Rachel O’Neill, Lecturer in Deaf Education from the University of Edinburgh presented to a full house at the VDEI Learning Centre in Melbourne on Thursday 9 August 2012. The title of her two hour presentation was ‘Exploring the factors which lead to academic success for deaf students’.
Rachel O’Neill worked as a teacher in secondary, further and community education for 25 years before moving to the University of Edinburgh in 2006. Rachel trained as a teacher of deaf children and an EAL tutor and used both approaches in her work in colleges with deaf students. At Edinburgh Rachel’s main focus is researching deaf education and training teachers with deaf children. Rachel works for the Scottish Sensory Centre for half a day a week. This involves working with a wide range of teachers, professionals, parents and d/Deaf people on policy issues about deaf education. Rachel’s principle interests are: deaf young people’s transitions to college, work and higher education; language modification as an access strategy; language policy and British Sign Language in education; BSL glossaries and definitions for curriculum subjects; and literacy and deaf learners.
Rachel’s research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, followed up a previous project at Moray House School of Education called the Achievement of Deaf Pupils in Scotland (ADPS) which ran between 2000 and 2005. Co-researchers are Julie Arendt and Professor Marc Marschark.
The initial project collected data from teachers of deaf children in Scotland about the 2,086 pupils they visited. So the range of hearing loss considered is much wider than in other comparable studies. The ADPS database is large and relatively unexplored.
The follow-up project aimed to contact as many as possible of the young deaf adults who have now left school to ask them about their experiences looking back at school, their further and higher education and transition to work.
In addition the researchers contacted as many of the parents as possible of the deaf children still at school. The research team had data-sharing agreements with SQA, the Scottish exam board, and the Scottish Government statistics department which allowed them to track the academic achievement of 540 deaf pupils who have now left school.
The study has two unique features which makes the findings interesting: it analyses the experiences of 53 children who have been implanted at a much younger age and the academic outcomes of having a mild hearing loss can be studied in much more detail than before (144 pupils from the 540).
They found that the mean tariff score at age 16 was 137 for deaf pupils compared to a mean score of 175 for all Scottish pupils. Further analysis showed that there was a correlation between the tariff score with socio-economic status and with degree of hearing loss. Analyses of levels of support over the ADPS project period are compared with outcomes. Results suggest that services for deaf children often use audiological labels to allocate levels of support, and as a consequence moderately deaf children and some mildly deaf children receive less support than they need to succeed in the education system. At a time of cutbacks in school support services, this is an important finding.