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January 31, 2013

Legal threat over lack of Welsh-medium signer for deaf girl

From: BBC News - Jan 31, 2013

The parents of a profoundly deaf girl are threatening a council with legal action for failing to recruit a Welsh-medium sign language tutor.

John and Caryl Clarke withdrew their daughter Hafwen from Penrhyncoch Primary School, near Aberystwyth, last October when her signer left.

Ceredigion council said it had advertised for a replacement without success, but was still trying.

The family claims the authority is breaching several laws.

The parents have given the council until 29 March to recruit a replacement.

They claim the authority is breaching the Education Act, Hafwen's statement of needs and the Welsh Language Act, adding that their daughter was entitled to be educated in Welsh at the school of her choice.

Hafwen started signing through Welsh when she was aged three and has been a pupil at Welsh-medium Penrhyncoch school for more than four years.

Her learning support assistant (LSA) left the school in October last year, and shortly afterwards Hafwen left too.

"When Hafwen's LSA left no-one could communicate with her, so we withdrew her from the school," said Mr Clarke, 45.

"Her respite carer went to the school before Christmas to sign for Hafwen, but she could only spare two weeks.

"Hafwen started at Plascrug (primary school in Aberystwyth) this week on a temporary basis.

"There is an LSA there signing for another deaf pupil and the LSA is helping Hafwen too, but this is only a short-term measure because an LSA can only serve one pupil, as we understand it."

Mr Clarke said his daughter could sign and lip read in Welsh and English, but he and his wife wanted her educated in Welsh and at Penrhyncoch where Mrs Clarke, her grandmother, father and brother all went to school.

"Hafwen has a right to be educated in Welsh, and she should have the same rights as able-bodied children," added Mr Clarke, who is a taxi driver.

'Brick wall'

"We're trying to do our best for our daughter, but it seems we are banging our heads against a brick wall."

Mr Clarke said many of the patterns used in British sign language were the same in Welsh, but there were differences in the way certain patterns were structured when adapted for use in the Welsh language.

Ceredigion council said Penrhyncoch was a Welsh-medium school and it was essential for Hafwen's teaching assistant to be able to communicate both through Welsh and British sign language.

"Despite advertising the post twice, including an advert in the local press, no one suitable was found to support the pupil in Penrhyncoch school," said a council spokeswoman.

The spokeswoman said the school had kept the Clarkes fully informed, and all were aware of the recruitment difficulties.

"The authority welcomes and supports the parents' suggestion that the pupil should attend Plascrug school until it is appropriate for the pupil to return to Penrhyncoch school," she added.

"The authority has always maintained that it is willing to support the parents' choice of school which is Penrhyncoch and will continue to work with the school to find a suitably qualified teaching assistant."

BBC © 2013