Belfast Telegraph

Fall in specialist teachers as number of deaf children in Northern Ireland increases

By Ali Gordon

There is a crisis looming for deaf children in Northern Ireland as their numbers increase while the figure for specialist teachers is falling, a leading charity has said.

New research has revealed that in the last seven years, despite a 25% increase in the number of deaf children, the number of specialist teachers of the deaf has been reduced by 16%.

"We know deaf children can achieve what their hearing peers can achieve but despite that deaf children fall a whole grade behind at school," said Angela Bonomy, the National Deaf Children's Society director for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

"This support is absolutely required. Things need to get a move on now as this crisis is looming."

There are currently 30 specialist teachers of the deaf in Northern Ireland, but 61% of existing staff are due to retire in the next 10 to 15 years.

She added: "In Northern Ireland we've got around 1,400 deaf children, which can mean anything from a small hearing impairment to profoundly deaf.

"Out of those children, 71% of them are currently educated in mainstream school.

"In those schools, the staff require support from teachers who have the specialism to be able to deal with those deaf children."

Additional support would allow trained staff to educate teachers on the awareness and communication needed for deaf children.

"It would also allow for one-to-one tuition, if required, and organise specialised technology for the pupils.

"Those teachers help the children to integrate and they help the teachers to help the children to integrate, so it's a dual support," said Angela.

"There's a great opportunity here because of the five education and library boards recently consolidated into one Education Authority so we can take a Northern Ireland-wide approach in addressing this situation.

"We would like to see a plan to train new teachers of the deaf so we have new teachers coming through to replace those who retire in the near future, and we would like a recruitment drive to get more of them into the classroom.

"At the moment, because of the increase of children who are deaf along with the reduction in teachers of the deaf that we will soon have in the workforce, we would like to see education for deaf children recognised and given the attention and funding that it deserves."

She added: "We have a good relationship with the Education Authority - we're already engaged with them - so we're ready to bring our expertise, evidence and ideas to the table.

"We would like them to up the ante a bit off the back of those figures and we're very willing to help with that."

The research was published yesterday by the Consortium for Research in Deaf Education (CRIDE), supported by the National Deaf Children's Society.

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