advice and support which might enable skills development. In other situations, students felt disadvantaged in comparison with other students.

"I asked my lecturer if I could use a dictionary in exams to find the meanings of words that I didn’t understand. This request was refused. BUT foreign students were entitled to one since English was not their first language. I was really shocked when I heard this. I complained to my programme organiser, but they didn’t do anything about it."

These comments suggest that there is often a sense of failure experienced by many deaf young people in relation to their English skills. They cannot leave this behind: it comes with them through every level of education. There is also a frustration that lecturers ‘do not understand’, and often disappointment that there appear to be no mechanisms to support deaf students in improving their English skills.

All of these students described a considerable level of anxiety in relation to their own levels of English. They all felt that they had poor English skills which held them back in terms of their education:

"They [that is, teaching staff] don’t really know that deaf people can have some English problems as well. And not a lot of deaf people feel confident, as well, to sort of say to people ‘I don’t know what that means’. I mean, I’ve got the confidence to go ahead and ask or to say to somebody ‘No, I don’t know what this is all about, I don’t know what that means’. They’d say ‘I thought you would have known’ and I would say ‘No’, and then that’s when I got my help. And then I have to pass on what I’ve learnt to other people."

Another said:

"The first time I came here, I got some sort of work paper like a workbook on the computer. And I saw it and I was just like ‘Whoa!’ It just went right over my head. I couldn’t understand anything — it was so much jargon and the words that were in it were unbelievable. So I gave it to my teacher and said that I didn’t agree with that at all. I didn’t know what some of the words meant. So I gave it to some of the students and one of the students sort of took it home and sort of changed some of the words, some of the stuff in it, so it made it bit more easier for me to read. And then she gave it back to me again and then when I read that, I was quite happy with it, and said to the other students, Yeah that was good. Some of it was a bit difficult and sometimes I’d need to ask for some help but sometimes I’d sort of think ‘I don’t want that’ and I would go to the directory book … oh, sorry, I’d go to the dictionary to see what the words meant that were in the workbook. So I know that sometimes people are busy and it’s a pest to hassle them all the time so I would try and find out myself what some of the words were meaning."

The level of English of some students might give the impression that they would be incapable of learning at the appropriate level. However, such students often demonstrate high levels of innate ability as well as determination in the face of these linguistic barriers. Nevertheless they are having to work considerably harder than their peers simply to gain access to the information. The problems revealed by these students appear to be inherent within the system, in terms of what happens to deaf people before they enter FE or HE. All of the Disability Advisors interviewed agreed that English language skills were a key problem. So part of the task of FE and HE is to try to remedy problems which have their source earlier in the education system.

"… and what we also do with the students if they wish it — this student hasn't used much of that this year — we will sit with them outside class and we'll go over handouts and we'll go over lectures and make sure they understand the vocabulary and understand the concepts and that there is nothing they have missed."

Many deaf students have considerable potential to achieve in specific subject areas, but are held back by their English language skills and attitudes towards their English usage. FE college and HEIs need specific strategies in place to enable students to progress in this area.

As already noted in chapter three, there is a need for additional tutorial support. Suitably qualified tutors, who understand the nature of the issues as described above, can provide ongoing English tutorial support to deaf students, in collaboration with the student and with lecturers within the specific discipline being studied. Where the student’s first language is BSL, the tutors should be bilingual – facilitating the learning of the target language (English) through the student’s first language (BSL). One HND student, who had not had access to BSL through his secondary school education, commented:

"I learned and really understood more about the structure of English through a 6-week course with a Deaf tutor, than I did through the whole of my secondary school education."

Another possibility is to introduce English Skills modules of the type included in the Year Zero for Deaf Students access course discussed below. It is also worth adding a telling comment from a deaf teacher:

"I remember I was told by [lecturer in an HEI] ‘You cannot be a teacher unless you have good English skills’ even though I had a degree. I find it interesting that hearing people who have no knowledge of BSL, or very rudimentary BSL skills, are allowed to teach deaf children, yet deaf people with high level BSL can be denied this opportunity. How can that be called equality?"

