Identity Development

NEW ! – PARENTS’ CHECKLIST : what to look for in schools for your deaf child
Parent’s and Carers’ school Checklist (SEE BELOW FOR QUESTIONNAIRE)

girlDEX’s views are not just founded on our personal or individual professional viewpoints, but backed up by research – both our own and international research, including a literature review.
Our research included visits to 34 schools in the UK and in Norway and Sweden, interviewing deaf and hearing children, parents and professionals, and observing deaf children in classrooms and at breaktimes. We found that a feeling of belonging is absolutely vital to human development, and although deaf children with hearing parents do feel part of their families, it can never be as complete as for hearing children, since communication with hearing people is affected. Having Deaf adults and deaf peers in addition to hearing families and peers enables deaf children to have the best of both worlds. Deaf adults are found in schools which have specialist resources for deaf children, sometimes called units or bases in mainstream schools, or in Deaf Schools.

boySince language is also a key factor in shaping children’s identity, sign languages are an important indicator. A Deaf child signed to us in our travels :

“I am happy because other deaf children are there signing and I am confident with hearing children.”

Another deaf child told us:
“ I sign because I am Deaf . I am Deaf because I sign”.
Without this feeling of belonging to your own group, it is hard to know who you are. A deaf member of DEX said :
“How can you be yourself, when you do not know who you are?”
Identity is a complex issue, but generally speaking, research has found that those who are in marginalised groups, i.e. disabled people or those from BME groups, benefit from the support of others who share the same experiences, i.e.are in the “same boat”:
“Identification with one’s marginalised group is an asset to one’s psychological well-being”: Michaelieu 1997; Walters and Simoni, 1993.
This is particularly relevant for deaf children as communication is also a barrier with hearing people (whether in groups or with individuals):

Those with stronger deaf identities (culturally deaf and bicultural individuals) have a somewhat higher self-esteem than those with weaker deaf identities (culturally hearing and negative identities)”. : Bat-Chava, 2000.

DEX found mainstreamed deaf children tend to have a “think-hearing identity”. This is where deaf people identify with their hearing communities, since this is all they know. All humans need to identify with their families, school environment and then their work and general cultural environments in order to feel that they belong. If deaf children only have one option, which is  spoken language, then they will naturally identify with the hearing mainstream. This can leave deaf children with a feeling that they do not fully belong and that they do not have a whole identity.

DEXperience’s definition of “deaf” is wholly or partially without hearing, so means any loss from mild to profound.

This is a list of things to look out for when you visit your deaf child’s new mainstream school, or to consider if your deaf child is already attending school, based on the recommendations DEXperience has made from its Best Value Review (see web pages on this) and findings since then.

PARENTS’ CHECKLIST : what to look for in schools for your deaf child

DEXperience has personal experience of deaf education as well as professional, so is in a good position to support parents.

You can also use this check list to assess your deaf child’s current school placement from time to time to make sure that your child is getting a good all round education.

Tick which applies or answer questions in spaces below the questions:

1. These are the types of school placements currently available. If you are already thinking of the type you wish, which one applies?

a) Local mainstream state school
b) Academy
c) Private fee paying school
d) Resourced mainstream school (where there is a unit or base with support staff for deaf children)
e) Special Deaf school
f) Other special school
g) Dual placement – attends two of the above schools.

2. Your deaf child should have a choice of languages in the school you choose – English and British Sign Language (BSL). If your child is Welsh, there should be three languages in the school (Welsh, English and BSL).

a) Which language(s) are used in the school?
b) If your home language is not English, does your school give additional support with English teaching to your deaf child?
c) Which other languages are used in your deaf child’s school?


3. Does your deaf child learn via BSL (BSL medium teaching)? This is where the Communication Support Worker (CSW) interprets what classroom teachers and other pupils are saying into BSL. Also, if the deaf pupil is unable to speak or is too nervous to use their voice, the CSW can translate from BSL to English.

Does the school provide BSL medium teaching?

(a) Yes
(b) No

4. Does your deaf child have access to BSL via learning materials when CSWs are not present, such as on film clips on computer or TV? This promotes autonomous learning and reduces dependence:

(a) Yes
(b) No. .

5. Deaf Instructors or BSL Tutors teach BSL to deaf pupils, and often to hearing pupils too. If the whole school learns BSL this can help your deaf child to feel included.

Does the school teach BSL? If yes, who learns BSL in the school:
(a) just deaf pupils
(b) mainstream teachers or other staff
(c) hearing pupils.

6. What BSL qualifications, if any, are taught and to what levels:

(a) to NVQ levels
(b) GCSE levels

7. All Support Staff, (CSWs, Teachers of Deaf, Teaching Assistants) should have a minimum of NVQ Level 3 BSL and be expected to improve to university level or equivalent, or already hold a university degree level or its equivalent in BSL.
If the school uses BSL, what qualifications do all the Support staff hold in BSL?


8. There should be a significantly sized group of deaf children in the school in order to develop BSL and English skills, choose a good friendship base and to develop a positive Deaf identity from them.

Your deaf child should have other deaf children in the same class. If so, how many are there?


9. Your deaf child should be able to make friends at break times with other deaf children in the same Year group.

If so, how many are there (or how many are planned in the next academic year)?


10. There should be deaf children in each year group. This provides older deaf role models for your deaf child, and helps to develop wider BSL grammar and social skills.

If so, how many are there (or how many are planned in the next academic year)?


11. Understanding deafness is important to enable hearing staff and pupils to understand deaf issues, and deaf pupils to understand their needs.

10. Does the school teach Deaf Studies, and to whom?


12. Support Services should provide training to parents on the benefits of bilingual education and BSL training.

Do you receive any training in BSL and Deaf issues from Deaf Instructors or BSL Tutors?

a) If so, how many hours’ tuition per week and for how many weeks?
b) Are you supported to more advanced levels?


If you are thinking of placing your deaf child in a local mainstream school with no support or deaf peer group, or your child is already in this situation it is strongly advised that you review this placement.

This is because DEX’s findings and recommendations are that deaf children attend mainstream resourced bilingual mainstream schools or Deaf schools. Bilingual education in English and BSL fully meets all deaf children’s needs, giving access to the national curriculum, and by not relying solely on technical aids (hearing aids and cochlear or titanium implants) or English medium teaching and support, (teaching assistants).

Technical aids do not provide full amplification to normal hearing levels and cannot eliminate background noise as normal hearing does. This means deaf pupils only receive partial information which greatly limits their ability to learn at the same rate as their hearing peers. With BSL input as well there is a greater chance of eliminating the gap in achievement. Classroom and other group situations, such as Assembly and break times, require English/BSL Communication Support Workers in addition to auditory aids,

Many deaf children are unable to use hearing aids because they would distort the residual hearing they have, or take them beyond the hearing threshold of pain. Without technical aids deaf children do not have sufficient residual hearing in group situations to cope, and the provision of BSL /English CSWs are a legal reasonable adjustment to support their needs.

Learning via English alone can have dire effects for all deaf children, not only on career prospects, but also on mental health and identity development, with research showing that 61% of deaf children in mainstream education have mental health problems. Other research indicates difficulties with social inclusion and skills, bullying and consequent lack of confidence and self-esteem (see DEX web pages on the importance of identity development, and wellbeing).

If you are not satisfied you can ask for a review of Statement of Special Educational Need if your deaf child has one, or ask for your child to be assessed for a Statement of SEN, or School Action. If this is not granted, an appeal can be lodged at a Special Educational Need Disability Tribunal (SEND Tribunal).

If you would like to send your check list answers to DEX for our comments and support if required, please email it to:

Comments are closed.