Access to Mainstream Schools’ checklist : what to look for in schools for your deaf child

You can also use this check list to help you decide on the right school for your deaf child or to assess your deaf child’s current school placement from time to time to make sure that your child is getting full support in education.

Tick which applies or answer questions in spaces below the questions:

  1. These are the types of school placements currently available. If you are already thinking of the type you wish, which one applies?
  1. a) Local mainstream state school
  2. b) Academy
  3. c) Private fee paying school
  4. d) Resourced mainstream school (where there is a unit or base with support staff for deaf children)
  5. e) Special Deaf school
  6. f) Other special school
  7. g) Dual placement – attends two of the above schools
  1. Your deaf child should have a choice of languages in the school you choose – English and British Sign Language (BSL). If your child is Welsh, there should be three languages in the school (Welsh, English and BSL).
  1. a) Which language(s) are used in the school?
  2. b) If your home language is not English, does your school give additional support with English teaching to your deaf child?
  3. c) Which other languages are used in your deaf child’s school?


  1. Are deaf children taught via BSL? This is where the Communication Support Worker (CSW) interprets what classroom teachers and other pupils are saying into BSL. Also, if the deaf pupil is unable to speak or is too nervous to use their voice, the CSW can translate from BSL to English.

Does the school provide BSL medium teaching?

(a)        Yes

(b)        No

  1. Does your deaf child have access to BSL via learning materials when CSWs are not present, such as on film clips on computer or TV? This promotes autonomous learning and reduces dependence:

(a) Yes

(b) No

  1. Deaf Instructors or BSL Tutors teach BSL to deaf pupils, and often to hearing pupils too. If the whole school learns BSL this can help your deaf child to feel included.

Does the school teach BSL? If yes, who learns BSL in the school:

(a)        deaf pupils

(b)        mainstream teachers or other staff

(c)        hearing pupils.

  1. What BSL qualifications, if any, are taught and to what levels:

(a)        of NVQ levels

(b)        to GCSE level

  1. All Support Staff, (CSWs, Teachers of Deaf, Teaching Assistants) should have a minimum of NVQ Level 3 BSL and be expected to improve to university level or equivalent, or already hold a university degree level or its equivalent in BSL.

If the school uses BSL, what qualifications do all the staff hold in BSL?


  1. There should be a significantly sized group of deaf children in the school in order to develop BSL and English skills, choose a good friendship base and to develop a positive Deaf identity from them.

Your deaf child should have other deaf children in the same class. If so, how many are there?


  1. Your deaf child should be able to make friends at break times with other deaf children in the same Year group.

If so, how many are there (or how many are planned in the next academic year)?


  1. There should be deaf children in each year group. This provides older deaf role models for your deaf child, and helps to develop wider BSL and social skills.

If so, how many are there (or how many are planned in the next academic year)?


  1. Understanding deafness is important to enable hearing staff and pupils to understand deaf issues, and deaf pupils to understand their needs.  

Does the school teach Deaf Studies, and to whom?


  1. Support Services should provide training to families on the benefits of bilingual education and BSL training.

Do you receive any training in BSL and Deaf issues from Deaf Instructors or BSL Tutors?

  1. a) If so, how many hours’ tuition per week and for how many weeks?
  2. b) Are you supported to more advanced levels?


  1. Have you observed how your deaf child communicates with hearing children? Do the hearing pupils and students receive BSL training:
  1. How many hours
  2. What accreditation is there?

If you are thinking of placing your deaf child in a local mainstream school with no deaf peer group, or your child is already in this situation it is strongly advised that you reconsider this placement.

Deaf children should not rely solely on technical aids (hearing aids and cochlear or titanium implants) or English medium teaching and support, (teaching assistants). Technical aids do not provide full amplification to normal hearing levels and cannot eliminate background noise as normal hearing does. This means deaf pupils only receive partial information which greatly limits their ability to learn at the same rate as their hearing peers. With BSL input as well there is a greater chance of eliminating the gap in achievement and in being able to communicate with deaf and hearing peers. Classroom and other group situations, such as Assembly and break times, require English/BSL Communication Support Workers in addition to auditory aids.

Many deaf children are unable to use hearing aids because they would distort the residual hearing they have, or can affect their threshold of pain. It is a good idea for your deaf child to take off their hearing aids after lessons for a break from concentrating on listening and having to put up with distorted, and sometimes, too loud sounds.