Transition issues: British Sign Language

Some deaf students arrive within FE and HE with fluency in BSL. Such students are then able to access through BSL/English interpreters, if these are available. However, many deaf students have never had opportunities to acquire BSL at an early stage or to learn BSL during their school years. Despite this, when such students have opportunities to learn BSL as students, many of them grasp the opportunity and, within a relatively short period of time, BSL becomes their preferred means of access. The BSL option is recognised by some Disability Advisors as being appropriate for some individuals who have come from a spoken-language-only background:

"We have a student just now who is coping in an HND class because it’s a smallish class (he’s going to an HEI next year). The lecturers are very good — face him etc and have good lip patterns. But we do have lipspeakers for him and notetakers. It took a while for him to get used to these strategies. He had to learn to work with these two people who were strangers and had to learn how to work with a notetaker. English language is an issue for him. He doesn’t sign, but he’s starting a BSL class because he isn’t getting enough information."

So in this case, a student whose whole experience has been English-only is choosing to learn BSL because English is not giving him sufficient access. Another FE Advisor commented that:

"Often students come from a school which has been kind of oral, so they are not used to using interpreters. They tend to know that they want interpreters and that is a definite, even coming from that background. There doesn’t seem to be a great transition such as ‘Well, I’ll try the methods I used at school and we’ll phase in interpreters’. So they come and they say, ‘I want an interpreter’ and then realistically there has to be a process of getting used to that and how that works."

These comments were primarily made by Disability Advisors in FE colleges where several interpreters were employed on a regular basis. The incoming students very quickly saw the way in which other students made use of the interpreting provision. These students were also able to see the ease of communication amongst the BSL-using students and wanted to be part of such a group. However, where deaf students are scattered around a large institution and there is less visibility of interpreting provision, as well as no promotion of or opportunity to learn the language, BSL is unlikely to be perceived as an option for them.

Several UK initiatives, such as the JUDE initiative in Northern Ireland and the UCLAN developments in Preston, have involved the development of BSL courses. These provide both hearing and deaf students with the opportunity to develop BSL skills. They also serve to demonstrate the full linguistic status of BSL which has a positive impact on attitudes towards deaf students themselves. BSL courses always seem to be very popular with all students. Some UK universities provide BSL classes for teaching staff: this also raises awareness of the nature and status of BSL. Alan McClure (RNID) has pointed out that one of the continuing advantages of the JUDE project in Northern Ireland (see Chapter Four and below) is the fact that BSL is now recognised as a further linguistic option within the linguistics department (McClure, 2004). Unfortunately, because the project was not continued, fewer deaf students are now able to take advantage of this.

Transition issues: access courses

One type of strategy to counter the under-representation of deaf people within HE has been the development of focused access courses and initiatives. These include the Year 0 for Deaf Students development at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN), funded by HEFCE; the JUDE project in Northern Ireland; and the Headstart Project, involving a consortium of HEIs and the RNID. The Teachability project, supported by SHEFC (now SFHEFC), which had a broader remit but included deaf students, has also contributed to a greater recognition of the nature of access requirements of deaf students. According to the returns provided by all HEIs to the current project, only one single deaf student is known to have gained entry to HE via an access course. Two HEIs estimate that two students in each case may have come through this route. This suggests that current access courses are not actively recruiting deaf students. It also appears that potential deaf students have very little or no information about such courses. This may be part of a broader problem of access to information.

Year 0 for Deaf Students

The UCLAN Year 0 for Deaf Students is an access course which is aimed particularly at those for whom English is a second language — that is, deaf users of British Sign Language. According to the UCLAN website, the course

"provides a 'gentle introduction' to the realities of study at Higher Education level and tackles the barriers currently facing Deaf HE applicants."

The UCLAN website points out that 23 students have so far enrolled on the course and have thereby had access to Higher Education study which was previously denied to them. However the UCLAN team also recognise that not all deaf students will want to travel to Preston and therefore their website is geared towards encouraging other HEIs throughout the UK to follow suit. The website aims to provide

"an insight into the Year 0 course and explain its structure and course content. We have also included module descriptions, working samples and a full module outline in order to disseminate ideas about how to set up a similar course in your own institution. Alternative models are also offered — if a full one-year course is not appropriate at this time. We have also included a brief evaluation of the Project and given the students an opportunity to discuss their experience. The ultimate aim is for colleges and HEIs to set up Year 0 provision in their own institution — to give Deaf students across the country greater access to Higher Education."

