Education (Deaf Children)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th December 1966.

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6.22 p.m.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody , Exeter

I beg to move, That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to take all possible steps to provide increased facilities in secondary education for the deaf child, and to ensure that adequate places are available in universities, teacher training colleges, and other colleges of higher education. I should like to thank the House for the opportunity to debate this subject, because, although it is one which perhaps applies only to a very small section of the community, I feel we should concern ourselves about it.

When I was elected to this House, I committed the first of what will undoubtedly be a series of practical tactical errors in what I hope will be a reasonably long career when I agreed to take a party of very large and energetic boy scouts to the top of Big Ben. Having accomplished that feat in 3-inch heels and a tight skirt, I decided that I needed in future to have more information before taking decisions of that nature. It taught me not one but two lessons. The boy scouts involved in that great feat of climbing were from the Royal School of the Deaf in Exeter, and their liveliness, intelligence and great interest in everything that they saw, and my own difficulty in communicating with them impressed me very much. Therefore, I made it one of my first jobs to visit the School of the Deaf.

As a doctor's wife, I have seen something of the medical problems involved in a family when a deaf child is born. Very special social stresses are placed on a family with a handicapped child. It is extremely invidious to draw comparisons between one sort of handicap and another, but it is interesting that members of the public do not perhaps feel as emotionally involved in the problems of the deaf child as in the problems of some other handicapped children.

It is very difficult to imagine oneself in the situation of someone who is born deaf or who becomes deaf at an early age. The only slight comparison which I can call to mind is the situation where one is dropped, as people are sometimes in modern teaching, into a new country to learn a language, knowing nothing of the language being spoken around one. It is amazing how, at the end of a few days, one is emotionally and physically exhausted with the strain of trying to communicate with others in a language one does not understand and in sounds one cannot translate into something acceptable.

I should like the House to try to imagine the enormous difficulties which the deaf child faces. First of all, he has to learn his own language, in circumstances of extreme difficulty. He has not just to acquire an education, but a vocabulary of even a simple sort. Members of his family require guidance before they can understand the problems involved and help the child to face, each day, a day full of minor battles which could overwhelm him.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for undertaking to reply to the debate, because I know of his great interest in the work of the special schools and what is being done by the Government to assist them. Like all mothers, I am greedy for my children and would like more money to be spent on the special schools. I am delighted to say that we are to have a new building in Exeter which I hope will be of great use to the staff of the Royal School of the Deaf.

The deeper that I went into the problems of the deaf child, the more obvious it became to me that some difficulty arises from the fact that we do not have enough information about them. There are many special schools dealing with the deaf child. They are largely under different local authorities. They do not differentiate between one child and another. They endeavour to provide places and teach the child to the age of 16 as well as they are able, and they are doing magnificent work. That is a tribute which we should pay to them gladly.

However, there are only two grammar schools for the deaf. They are the Mary Hare Mixed Boys' and Girls' Grammar School and the Burwood Park School for Deaf Boys. Those two schools are endeavouring to provide a grammar-school type education for children who are found to have the necessary standards, and, as one inquiries deeper into the problems, it seems that we may be wasting a great deal of talent amoung our deaf children. No statistics are available to tell us the numbers of school leavers who go on from the special schools or from the grammar schools to higher education of any sort. I should ask the Minister if he will consider making inquiries to find whether we may obtain that sort of statistics to be able to plan for the future.

We know that we have deaf children who are able to surmount the enormous difficulties with which they are faced and go on to higher education, but we have no idea how many there are. We know from a survey which was taken at one grammar school that these children are able to go into many varied professions. We know that they are capable of receiving higher education in special skills, yet we still do not know how many drop along the wayside who would be capable of fulfilling complex and useful tasks in our highly mechanised world. I should like the Minister to consider this very carefully indeed.

Education generally is in very much of a state of flux at the moment. We are searching for new ways of increasing our powers and of increasing the general standards of our school children. Can we now begin to plan to include the deaf child in the special needs of higher education? There is in America one specific college for the deaf, the Gallaudet College for the Deaf in Washington. It takes in an increasing number of pupils every year, and spends its time providing as far as possible the sort of academic training which, at the end, will produce graduates who approximate as closely as possible to their normal American colleagues. Yet in this country, which for a long time has had a tradition of university education, there is no specific provision for the deaf to enter university.

Many of the pupils take university degrees, but this is really doing is very much the hard way. A deaf pupil who enters an ordinary tutorial has not only to lip-read, but has to try to follow the thread of a very involved argument. In many cases such students accept other people's notes of lectures, which means that they get them second-hand. They have then to try to catch up with their hearing colleagues, without really having the basis of fact on which to work. Will the Minister consider whether, at some point in the future, it will be possible to set up even a very small unit attached to one of our universities where the deaf undergraduate can take a course or a degree course which will enable him to go into the world better equipped not just from a financial point of view but from a social point of view to fulfil a greater rôle in modern-day affairs?

