Being deaf in a mainstream school

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By Julia Howe

One of the most rewarding aspects of working as a tutor on the initial training course for educational psychologists is the quality and range of the trainees we work with. Many trainees bring their own interests to the training and this has often extended my knowledge about some aspects of the work of educational psychologists. One example of this is working with a colleague who came to the course with an interest in acquired brain injury, which I blogged about here. A more recent example was having the privilege of working with Suzie Edmondson who came to the course with an interest in Deaf education. Suzie’s interest has extended beyond the course as she began a Masters qualification in Deaf education when she completed her training as an educational psychologist. So it was not surprise that Suzie chose to focus upon Deaf education in her research.

Suzie’s research focused upon the social inclusion of deaf pupils in mainstream secondary schools and demonstrated some of the benefits and challenges that can be faced by these pupils. While research suggests that deaf pupils can find it difficult to make friends at school and can be socially isolated, Suzie’s research did not show this. The pupils that she interviewed all had small friendship groups at school and they were generally positive about school. Despite this these pupils did experience some vulnerabilities related to being deaf.

Although all of the pupils had a small friendship group, they were vulnerable to becoming isolated if their friendships were absent or placed in a different group. When this occurred the problems communicating with other pupils became more apparent and school became a more difficult place to be. This suggests that school staff need to take friendships into account when grouping deaf pupils both in the classroom and into sets such as tutor groups.

Research has shown that deaf pupils vulnerable to bullying at school. While all of the pupils in Suzie’s research had experienced some hurtful comments at school what they found more difficult was intrusive questions about being deaf. Often these questions were driven by curiosity but the deaf pupils found them socially embarrassing as they pointed out their difference. This shows how an inclusive approach in education needs to take into consideration all of the pupils in the school and not only make accommodations for the pupils with additional needs. It should not be left solely to the deaf pupils to educate the other pupils about being deaf.

Despite these challenging all of the pupils were developing a positive sense of themselves and their deaf identity. Only one of the pupils attending a Deaf Club outside school and it was apparent how this had helped him to develop a deaf identity and to cope with negative comments in school. So consideration of the support that is available outside school may be important for some deaf young people.

If you want to find out more about Suzie’s research  we have co-authored a paper that can be found here and Suzie’s original thesis is available here.

Julia is a tutor on the initial training course for educational psychologists at the University of Birmingham. Suzie graduated from the course in 2017.

Resources to support the inclusion of deaf children in education can be found on the BATOD website.

The Deaf children Worldwide statement on Inclusion can be found here.

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