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A system in crisis: Specialist teachers battling stress, spiralling workloads and excessive hours

Specialist teachers for deaf children are battling stress, spiralling workloads and excessive hours as the system falls into crisis, the National Deaf Children’s Society has warned.

The warning comes after a survey of more than 600 specialist teachers, carried out by the charity and the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf, revealed that almost half (46%) experience stress in their role on a weekly basis, with a quarter (25%) affected every single day.

More than four in five (87%) are now working additional hours due to increasing workloads, with almost two thirds of those (63%) forced to work an extra day every week just to keep up.

The National Deaf Children’s Society says the entire profession is creaking under growing pressures and increasing needs despite the Government’s major special educational needs reforms in 2014, with grave knock-on effects for the 45,000 deaf children who rely on it.

Six in ten teachers surveyed (58%) said there was less support available for deaf children than in 2014, while almost half (43%) felt that pupils were now performing worse. Two thirds (69%) said that deaf education in their area didn’t receive adequate funding.

Deaf pupils already fall behind their classmates at Key Stages 1 and 2, with the gap growing to an entire grade by GCSE, despite deafness not being a learning disability.

Specialist teachers offer crucial advice and support to children and their families, from diagnosis right through their education. This can include help with developing language and communication, assistance with hearing technology and advice and training for schools to ensure every deaf pupil can succeed.

However, the National Deaf Children’s Society says the number of specialist teachers has fallen by 15% in the last seven years across England. In addition, the charity says the profession is heading towards a staffing crisis, with more than half of those teachers still in the role due to retire in the next 10-15 years.

As a result, the charity is urging the Government to introduce a bursary fund to replace outgoing teachers and avoid thousands of deaf children being left without crucial support.

The £3.3 million scheme would help train around 400 new Teachers of the Deaf over a three-year period, which the charity says is the minimum number required to stem the tide of those due to leave their roles. Almost nine in ten (88%) of the teachers surveyed said they supported such a proposal.

Susan Daniels OBE, Chief Executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society, said:

“The results of this survey show a system in absolute crisis. Specialist teachers do an incredible job in exceptionally difficult circumstances and play a vital role in the lives of deaf children. However, they are being crushed by the demands of a role which has become simply unsustainable.

“Every child deserves the same chance in life, but unless specialist support services are adequately staffed and funded, teachers will remain overworked and under pressure while deaf children’s futures hang in the balance.

“Damian Hinds and Nadhim Zahawi have continually promised every child a world class education and there are some very cost-effective measures that would help achieve it, including a Teacher of the Deaf bursary.

“We are urging them both to look at the mounting evidence, acknowledge the growing crisis and throw deaf children a lifeline before it’s too late.”

Steph Halder, President of the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf, said:

“This survey highlights the increasing pressure dedicated Teachers of the Deaf find themselves under as they work tirelessly to meet the needs of deaf children and balance the demands of their role.

“The introduction of a training bursary would help to provide more teachers to the profession, relieve some of the pressure and ultimately support deaf children to achieve their potential.”

Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, said:

“This is yet further evidence of the immense pressures and strains councils and schools continue to face supporting children who are deaf and partially deaf as well as other pupils with special educational needs and disabilities.

“Councils know that deafness can make life incredibly difficult for some children who experience it, and are doing all they can to help them get the education they deserve.

“However councils are reaching the point where the money is simply not there to keep up with demand, pushing support for children with SEND to a tipping point.

“While it was good the Government announced money for SEND last year, it must use the forthcoming Spending Review to plug the estimated special needs funding gap facing councils of up to £1.6 billion by 2021.”

The National Deaf Children’s Society and the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf surveyed 625 specialist teachers for deaf children (Teachers of the Deaf) in January 2019, which is around 61% of those in the profession or in training for the role.

96% of the teachers surveyed said they felt stressed in their role, with 46% stressed every week and a further 25% affected every day.

Asked if, in an average week, they worked additional hours to keep up with their workload, 87% said they did. 63% of those working additional hours worked at least seven extra hours a week, the equivalent of an extra day.

The National Deaf Children’s Society’s analysis of the Government’s latest GCSE attainment data shows that the average grade for a deaf child per subject is 3.9, or a D under the old system. The average grade for children without special educational needs is 5, formerly a strong C.

According to the latest report from the Consortium for Research in Deaf Education, which the National Deaf Children’s Society contributes to, in 2011 there were 1062.1 fully qualified Teachers of the Deaf working in a peripatetic role or in a resource provision in England. By 2018, the latest figures available, this had dropped to 898.82, a fall of 15%.

When trainee Teachers of the Deaf are included, there were 1,153.7 in 2011 and 1020.62 in 2018, a fall of 12%.

More than half of those fully qualified Teachers of the Deaf are over 50 and due to retire in 10-15 years.

The National Deaf Children’s Society and the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf have submitted a proposal to the Department for Education in England outlining a bursary scheme to fund the training costs of Teachers of the Deaf, which is available on request.

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