Gallaudet College in Washington found that its first year was spent largely in bridging a gap which was bound to exist between the special schools for the deaf and ordinary college work, but in their second year the students' general standards were almost as good as those in other colleges. They found difficulties with the languages and arts, but in mathematics and contemporary affairs they were up to the standard of the others. This seems to be a lesson for us. As our society becomes more mechanised, we will need all the trained people we can get, and there may even be professions in which it might be an advantage to be profoundly deaf.

I do not intend to take up a great deal of the time of the House today, because I realise that we have very little time left for this debate, and I should like to hear the Minister's view. Although this is a very small and specialised part of the community, these people very much deserve our understanding and our help, not our charity, because I believe that the deaf child is perfectly capable of surmounting enormous barriers given the right sort of assistance.

These children have already surmounted the barrier of learning a language. When they leave the special schools, they are learning how to cope with a hearing world. They do not live in a special world. There is just one hearing world, and they must learn to deal with it, and to live with it. For that reason I ask the Minister tonight not to promise to do all the things that we want him to do, but just to say, "We will hold out a helping hand. We will consider your problems. But, more than that, we will plan for your future and help you to join us in a modern world".

6.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Morrison Mr Charles Morrison , Devizes

It is just over four years since the House last discussed this subject, and I am sure that we are all extremely grateful to the hon. Lady the Member for Exeter (Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody) for having provided us with even this limited opportunity to discuss the matter once again. I know that time is limited, and I know that the Minister wishes to reply in some detail to what the hon. Lady has said. I do not, therefore, intend to take up much of the time of the House, but there are one or two points which I should like to raise. Before doing so, however, may I say that I hope very much that the hon. Gentleman will give us some information on the point raised by the hon. Lady about university education, because this is a matter of great importance.

If children with impaired hearing are to get the full advantages of modern knowledge of how to deal with their problems, it is essential that they should be identified at an early age. Is the Minister satisfied with the present services provided by local authorities for ascertainment? I ask this because I note from a study of the statistics of education, and a comparison of deaf and partially-hearing pupils, that the figures for 1961 and 1965, if added together for each year, produce a very similar total—4,851 in 1961, and 4,727 in 1965—but there is a difference in that the proportion of partially-hearing pupils increased in 1965. It might be concluded from this that methods of identification have become more accurate, but, at the same time, since the total figures for the two years are roughly similar, I am forced to wonder whether there has been any overall improvement in the cover of local authority ascertainment services.

Dealing next with teachers, I am glad to see that there has been a steady increase in the overall number of full-time and part-time teachers in special schools, and I have no doubt that the supply of teachers of deaf or partially-hearing children will be further improved with the opening of the University of London Institute of Education Courses which began in October, 1965, with 20 pupils. This will help, but in view of the 1964 Review of the Department of Education and Science, which revealed an increased long-term demand, I should be grateful if the Minister were able to give a progress report on his discussions with the Universities of London and Manchester about the expansion of training places.

This must be of great importance, particularly as I note that the number of over-sized classes in 1965—and in the previous debate an hon. Gentleman drew attention to this—shows a close similarity to the 1961 figures. In 1965 there were 41 over-sized classes for the deaf, 28 for the partially hearing, and 11 for the deaf and partially hearing. In 1965, the equivalent figures were 40, 33 and 22 It is most disappointing that there should have been virtually no improvement in these figures, and I hope that the Minister will refer to these disturbing statistics, for the House will wish to know what he intends to do about them.

In the late 'fifties and early 'sixties there was an encouraging growth in the provision of special classes attached to ordinary schools. This was a significant development, and demonstrated a more enlightened attitude towards the partially hearing. The objective was to prepare them, wherever possible, for full integration into the schools, and afterwards into a normal life.

Doubtless the Minister will say something about the progress made more recently. At the same time, it would be interesting to know whether any sort of information has been obtained, or is available, on how successfully these children, when grown up, have managed to lead normal lives after leaving school, for such information could be useful to those concerned with teaching methods and the organisation of education for the partially hearing.

We have some information on children up to the further education stage, for since the last debate a Report has been published of a survey on deaf children who have been transferred from special schools or units to ordinary schools. This Report is most valuable, although it is concerned with a relatively small number of children. I wonder whether the Minister could give some information—if he has the time—on what thinking has been given by his Department to the Report, and whether any changes are proposed or envisaged in the light of it.

I have asked the Minister several questions, and I do not propose to take up any more time of the House. I say again that we are most grateful to the hon. Lady for having introduced this short debate.

6.41 p.m.

