Deaf children being failed by Waltham Forest Council claims charity

Deaf children in Waltham Forest “are being let down and put at risk” by the council, a national charity has claimed.

The National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) says parents of the borough’s 160 deaf children are “up in arms” over the lack of qualified teachers.

Since 2018, there have been few and sometimes even no qualified teachers for deaf children in the borough, which the NDCS says has left them without support the council is legally obligated to provide.

Two mums of deaf children, who both asked to remain anonymous, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service how this shortage had affected their children.

One said support for her six-year-old boy, who has limited hearing and Down’s syndrome, was “patchy”, with a specialist teacher occasionally visiting his school.

She said: “You feel quite crushed and like you’re the one who has failed your child because you haven’t understood the situation enough to challenge what the council is telling you.

“It’s horrible: it impacts on your mental health and confidence and it’s awful to see your child not progressing and not know what to do.”

She said she has become “adversarial” in fighting for support and has taken council to the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Tribunal, who ordered it to pay for more specialised support.

The other mum said that, when there are teachers, they are “fantastic” but that her four-year-old daughter had gone without for 15 months and was then assessed as being “delayed”.

She became desperate and paid for private support – which can cost up to £7,000 a year – after which her daughter “flourished”.

She said: “It just shows the inequality of the whole thing. All these kids are falling through the cracks, I don’t know how things would have turned out if we hadn’t paid.

“It’s known that deaf children achieve far lower than other children – if you can’t rely on consistent support, I don’t have confidence that she’ll be ok.”

According to Freedom of Information Requests submitted by the NDCS, Waltham Forest had the equivalent of three teachers of the deaf in 2018.

Since then, only trainee or part-time teachers for deaf children have been available, who parents fear will struggle to cope with 160 students.

Teachers of the deaf in Waltham Forest are employed through SEND Success, a service run by Whitefield Academy.

Alison Lawson, senior engagement lead at the NDCS, said: “SEND Success are saying there’s not enough teachers to recruit, but they have a duty to ensure these children are properly supported and are receiving the right investment at the right time

“Back in 2019 they had 3.5 teachers of the deaf, parents know that and are picking up on that, they know what’s going on is wrong. They feel hopeless… those children are being let down and put at risk.”

Both parents said they have had meetings about the lack of teachers with the council’s director of learning, David Kilgallon, but have not seen any improvements.

When approached for comment, Waltham Forest did not respond to questions about whether it is fulfilling its legal duty or what the terms of its contract with SEND Success are.

A council spokesperson suggested there is a shortage of teachers of the deaf and that other London boroughs are also struggling to recruit enough.

Councillor Alistair Strathern, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “We fully understand the importance of our deaf children having a full and rich learning experience. Waltham Forest currently has two full-time equivalent staff, which includes one trainee teacher who is being supported. Added to this we have an advisory support worker and an audiology technician.

“As with any contract, the standard procurement process to find the best possible provider was followed.”

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter