An important moment in Deaf history… How the National Deaf Studies Curriculum changed Deaf Education

sandra david catherine drew

Catherine Drew (top right, with Sandra David), Leader of Bilingual Practice at Frank Barnes School for Deaf Children and Chair of the National Deaf Studies Working Group, tells BDN about the creation of the NDS Curriculum and about the difference it has made to the education and lives of deaf children.

In April 2001, Deaf Instructors from Frank Barnes, Oak Lodge, Blanche Nevile and Thomas Tallis Schools came together to form the Deaf Studies Working Group at the invitation of Andrew Coates and Sandra David of Frank Barnes School.

The group evolved into the National Deaf Studies Working Group when more Deaf Instructors from Hamilton Lodge, Royal School for the Deaf Derby and Elmfield Schools joined.

The group discussed the need for a Deaf Studies Curriculum to be used in all Deaf Schools, Units and Services. It was agreed that the Deaf Studies Curriculum be designed to assist children in exploring all aspects of their identity as bilingual children in today’s multi-cultural world.

The aim was to instil pride and a strong sense of identity in Deaf children and people in society, and to understand the different modes of communication used by Deaf people.

To achieve these aims, the curriculum has five core units:

Deaf Identity


Communication Technology

Deaf Community and Culture

Deaf History

catherine drew presents nds curriculumOn Thursday 26th March 2009, the National Deaf Studies Curriculum was published and launched at Frank Barnes School for Deaf Children. Paddy Ladd said: “…we will be able to look back and say ‘yes’, that was an important moment in Deaf history, in Deaf children’s history, that after 200+ years, finally a comprehensive curriculum document was produced by Deaf educators and accepted by many Deaf schools”. (Launch Speech, Ladd.P, 2009)

On Thursday 23 September 2010, Terry Riley, Chair of the British Deaf Association, joined the National Deaf Studies Working Group and the staff at Frank Barnes School for Deaf Children, and celebrated the launch of the first website of its kind,, especially created to provide full access to information on the National Deaf Studies Curriculum.

Terry Riley marked this special occasion with a celebratory speech: “I am delighted to be here today to celebrate the launch of the first National Deaf Studies Curriculum website, which contains a fully comprehensive outline of the Curriculum, produced by Deaf educators and accepted by many Deaf schools, in order to provide a consistent level of education for Deaf children.”

Now, in 2016, seven years later, there are more than 75 schools across the UK using and working from the National Deaf Studies Curriculum. In addition to this, the NDS Curriculum is also being used internationally in countries such as: Zimbabwe; Australia; Jersey; Denmark; Gambia; America and more!

The National Deaf Studies Curriculum is being taught in Primary and Secondary schools and in further education and college settings.

I have had the privilege of working with many schools in providing training, developing resources and giving advice. What is wonderful to hear is that a number of mainstream settings are teaching Deaf Studies to hearing children as well as Deaf children.

We have come a long way from not having an established and recognised curriculum, to a widely used working document. The fact that some hearing children are being taught about Deaf Culture, Community and History hopefully means that in several years’ time we will start seeing more hearing people who have knowledge and understanding of Deafness as well as changes in attitude and awareness in society for both communities.

“What this curriculum reminds us is that few of us, Deaf or hearing, really know very much about Deafness. The most notable example is Deaf culture. To give one example: How can we help children to achieve their maximum potential if we do not fully understand the cultural norms and rhetorical strategies, which can reach their minds with maximum speed and minimum ease.” (Ladd.P, 2009)

One of the most important and positive consequences of learning Deaf Studies is that the more Deaf and hearing children learn and understand about each other, the better we can all work together and overcome barriers and cultural differences.

The children at Frank Barnes School are entitled to a broad and balanced curriculum, which is relevant to their experiences. Our teaching staff are committed to delivering a high quality primary education that includes the National Curriculum and Early Years Foundation Development Matters Curriculum including the Deaf Studies curriculum.

catherine drew with students

Not only at Frank Barnes but also in all educational settings, we have an obligation to provide Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural development (SMSC) for every child:

Spiritual: To encourage pupils to respect their peers, each other’s race, creed and religion when we are discussing topics such as Ethnic Minorities in the Deaf and hearing communities.

Moral: To encourage empathy and understanding of others through topics like Helen Keller who set the standard and expectation for Deafblind people all over the world.

Social: To promote Deaf events, Deaf Clubs and Deaf Sports suitable for children and encourage pupils to attend these events by also liaising with parents.

Cultural: To appreciate cultural differences between Deaf and hearing families and communities. Respect the preferences in communication modes and Deaf/hearing awareness and understand how we can educate others via learning.

In Deaf Studies lessons, pupils learn about various notable Deaf and hearing people, Deaf organisations and organisations that help Deaf people. Pupils will visit various places and meet a range of people in relation to the topics they are learning in Deaf Studies lessons, such as Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, in Deaf History. The phone led to hearing aids and cochlear implants and influenced our lives today. This could then be tied in with visiting the local telephone branch or visiting an organisation that works in the sign video industry.

In relation to Deaf Studies supporting pupils’ learning, we at Frank Barnes organise three annual events throughout the year:

BDA Sign Language Week including BSL Recognition Day (18th March)

Deaf Festival Week (Full week in July)

BSL Celebration Day event (October)

One of the primary reasons for organising these annual events is to provide pupils with an opportunity to see external Deaf role models. In other educational settings, Deaf children may not have ample opportunities to see Deaf role models, so these events provide an important learning experience. In addition to this, other Deaf schools and units visit us at Frank Barnes School. This also means that Deaf children across the country have the chance to mix with their Deaf peers who they may later in life meet again whether it be in secondary school, further education, at deaf events, at work or in the community.

Every Deaf child who has access to the curriculum has always said that they have benefitted from learning Deaf Studies in schools, that it has helped them in ways they would not have had in other subjects. The chance to ask questions and get answers meaningfully e.g. what being Deaf means, what choices, options and support we can get during our lives.

Deaf children whom I have taught and have gone on to either Deaf or mainstream schools, have said that they could not be the person they are today without having had Deaf Studies, enabling them to ask ‘Why am I Deaf,’ ‘Is it okay to be Deaf?’ being allowed to say that they are proud to be Deaf. I have seen some children, who are now young adults, taking part in the Deaflympics, working in different levels of employment and out in the community.

“One of my fervent hopes is that this Deaf Studies curriculum can also be a beacon for mainstreamed Deaf children and their teachers, and can reach out to those who have been implanted with a message that says ‘It’s Ok to be Deaf. In fact, it’s something you can be proud of, especially when you look at all that your Deaf ancestors have achieved for you to benefit from – despite 100+ years of oppression’”. (Ladd.P, 2009)

In 12 years of teaching Deaf children as well as being Deaf myself, I have met and seen many Deaf children in mainstream settings find their way back into the Deaf community as adults. At the end of the day, regardless of their language or auditory preferences, they are and will always be Deaf.

Inside of every Deaf child is a ‘deafness’ that cannot be described, it is instinctive, innate, intangible and within the Deaf community there are many groups where these children, if not now, will later find themselves to be most at home with.

I share the hope of Paddy Ladd, that every Deaf child realises their maximum potential and succeeds to the best of their ability.