Several points are worth noting both from this account and from the interviews with UCLAN staff undertaken by the research team. Firstly, UCLAN also run a generic Year 0 course: deaf students attend some of the modules from this course, particularly in the second semester. However, deaf students also attend discrete modules developed particularly to suit their requirements. These include modules such as ‘Introduction to Study Skills’, ‘Access to HE”, ‘English Skills for HE’, ‘Numeracy’ and ‘Introduction to IT’. In some cases, for example with ‘English Skills for HE’, and ‘Introduction to IT’, the modules were originally integrated, generic modules, but from the experience gained in the course, it was decided to redevelop these specifically for deaf students. In the second semester, there are only two discrete modules for deaf students and students are expected to take a greater responsibility for their own learning: for example, by requesting tutorials as required, rather than having them automatically provided.

As suggested by UCLAN staff, there does not need to be a single model of access courses for deaf young people. The UCLAN course is a one-year full-time course. There is obviously considerable value in having such a focused and gradual introduction. However, other models such as the use of elective modules or the development of a University Certificate, consisting of fewer modules at Year One level, would also be advantageous.

The development of undergraduate modules, for example in British Sign Language, which are open to both deaf and hearing students, would also contribute to deaf people’s own development. One key element of the UCLAN approach is the priority given to the deaf person’s own language and culture, rather than automatically embedding courses within hearingbased cultural norms. A University like Central Lancashire, which already gives strong focus to deaf people and deaf culture through its Deaf Studies programme of courses, including degree and post-graduate degree courses, is in a strong position to exploit such a cultural approach. Unfortunately, in Scotland at the present time there is no University with an equally strong Deaf Studies programme, although some developments towards this approach are currently taking place. Given that the UCLAN initiative was funded by HEFCE, it would be appropriate for targeted SHEFC (now SFHEFC) funding to be used to establish an equivalent course within Scotland.

Transition issues: general

Members of one FE focus group explained that their support was limited. There was only one person to provide every type of support for a range of different needs. It was very clear that the students really appreciated this support when it was available, but there were long stretches of time when they were working without any access provision at all. These students were not studying at HE level. However, it was difficult to see how there could be a fair chance of them progressing to HE-level study given the inadequacies of the access provision.

These students were also poorly informed about the possible sources of support and the nature of DSA. Although some were aware that there was some type of financial support that might be available, they did not know any details about it.

One group reported that they were undertaking one type of class as a mixed group of deaf and blind students. The deaf students had different language preferences: one was a BSL user, although she had learnt BSL fairly late; another had been educated through spoken language but was learning to sign and finding that helpful; another used spoken language only. There was no electronic notetaking provision. Manual notetaking, interpreting and additional tutorial support were all provided by one member of the teaching staff — who had to both teach the course and make it accessible to the students. This same person was simultaneously expected to make the course accessible to visually impaired students. The deaf students described some of the complexities involved, for example, the deaf person who used both BSL and English acted as an interpreter between the BSL user and the blind students.

It can be difficult for deaf students to access HE, even if they have the potential and aptitude. One member of FE Access staff suggested that any FE student hoping to progress into HE would have to have:

  • a level of language which will cope with the vocabulary and the level of language that is expected of them;
  • a variety of study strategies at their fingertips;
  • knowledge of where to go for help if they are stuck. And not be afraid to go for help;
  • opportunities to visit a university in advance and meet with tutors, support staff and Disability Advisors to ensure that access requirements are in place;
  • confirmation of personnel who will be supporting the student, eg; particularly in the case of BSL/English interpreters, it is crucial to ensure that they are booked well in advance of the course starting.

Transition issues: links and partnerships

Because it was only possible to undertake interviews in a small number of FE colleges, the research team were not able to track fully the movement of students from FE into HE. However, one key type of transition clearly occurred within FE colleges when students moved from taking FE level to HE level courses within the same institution. Some students entered such courses within FE in part because they felt there would be more appropriate support at that level. FE was seen as a closer step to school: universities were often more of an unknown quantity.

Several Disability Advisors commented on the value of establishing strong links with FE colleges and schools. In a few cases, there were close links between specific schools and FE colleges and particular colleges and HEI. In one case, for example, there were close links between a school for deaf pupils and a particular FE college. Pupils from the school undertook a number of courses at the college, sometimes supported by access staff, such as interpreters, from the school. These pupils were able to experience the different ways of approaching teaching and learning within FE, whilst still completing their secondary education within a familiar environment. Interactions between staff from the school and college meant there was greater understanding of the requirements of deaf students. There did not appear to be any example of such a close arrangement between a school and an HEI, although there were examples of individual Disability Advisors seeking to forge links, particularly in relation to arrangements for DSA assessments. However, some HEIs did have links with FE colleges where there were larger numbers of deaf students. On the whole these links were initiated and developed by particular members of staff and had not been built into the infrastructure in a systematic way.

Transition issues: a critical mass

The non-Scottish UK universities visited by the research team either already had, or were actively encouraging, an increase in the numbers of deaf students. UCLAN clearly already had increased numbers substantially and Sheffield Hallam were exploiting a number of strategies to achieve a comparable increase. Several HEIs in the UK, not visited by the project, also have a similar approach: these include the University of Wolverhampton, the University of Bristol and City University, London. In all of these cases, the existence of deaf-related courses within mainstream HEI provision appears to have contributed to an increase in the deaf student population as a whole. It is worth noting that some of these UK universities separate out the requirements of deaf students from disabled students. The University of Wolverhampton, for example, has a Student Enabling Centre with three separate divisions: for deaf students, dyslexic students and disabled students. This university, like UCLAN, also offers BSL and Deaf Studies courses. Thus the university ‘support’ service is informed by up-to-date information on the linguistic and cultural issues relating to deaf people. The University of Wolverhampton also separates out the key roles of:

  • BSL/English interpreters;
  • lipspeakers;
  • notetakers trained to support deaf people;
  • English support tutorials, technical tutorials and study skills sessions taught by tutors who use BSL.

It seems that where Deaf Studies and BSL are treated as subjects in their own right, there is a related increase in awareness of the linguistic requirements of deaf people. There is also an increase in the numbers of deaf students, not only within these deaf-related courses, but also across the board. This results in a ‘critical mass’ of deaf students, thus allowing the employment of access staff on a permanent or regular basis. There is also a spin-off in terms of the development of resources, research and developments which support deaf students. The University of Wolverhampton, for example, has developed an on-line bilingual BSL/English glossary called ArtSigns which provides a resource for deaf students studying HE Art and Design in Wolverhampton and elsewhere. This project was supported by the Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE): HEFCE have also supported the subsequent development of science and engineering glossaries built around the same model. While there are some comparable developments in two Scottish universities — the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University — the bilingual dictionary work being carried out in Scotland is not receiving funding from SHEFC (now SFHEFC) and is not linked into an overall strategy of improving access. However, it is clear there is strong interest in developing such courses within Scotland, but the means to achieve this have not yet been realised. Other UK universities and funding bodies can provide insights as to how such a goal can be achieved.

Transition issues: secondary schools

Although the focus of discussion on transition was the FE/HE pathway, almost inevitably FE staff also had comments on the school/FE pathway. It therefore seems appropriate to mention a number of issues which caused concern, as well as examples of good practice. One FE Disability Advisor commented that: “if they (deaf students) had come straight from school they would have a Record of Needs which we would continue”. However, this is not always the case. The ADPS project (ADPS 2003) suggests that only about one third of deaf pupils have a Record of Needs. The Record of Needs will also be phased out within the terms of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act (2004).

The new Act further emphasises the need for a co-ordinated, well–planned transition process, where the pupil is fully involved in decisions. Certainly this tallies with the evidence from students themselves – that they should be at the centre of the decision-making. The role of HEIs is to provide access options: the students themselves should be in a position to make their own decisions.

Several Disability Advisors mentioned the difficulties of developing links with young deaf people and their teachers when deaf young people are mainstreamed. Deaf pupils are scattered around the system: it is only if links are established with Hearing Impaired Services or Sensory Impairment Services that there is likely to be any real preparation for young people entering FE or HE.

