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April 3, 2004

Deaf pupils suffer as teachers work 'with poor sign language'

From: The Scotsman, UK - Apr 3, 2004


DEAF children are struggling at school because they are being taught by people who know only basic sign language, it was claimed yesterday.

The head of Scotland's leading deaf school said there are too few teachers and sign language interpreters qualified enough to explain difficult subjects.

Janet Allan, headteacher of Donaldson's College in Edinburgh, claims children are being taught by people who have the sign language equivalent of a low-level standard grade.

She says it would be unimaginable for children with unimpaired hearing to be taught by someone with poor English. Yet, she claims, it is routine for deaf children to be taught by people with poor British Sign Language.

Around 3,000 children and young people in Scotland are severely or profoundly deaf. Unlike hearing-impaired children, who can be helped with hearing aids, profoundly deaf children have no hearing to begin with - so devices to amplify their hearing are useless.

And while some go to special schools like Donaldson's College, most are in mainstream education, helped by an interpreter.

Many interpreters work with a level one British Sign Language qualification, which is the equivalent of a standard grade.

Deaf children's groups are campaigning for all interpreters in schools to be qualified to at least level 2 - which is the same as a first year of a degree, and requires an in-depth knowledge of sign language and what it is like to be deaf.

But interpreters in schools can be paid as little as £8,000 a year - meaning there is little incentive for people to study for two years to get further qualifications.

Mrs Allan says many of these interpreters just do not have sophisticated enough command of sign language to effectively translate lessons.

And she attacked the Executive's policy of educating deaf children in mainstream schools, saying it would always be difficult for them to make friends.

The difficulties increase as able children progress in their education. Although someone with basic sign language could interpret for a young child with simple vocabulary, they could not do the same for a sophisticated teenager.

The interpreters also may not understand the subject they are being asked to sign and pupils studying complicated subjects at Higher level could be left with a garbled version of their lessons.

Difficulties can also spill over into the playground, with deaf children unable to make friends or understand what their peers are saying because of poor interpreters.

Mrs Allan said: "It is unacceptable for a deaf child to be educated by people who have only a very basic knowledge of British Sign Language.

"It is the equivalent of a hearing child going to a school in France and having a translator who barely speaks English."