If you would like to send your check list answers to DEX for our comments and support if required, please Contact Us

Deaf Identity

The term “Deaf identity” is often used in the Deaf community and is acknowledged by deaf adults as a good thing for deaf children to have. It must be hard for hearing people to grasp the importance of this concept, for a hearing cultural identity is acquired naturally from birth and is a major foundation for the psychological building blocks for children to develop their unique personal identities. Even before birth, hearing children hear and then learn the meaning of sounds, not only speech but environmental noise and even of silence. Belonging to a world of shared sounds makes for a common bond and allegiance, which every child must have in order to feel loved and valued. It is a basic human need, almost as important as water and food and the air we breathe. Research into identity development has found not having a sense of belonging can seriously damage children’s development, and it is a crucial human need to feel part of the family, school, friendships and the wider human society. This feeling of belonging leads us to become social animals and is the motivation for making relationships with our families and friends, and later, work colleagues. Language is one of the essential keys to cultural and personal identity. People construct their identities in the house of their language. Having a hearing identity, therefore, is paramount for hearing people.

A feeling of belonging is absolutely vital to human development.

For deaf children, attending school where there are deaf adults and deaf peers enables a strong sense of deaf identity. Deaf adults are found in schools which have specialist resources for deaf children, sometimes called bases, in mainstream schools, or in Deaf Schools. Since language is also a key factor in shaping all children’s identity, sign languages are an important indicator of being deaf.

A deaf child signed to us  :

I am happy because other deaf children are there signing and I am confident with hearing children.”

Another deaf child told us:

I sign because I am Deaf . I am deaf because I sign”.

Without this feeling of belonging to your own group, it is hard to know who you are. A deaf member of DEX said :

How can you be yourself, when you do not know who you are?”

Identity is a complex issue, but generally speaking, research has found that those who are in marginalised groups benefit from the support of others who share the same experiences:  “Identification with one’s marginalised group is an asset to one’s psychological well-being” : Michaelieu 1997; Walters and Simoni, 1993.

Those with stronger deaf identities (culturally deaf and bicultural individuals) have a somewhat higher self-esteem than those with weaker deaf identities (culturally hearing and negative identities)”. : Bat-Chava, 2000.

Think Hearing Identity

Without Deaf cultural input this results in what DEX calls “think-hearing identity” where deaf children can actually think they are hearing people. Usually all the children and adults in the deaf child’s life are hearing people, so she or he naturally wants to identify with them and model their behaviour on them. We have met deaf children who are upset when the term “hearing impaired” is explained to them, as they assumed that this meant they were “hearing”. For those deaf children who are moved to a resourced mainstream school to a Deaf school  the transition from think-hearing identity to a Deaf identity can be extremely painful and deeply traumatic as they may want to learn BSL immediately, but they realise this is a long learning curve for them. Deaf identity development is a highly complex area that needs sensitivity and real understanding. DEX has both personal and professional knowledge of the problems arising from a lack of positive self-concept, and the legacy this can leave into adulthood, affecting relationships, further education and employment. Research shows 61% of deaf mainstreamed children have mental health problems, and many have an underlying depression that is not detected by medical experts. Many are fearful of school, of not understanding the curriculum and homework instructions and of not being able to socialise or make genuine and lasting friendships.

For deaf children, much work is undertaken to encourage deaf children to fit into hearing communities, and this is important in order that deaf children can have a feeling of belonging to their hearing families and making friendships. Deaf children are assessed on how they communicate in acoustically controlled settings which do not mirror their school’s group settings (i.e. classroom, gym, school hall, playground etc) and this gives a false assessment of their ability to hear in educational environments.   The government’s philosophy of the assimilation of deaf children into mainstream schools and the drive for deaf children to have auditory aids in order to be integrated is a necessary part of the normalisation process. This is understandable and, in part, essential, in order that deaf children are socially included, but at the same time can never confer on deaf children a hearing identity, since they are not able to hear in the same way as hearing people can. Approximately 12% of deaf children have a profound hearing loss but only approximately 9% of all deaf children are learning to sign. This means that there are approximately 84% of deaf children who attend lone placements in mainstream school without other deaf peers or staff.

The danger of the current mainstreaming practice is that deaf children are likely to feel that they do not belong to either the hearing world or the Deaf community and so are in limbo and adrift. Deaf children in mainstream schools often are fearful and dread attending school, because of feelings of inadequacy with school work, or of being left out in the classroom or during break times.

In some cases there may be another deaf child in the same school but there could be too much of an age gap or a gender difference, or lack of real opportunity to meet, for a sense of shared experience to emerge. Some Support Services provide out-of-school clubs or occasional days of bringing together deaf children but this is insufficient for real and meaningful Deaf identity development.