This report raises major issues for schools, particularly secondary schools. HE and FE lecturing staff, disability staff and access staff all comment that most students arrive in both FE and HE without any real understanding of potential access strategies. Therefore, when student preferences and choices are discussed at the beginning of a programme, students may not realise what might best suit them. The student might also be reluctant to admit their access requirements (see Chapter Ten). There was a unanimous view that many deaf students, whether or not they use BSL, enter HE without the English skills which would typically enable them to access HE fully. While it was accepted that BSL-using students should be able to exploit their first language, it was also recognised that a high level of English literacy was typically necessary to access reading material. The ADPS project has recently shown that the reading age for many deaf pupils is well behind their chronological age (ADPS, 2004). Access courses might help to remedy the situation, but these can only attempt to compensate for inadequacies in the system prior to HE. While discussion of these issues is beyond the scope of this report, it is important for secondary staff and education policy makers to be aware of the issues raised here.

Key points

  • The typical experience among students is that the types of access and the systems in place for delivering it, as well the level of responsibility which the student needs to accept for organising support and access, are variable across school, FE and HE.
  • Students noted that there is considerable variation in the provision of adequate audiological support among institutions.
  • Waiting times for clinical audiological assessments inevitably have a detrimental effect on audiological support for students.
  • There is no evidence among the sample of students that there is organised (that is, planned) support for transition from paediatric to adult audiology services.
  • One of the challenges for HE staff is to look beyond the level of English skill to the potential of the deaf students. While all Disability Advisors agreed that English skills are a key problem, the task for FE and HE is to try and remedy language/communication problems which have developed over time.
  • Many deaf students have not had full educational access to BSL before entering FE or HE, yet they may quickly develop a preference for BSL where this is a linguistic access option.
  • Although only one student in the sample accessed HE through an Access course, such a course may have a real impact on the confidence and language ability of students starting HE-level study, especially when delivered in a sign-bilingual and deaf-cultural framework.
  • In institutions where Deaf Studies and BSL are treated as subjects in their own right — attracting a critical mass of deaf students — there is a related increased awareness of support and access requirements, and identifiable good practice.


8.1 A national audiological resource centre (ideally incorporated into the proposed Centre for Linguistic Access) should be established — as was recommended by SCoD to the Cross Party Group on Deafness — in order to provide/loan equipment, carry out assessments and provide consultancy to all relevant individuals, agencies and institutions.

8.2 This centre should also complement national developments in the transition between paediatric and adult audiology services, by delivering expertise and practical support in advance of transitions between school, FE and HE.

8.3 Tutorial support in English language skills should be available to deaf students (see recommendations 3.8 and 12.10 below).

8.4 A centralised, integrated Access Course should be designed which could partly be delivered in the student’s own FE/HE context, but which would also have components delivered to all deaf students in a single location at one time. This would allow peer support, access to deaf role models, provision of a good practice model of access, opportunities for students to familiarise themselves with different strategies, to try out new technology etc. Given that the UCLAN initiative was funded by HEFCE, it would be appropriate for targeted SHEFC (now SFHEFC) funding to be used to establish an equivalent course within Scotland. The proposed Centre should work with FE and HE institutions, Deaf organisations (such as SCoD, NDCS and BDA) and those who have expertise in working with deaf people (such as SSC, Deaf Action, Deaf Connections etc) to make this course as effective as possible. Courses in other HEIs in the UK, such as the Year Zero for Deaf Students at UCLAN, should be seen as providing insights into these developments.

8.5 There should be an annual a residential week for deaf and hard of hearing students. The students would include both those who are already at an HEI, those who have been accepted and those who are thinking of applying. This would enable deaf young people to act as role models and mentors. The residential week would include presentations from HEI teaching and access staff, as well as presentations from students on areas of interest chosen by them. This could also include non-academic interests, such as sports clubs etc. Deaf students should be given a key role in the organisation, but with financial and administrative support. This could link in with part of the Access Course mentioned above. The residential weeks offered through the second phase of the HeadStart programme in England could be used as a model and links made with the HeadStart initiative (See Chapter Three).

8.6 The Centre for Linguistic Access should coordinate links between HEIs, FECs and schools and educational services for deaf children and young people with a view to establishing more adequate preparation of deaf young people for participating in tertiary education. Some very good examples of links already exist and these should be highlighted and built on. However, the evidence of this report is that many young deaf people enter tertiary education with limited knowledge and information about the access provision which might be available. A national Scottish approach to this issue needs to be encouraged. See also recommendations 1.1 and 11.5 which aim at, respectively, closer liaison between schools and HEIs and the need for new students, in advance of the start of their course, to have opportunities to familiarise themselves with access and support services which will potentially be available to them.