Sir Mike Penning calls for British Sign Language to be part of teacher training

13th September 2018

Speaking in a debate on deaf children’s service, Sir Mike Penning calls for British Sign Language to be included as part of teacher training such as a degree in education or postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE). 

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. As others will do throughout the afternoon, I congratulate my former colleague—now my colleague in this House—the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). We agree on so many things, and we agree yet again on this issue. He based his brilliant speech on the summary that the National Deaf Children’s Society, which I congratulate, sent out. Its timing is perfect, as we are now looking at the funding formulas and the allocations that will be given out.

At this stage I must declare that I have for many years been the patron of the Hertfordshire Hearing Advisory Service. It is not something I am new to, because I was asked just after I had become an MP. I had mentioned in passing one afternoon that I had a hearing impairment from my military service, which I must admit I did not tell the fire service about when I joined it—fortunately I am now out of the fire service.

I will not go over the many issues that have been raised, but I agree with nearly everything that has been said. SEN provision is a real difficulty in all our constituencies—how people are assessed, how long it takes for them to be assessed—and getting an EHC plan in place is massively difficult. Such provision carries on now, because the Government have rightly extended it to 25. The report clearly shows the anomalies and issues there.

In the short time I have, I will talk about a couple of things. For this country, British Sign Language is a language, the same as any other language we are lucky enough to use—for some people, it is their only language—but no one can get a formal qualification in it. That is fundamentally wrong, and discriminatory against people whose language it is, through no fault of their own. Yes, we have 80%—that is a fantastic figure—of those with deafness, profound deafness or hearing disabilities in mainstream schools, but teachers get nothing in the way of training.

I declare an interest again: I have a daughter who is a primary school teacher. She took her PGCE, her postgraduate certificate in education, four years ago, but in a whole year of training she had only half an hour on physical education to teach her how to take PE lessons, and absolutely nothing on deafness in young people even though, with that 80% in mainstream schools, she is obviously likely to be teaching them. I have not asked permission to speak on her behalf today, but I speak on behalf of lots of other teachers.

It would cost the Government absolutely nothing if British Sign Language was included as part of a degree in education, the post-qualification PGCE or any of the new ways of becoming a teacher that have come through, not because teachers necessarily have pupils in their school, but they might do so later—almost certainly. At the moment, if a school does not have someone who can provide that sort of help, a teacher might be sent away, or people train in their own time, at their own cost, offering their own provision. That is fantastic, but surely in the 21st century, when we train a diversity of teachers and want more and more people to be in mainstream schools, we must understand what the needs for provision are.

The figures are shocking, and not to give basic support to a young person in school is fundamentally wrong. That basic support is not as a replacement for a deaf adviser, but just so people can communicate, “Good morning”, “How are you?”, or “Did you watch the football?”, the sort of normality that we all take for granted. That would not cost the Department for Education a single farthing, because it could be added into the curriculum, perhaps taking something else out.

Ninety per cent. of the education training for teachers—especially in the PGCE—is done in schools, but that provision does not ensure that the teachers go into a special needs school as part of the one-year course. Why not, Minister? It seems logical to me that they should do that. Why do we have to retrain them further should they need it when so many children have those special education needs under an EHC plan?

For me it is fundamental. If this House and this Government—which I am very proud of—want to treat people in a civil way, looking at them equally, with equalities in mind, then young people who need help should at least have the basics to be able to take a qualification. It is fundamentally wrong that in this day and age they end up less qualified than their peers sitting next to them simply because the provision was not excellent. That is wrong.

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