Photo of Mr Edward Redhead Mr Edward Redhead , Walthamstow West

I join the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Charles Morrison) in expressing appreciation to my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody) for having taken this opportunity to raise a matter which is not only compelling upon our attention but which justifiably demands our sympathy and understanding. My only regret—and I think that other hon. Members will share it—is that the time is so limited in which to discuss a matter of so much importance.

It is true that the numbers involved are relatively few, when one has regard to the sum total of our school population, but they are certainly among the most deserving of our consideration. I endorse emphatically what my hon. Friend has said, that the deaf and partially-hearing children with whom we are concerned in the Motion demand not our charity but our understanding and help. I assure my hon. Friend that I shall bring myself to the consideration of this topic and what has been said in this short debate with every possible sympathy and understanding.

We are dealing with two categories, which we are defining as the deaf and the partially-hearing the latter category being now expressed, perhaps, in more positive and welcome terminology than the former negative description of partially deaf.

The separation of these two categories has been deliberately based upon considerations of experience and the realisation that their problems are somewhat different. It may serve if I put the figures before the House in order to give an idea of the area that we are covering. At the moment we have about 3,300 deaf children in special schools and 3,100 partially-hearing children in special schools and special classes attached to normal schools. About 5,200 other children have been identified as in need of some assistance with hearing aids in the normal classes of normal schools, so that we are considering a total of about 11,600, or about 1·5 per 1,000 of our total school population, excluding the population of independent schools.

This is one of the problems; these children are spread all over the country, and therefore appear in ones and twos. It is extremely difficult to make adequate provision for them, especially having regard to the understandable concern of many parents that their children should not be too far distant from home.

The hon. Member for Devizes referred to a matter of tremendous importance, namely, the fact that the difficulties of children in this category should be diagnosed and detected at the earliest possible age. This matter is the subject of co-operation between local health authorities, hospitals and local education authorities, the latter becoming responsible for these children, when detected, at the age of two. There have been considerable improvements in detection, but I freely acknowledge, on my own survey of the position—having only recently become responsible for this field of special education—that I am not satisfied with the degree of efficacy of detection methods in all areas. This is a matter to which we must give increasing attention.

This is vital, for a child who has a defect of hearing in infancy, if permitted to go undetected for a considerable period, presents an even greater problem of education and help at a later stage. In the course of my inquiries I have personally visited the Department of Audiology and Education at Manchester, which is outside the normal range of services but nevertheless is co-operating with existing authorities. I do not want to go into details, but I was tremendously impressed with the research work which is now taking place in that unit, and also by the team work that is being undertaken by specialists of various kinds joining together and undertaking positive research work, from which I hope for good and helpful results in the not-too-distant future.

I now turn to the question of special classes. The hon. Member for Devizes asked whether the development in this regard—special classes attached to ordinary schools—was satisfactory from my point of view. I confess again that expansion has not been very rapid. For that reason Her Majesty's inspectors and medical officers of my Department have been jointly undertaking a survey of a very large sample of the special classes that exist. That field has now been covered, and the report of the survey is being prepared. I hope that it will be available to the House very shortly. I can assure the House that my right hon. Friend will study it with great care and, based upon the results of the findings, will seek to issue such appropriate advice as may be necessary and desirable for the guidance of local education authorities.

Reference was also made to the question of teachers for the deaf. Here again, more are obviously needed at every level. We are under very anxious concern that the numbers of qualified teachers of the deaf should be expanded as rapidly as possible. There has been an increase from 585 fully-qualified teachers of the deaf in 1959 to 749 in 1965, but the whole of this increase has been absorbed by services which are outside the schools. Therefore, we are obviously concerned to consider measures to increase the supply.

The hon. Member referred to the fact that there had been discussions on this subject with the University of Manchester Department of Audiology, to which I have referred, and the University of London Institute of Education. I am not yet in a position to tell the hon. Gentleman the result of these discussions. They are not complete, but I am anxious that they should be completed at not too distant a date. I regard this as a tremendously important aspect of the problem, for, whatever other provision we may make for these children, in the last resort everything depends upon an adequate supply of fully-trained and qualified teachers.

There has been some expansion in the use of peripatetic teachers, and 49 local education authorities are now using such teachers. This may be of considerable assistance in many schools. Here again, we want to survey the present results of the employment of such teachers. That survey will be undertaken by Her Majesty's inspectors in the next year.

My hon. Friend referred to problems with which she is particularly concerned, those of secondary education and of higher education for deaf and partially-hearing children. These two aspects represent a very serious problem and concern, one which has been pressed upon me recently, particularly by parents who feel the need for more adequate provision. My hon. Friend asked me a Question on this subject on 21st July and I said in reply: A total of 200 boarding places in a grammar school for the deaf and partially hearing in Berkshire and a technical school for the deaf in Surrey; 60 day places and 80 boarding places in secondary modern schools in London and Surrey respectively."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st July, 1966; Vol. 732, c. 116.] But the grammar and secondary schools to which I referred are non-maintained special schools, admitting pupils selected by means of a common entrance examination from special schools and classes in all parts of the country.

The grammar school to which my hon. Friend referred, the Mary Hare School, caters for deaf and partially-hearing children and admits the occasional child who suffers an impairment of hearing at a late stage and is unable to continue in or transfer to an ordinary grammar school. The technical school at Burwood Park caters for deaf boys only. The Secondary Modern School, in Surrey maintained by the Surrey Local Education authority serves a regional need. The four schools to which I have referred are the only ones where, at present, secondary education is provided in a separate school, but a reorganisation of classes was approved in the London boroughs of Waltham Forest and Newham, which will result in the provision of a secondary school in Newham. A secondary school in the North Midlands is under preparation as well.

There are many views about the best way of providing secondary education for deaf and partially hearing pupils and there are, because of the wide spread of these children, a variety of arrangements. Probably the greatest pressures at present are those in favour of practical measures to reorganise special schools for the deaf and partially hearing generally, and provide special education in secondary schools. These are most strongly advocated by the more articulate parents and the head teachers of a number of special schools for children with impaired hearing. The parents are naturally anxious that the schools should be reasonably near their children's homes.

These two aspects are difficult to reconcile. The view of my Department on this question is that any practicable provision for such a scheme in secondary schools may be considered, but the process is bound to be gradual, taking into account local circumstances and wishes. Wholesale reorganisation is not likely to be practicable in view of the substantial capital investments needed for rebuilding in many areas.

My hon. Friend referred to the fine institution in her constituency, the Royal West of England Residential School at Exeter which, itself is the subject of new plans for rebuilding, upon which I hope that a start will be made shortly and which will enable that school to develop further its provision for the education of its children.

The question of higher education has been raised. It must be appreciated that a very small proportion of deaf and partially-hearing pupils qualify for university entrance or courses of degree standard elsewhere. Having regard to their linguistic handicap and difficulty of communication, it is greatly to the credit of those young people who attain these standards. These are admitted to universities and, I am sure, receive sympathetic consideration and support during their studies.

However, another problem in higher education is that many of the traditional occupations of the deaf, which used to be conceived of as based upon individual craftsmanship, were obviously rendered out of date in an economy based upon mass production. Further education needs to be related to modern needs and organised to meet the requirements of an inevitably scattered student population.

This almost compels us to the conclusion that the future of further education for the deaf must lie in a closer association with the provision of further education for normal children. I can assure the House that these are the lines upon which developments are taking place and I shall certainly want to study what has been said in the debate to see how we may develop further opportunities for the young people.

The problems of universities and higher education, of course, must take into account the fact that the number of leavers each year from special schools for the deaf and partially hearing is not more than about 400 or 450. It seems to us, therefore, that it would be impracticable to provide a satisfactory establishment of higher education exclusively for children with impaired hearing, and to concentrate those taking degree courses by other suggestion of my hon. Friend, that of a special unit at one university, would similarly, of course, have the disadvantage of limiting the choice of subject.

It is for these reasons that the main trend has been for special schools with links with ordinary establishments of further education. I should like this trend to expand and we will certainly give our attention to it. Among developments of this kind are the developments under discussion in Exeter, where the new headmaster of the Royal West of England Residential School for the Deaf is exploring the possibility of building upon the foundations laid by his predecessor.

I cannot speak too highly of the work being done at this school and other similar institutions, which not only commands the maximum support for those engaged in it, but demands that we should undertake further research into all aspects of the problem.

I am very glad to be able to tell the House that the Department is sharing in the cost of two projects at present and meeting the cost of yet a third. Although I have not time to go into the details of the particular research projects, my reference to these will at least establish to the satisfaction of the House that we are considering the need to continue research.

I have not had time to refer to more than a few examples of the work going on, but, through developments of this work, we may have a situation in which the deaf and partially-hearing pupils will be able to follow vocational courses leading to employment prospects more nearly comparable with those of young people with normal hearing. Already, the numbers of opportunities have been greatly enlarged, but much still remains to be done.

For many, the continued help of teachers of the deaf will be required, particularly in the theoretical aspects of courses. But the fundamental task for the schools is to improve educational attainment generally and linguistic skills in particular. As my hon. Friend said, with inadequate language the deaf suffer a lifelong handicap, but I assure her and the House that these are the problems of which we are mindful and I shall lend not only a sympathetic ear but my efforts towards meeting the claims on behalf of the section of our school population who are deserving of our fullest understanding and compassion.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to take all possible steps to provide increased facilities in secondary education for the deaf child, and to ensure that adequate places are available in universities, teacher training colleges, and other colleges of higher education.