For these reasons, DEX states that all deaf children should be bilingual, or multilingual, in spoken and sign languages. British Sign Language (BSL) is a natural language to deaf people in the UK, so all deaf children need to have exposure to it. This will enable bilingualism or multilingualism in spoken English and Welsh and BSL in order to have cultural pluralism and linguistic diversity. Research into bilingualism and multilingualism shows they confer many benefits, some of which are divergent thinking, wider choice of employment, and biculturalism. For bilingualism to develop, children need exposure to two sets of fluent language users and language peers regularly. The current position is that most hearing professionals working with deaf children only have conversational level BSL, which is seriously preventing deaf children from accessing the national curriculum and developing dominant language skills, and would not be acceptable in any other language used in schools. At the same time, teachers and non-teaching staff are often dedicated, and struggle against a lack of government funding which hinders continuing professional development or the recruitment of suitably qualified staff.

An essential requirement of parenting a deaf child is the full acceptance of their deaf child and should bring with it a sense of pride and value. There is not loss, but much to be gained.

DEX has collated anecdotal information from deaf ex-mainstreamers and also conducted our own Best Value Review, and a feasibility study into what services parents of deaf children and deaf young people would like to receive directly from Deaf professionals. Both studies are recorded in “Deaf Toolkit: Best Value Review of Deaf Children in Education, from Users’ Perspective” and “Handing on our Experience: Deaf participation with deaf young people and families”. For further information about the negative impact of think-hearing identity, see DEX’s book: “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: the deaf mainstream experience”.  See Publication page.

Other recommended reading is on bilingualism, i.e. Colin Baker’s “A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism” (2000) Clevedon; Multilingual Matters, or contact us for a reading list.

We have undertaken a Literature Review of much of the research that has been conducted on hard of hearing children that indicates how they are struggling in education : LINK .

Deaf children in mainstream schools often are fearful and anxious about attending school, because of feelings of inadequacy with school work, or of being left out in the classroom or during break times. Social exclusion can take place in the whole school environment: class room and outside, break times, assemblies, sports lessons and clubs. It is particularly noticeable in any team activity and games.

Always calculate

Normalisation of deaf pupils in mainstream provision means not allowing deaf children to have the Deaf experience or to learn to be Deaf, and expecting deaf children to cope with, or without, hearing aids and cochlear implants.

Always calculate is the deaf experience of living in a hearing world, by lipreading and listening via aids which is hard work as using hearing aids and cochlear or titanium implants, and lipreading, are not the same as having “normal” hearing. There is a false myth that hearing aids or various forms and lipreading can replace hearing.

The daily struggle is like doing a mental crossword without pen and paper, as it requires having to calculate all the time, rather than just listening naturally as hearing people do. Although many deaf people make it look easy, it is actually a massive feat. Always calculate relies on the deaf person’s ability to learn spoken language. It is impossible to lipread words one does not know. All deaf children rely on lipreading to a certain extent, although they may not be aware of it. Lipreading is very rarely taught formally, so it is a skill that deaf people have to master on their own. The same applies to listening through aids, though in some cases this is taught, particularly for those who are implanted. This is one of the reasons that there can be good results from implantation.

However, it is our professional and researched experience that relying totally on aids to hearing is totally insufficient for deaf children

Gaps in educational attainment

Indirect communication- research has shown that all hearing children are exposed to information from birth, (the unwritten curriculum) which is eleven times that spent in the classroom. It is more than eleven times for deaf children who cannot access overheard or indirect communication fully and, therefore, do not have the exposure that hearing children have. This can significantly delay the learning process so that deaf children are starting school on an unequal basis to their hearing peers, missing out on a great deal of information that is normally heard on TV, films, gaming, group conversations, and the written word. They have to play catch up throughout their education to maintain a reasonable standard of education, which requires a great deal of concentration and hard work which is stressful and tiring.


Being bullied can make deaf children even more afraid, withdrawn or angry. Deaf mainstreamed children are vulnerable to bullying, since they are often not part of significant friendship groups and are not able to handle peer pressure. It is vitally important not to ignore any signs of bullying during the school day, outside the school or in taxis.

DEX has delivered successful training and planning to support schools and services by training:

  • deaf children how to deal with bullying, and in understanding their needs
  • hearing pupils, some of whom have been bullied, or are themselves bullies
  • staff on how to handle bullying and advising on schools’ bullying policy.