Deaf Schools or Mainstream?

In 1792 Britain’s first Deaf school, the Royal School for Deaf children, opened.

It was closed in December 2015. According to the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf (BATOD), the number of Deaf schools fell from 75-21, 1982-2016. From 2011-18, there was a 14% decline in teachers of the Deaf and a 31% increase in demand. Are Deaf schools isolating Deaf children or is it mainstreaming that does that by isolating a handful of signers among a sea of talkers?

Bev Hennefer, Headteacher of Royal Cross Primary School, blames mainstreaming for the closing of Deaf schools:

The majority of Deaf children now seem to be educated in mainstream schools which is a worrying trend for schools for the Deaf like ourselves. It means we are fighting to survive and safeguard the specialist provision that Deaf children need, including access to a Deaf peer group.”

According to the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), 78% of Deaf children are mainstreamed, 6% attend mainstream schools with extra resources, 3% attend Deaf schools and 12% attend other special schools.

Paul Simpson, National Executive Officer of the BATOD said:

You can’t compare them because most – but not all – Deaf children in schools for the Deaf are there because they have additional needs which would affect their results.”

Director of DeafLondon Thomas Lichy said that Deaf schools are not necessarily Deaf or Sign-friendly:

I have two Deaf kids, high academic achievers, who attend a deaf school where everyone uses full fluent BSL. I’d rather they went to a ‘good mainstream school’ than a ‘bad Deaf school’. I don’t want them to go to a Deaf school where the leadership are so prejudiced against Deaf people that they create artificial and discriminatory barriers to accessing education and learning by banning BSL from the classroom (which is sadly the case in many ‘Deaf’ schools). Nor do I want them to go to a Deaf school where the teachers sign, but have low expectations of Deaf children, or where abuse, psychological or physical, is rife. Fortunately many of these schools have now closed. Nor do I want my children to go to a mainstream school where they struggle to understand other children, struggle to access learning thirdhand through a CSW who signs to the level of a 10-year old child, in broken franglais grammar. I reject the concept that Deaf children can ‘cope’ in a mainstream setting. I want Deaf children to fly, to soar, not to trudge through each day in an oppressive communication environment.”

History shows that Deaf children performed equally with other children in early 19th century France and America. British Deaf News – “Manualism vs Oralism Debate”

Why? Because not only did they attend Deaf schools, they were taught in their language: Sign. Not signed English, lipreading or Speech. Imagine trying to keep up academically when your teachers and peers speak another language.

Retired Deaf BSL teacher Craig Clarkson put it simply:

Mainstream school is a bit better academically, but Deaf school has more happiness than mainstream school.


  1. I was born deaf I went to a deaf school for a while I leant to talk though a bollon had a good time there but then went to a hearing school I couldn’t talk they thought I was dumb but I know more then they did I help my friend with her school work got top marks for her but then I was not aloud to sit with her teachers just push me to the back of the class room I leant to talk at 23years old my family wouldn’t lean BSL but I did my best friend is deaf and I got married and my hubby does BSL and macaton and he cared for me as I’m now disabled to but I didn’t fit in the two different worlds but I still have a lot of problems but hubby there for me

  2. My daughter is deaf and looking at school for her next year and it is so hard wheather to be at mainstream or deaf school!!!

    • Ideally you should send her to a Deaf school that uses BSL for academic subjects and an after school club to learn social interaction with Hearing children.
      First and foremost she needs to learn Sign and be taught with other signers as soon as possible.
      I recommend ‘Seeing Voices’ by Oliver Sacks.

    • Ideally you want a Deaf school that uses BSL and an after school social club for her to learn social interaction with Hearing children.
      I recommend ‘Hearing Voices’ by Oliver Sacks, it explains why teaching Deaf children with Sign as young as possible is so much more effective than lip-reading.

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