Hearing impaired units – helping deaf children be deaf?

I went along to visit a hearing impairment unit within a large mainstream school in east London last week, something I don’t do enough of. The school itself was pretty depressing – a large inner city school with a crumbling facade and with two policeman on site at all times. Crikey.

But the unit itself was a revelation. The staff were friendly and clearly working hard for the twenty-so deaf children on site. But what impressed me most of all was the liveliness and confidence of the kids. Some of them were signing away. All seemed very happy with themselves as deaf young people. All very inspiring.

With deafness a low incidence disability and with schools for deaf children on the decline, many deaf children are now going to mainstream schools instead. It’s good that they get to stay in their local community and many specialist support services do a great job in supporting such children. But such children may be the only deaf person there and may hardly ever meet any other deaf children. It strikes me as being difficult to develop as a positive identify as a deaf person and to be confident and assertive about managing it if you need see any other positive examples of it around you and you’re surrounding by hearing children. I’ve met a few deaf children who, in these circumstances, try their best ‘not to be deaf’. Which is depressing and does little to help them ‘manage’ their deafness by confidently asserting their needs.

Visiting the unit confirmed something I’ve thought for a while, that there is a real value in units. They give deaf children the opportunity to make sure that deaf children can socialise with other deaf children and develop a positive identity as a deaf person, whilst being able to mix with hearing peers as well. And they don’t have to live a million miles away from their home. You get the best of both possible worlds, in a way and should be an important factor for parents of deaf children to think about when deciding where to send their deaf children.

And that concludes my late afternoon ramblings. It’s probably an over-simplification of the issues. What do you think?


9 thoughts on “Hearing impaired units – helping deaf children be deaf?

  1. These deaf kids are not going to get to grips with hearing, when they can talk easier to their own are they ? Is there ANY effective education that can teach these children to cross that bridge ? I see ‘units’ mooted I see a cheap option, instead of a real inclusion policy. All deaf together ? great, what happens AFTER when their ‘peers’ are all hearing ? A lot are going to be unhappy and struggle aren’t they ? They have to sit WITH hearing peers to get real acceptances and understanding, so I am reluctant to see the value of keeping them apart in an unit.

    My son went to an autistic unit, apart from sports day and morning services (!), he wasn’t taught with other children at all. just with 6 other kids like him, that is NOT inclusion, that is legal isolation, and I believe he will face HUGE problems when he leaves school and NO Peers are evident at all.. Are we just building up these kids for a fall ?

    • I disagree, these units are a break from the very tiring hearing world. My 6 year old can lip read and uses hearing aids which are good in some enviroments but that drains her, can she continue to learn within a unit using sign language when she’s tired. And ‘after when her peers are mostly hearing, she can retreat with her deaf friends for comfortable socialising. She is currently fully ‘included’ in a mainstream school. She has no deaf friends, and misses alot of conversation ending up in her own little world. Would that unit be her own little world with friends similar?

  2. I went to a PHU, and they don’t necessarily help you to be deaf. Many adapt an integration approach (I know its inclusion these days, but I question if some practice has moved on), and are out to push you into the mainstream. This differs widely from school to school (I think I’ve visited most deaf education places in the UK).

    My huge gripe: hearing impaired? Ditch the word please. Because I’m female, should I call myself male-impaired? Because I’m Welsh, should I call myself English-impaired? There would be an outcry if one were to call black people, white-impaired because their body did not behave in a manner that embraced the majority in society.

    Hearing impaired is extremely offensive; it makes an implicit statement that a group is inferior against another. When we should be embracing difference, both have an equal right to exist. Its about time education got their labels correct.

    • I have a few deaf friends, some hate being called d/Deaf some don’t like being called impaired or handicaped. But most of them don’t mind and one or two even use it to their advantage. I don’t mean to be offensive or place lables but don’t think that one person can speak for everyone else and be correct. I think that most of the time lables are not ment to be offensive.
      I hope I haven’t upset you Alison.

  3. I did a PHU too. The deaf there rarely if ever mixed with hearing, they had their own room, their own table, nil access to classes much, and of course their own communication, and regular visits by social workers. You have to ask what point is that in awareness, educational, or integrational terms. There was a small band of hearing people who took notes for them, even I assisted deaf students ! To access MY Classes I relied on fellow hearing students, because there was no access for me at all, and had to drop 2 classes as it was. To all intents and purposes they could have stayed home and done the same thing. It was a mini deaf club in many respects, even dinner times were spent apart on their own corner tables… I can’t understand people who support that, or not try to address it.

  4. Clearly, there are good and bad units, along with good and bad schools. Helpful comments, thanks.

    Interesting point on the term hearing-impaired. My only problem is that I meet lots of deaf children who don’t actually like the term deaf. They say it’s misleading because the term suggests they can’t hear at all. At one extreme some deaf children don’t think NDCS is relevant to them because they’re not ‘deaf’ themselves. I would actually refer to myself as hearing impaired when I was growing up, only switching back to deaf when I was in my 20s. But I see your point.

  5. I’ve got 2 kids in a unit – they are thriving, with a similar set-up to the school described by Ian. We visited lots of units before deciding where to live; a couple of them had the problems MM describes (little incentive given for deaf kids to mix with hearing peers). One unit had an excellent teacher of the deaf, but no support from the wider school – this head viewed deaf children as a negative influence on his all-important league table position. We were out of there fairly fast…

    It takes a lot of things to go right at the same time to make a unit work well – but it can happen. The real scandal is that units are not being adequately inspected by Ofsted.

    Ofsted’s current inspection model – Section 5 – does not oblige them to include specific detail on the quality of teaching in a unit. Even worse, when inspecting a school with an attached unit, Ofsted is under no obligation to include a qualified ToD as part of the inspection team, or even anyone with basic deaf awareness.

    The school my kids attend got a terrible Ofsted report last year – but the unit is performing well, and enabling deaf children there to reach their potential. Many prospective pupils will never get a chance to find this out; their parents will take one look at the Ofsted report, and say ‘no way.’ The problem works both ways – when choosing schools, we visited one with an excellent Ofsted report, but a terrible ToD; you’d never have guessed this from the paperwork.

    I’d argue this matters more for deaf kids than most – if a hearing kid has a sub-standard teacher in an average primary school, say, then they are very unlikely to have the same teacher next year. Deaf children are likely to have the same ToD for several years at a time.

    This state of affairs cannot continue.

  6. my daughter goes to a school with a hearing impaired unit. she is profoundly deaf and i think the school is amazing she is in a class of both hearing and deaf children so she is able to mix with both hearing and deaf children before she started at this school she was unable to speak at all and only had limited sign ability as no one in the family have any signing experience she now signs well and teaches the rest of the family she also has started to talk and she has 2 best friends one hearing and one deaf. the best thing about her school is they use reverse inclusion as well this is were not only do the deaf children get included in the hearing classes but they also have some of the hearing children in the classes they put on for the deaf children

  7. I work in a unit within a mainstream school and all our children attend mainstream classes for most subject with appropriate support be that signed support or oral support. They have Deaf adult role models and Deaf studies to give them a positive Deaf identity. We have Teachers of the Deaf, Communicators and Speach and language professionals on site. We have reverse inclusion too,all staff are expected to complete Level 1 BSL and many go on to Level 2. All assemblies are signed, all songs are signed by all children and adults in the school as are school plays. Our hearing and Deaf children grow up appreciating similarieties and differences in all human beings and leave school well equippped for life outside school.

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