15 Apr 2010

Deaf parents and school interpreters

Should deaf parents have to pay for sign interpreters at school? Or should schools or the County pay? Well I am in no doubt that interpreters should be paid for by the statutory services and for more than a year I have been involved in emails and several meetings to try and gain some clarification on this issue.

I was contacted by deaf parents of a local school in Gloucestershire who were seeking funding from the County Council to pay for sign language interpreters for profoundly deaf parents at school plays, large school meetings etc. It was suggested that the extra funds to pay for sign language interpreters could come from the school's "delegated budget". However in my view this would appear to be discriminating against the school as I understand that budget is normally spent on resources, repairs, maintenance etc. The deaf parents concerned to press on to use interpreters, as it will decrease the fund to buy resources for the children at the school.

I contacted Disability, Pregnancy & Parenthood international (DPPI) who set out here what schools must do - they note that it is their "understanding that under the DDA, the LEA is responsible for providing communication services for deaf parents at LEA meetings such as choosing schools, and the school is responsible for covering school meetings." They also note that: "It is the deaf parents' right to access interpreters under the DDA....It is the school's responsibility, as the service provider, to make their service accessible and as part of this to work out where the funding is coming from. Under the DDA, 'discrimination' can only be applied to an individual not the organisation."

Deaf Parenting UK gave a similar answer as did the Gloucestershire Deaf Association. I also had contact with the County Council Officers, Equality Officers at SDC and a meeting at the school with the parents and interpreters.

The school have been very understanding and agreed to fund interpreters from the start for parents evenings but I think the parents have chosen to try and lip-read and write down conversations so as not to impose the school to dip into their fund for education to pay for interpreters. There is still an issue with regards to interpreting school plays and other such events - it is all very well to have the script but this misses vast amounts and much of the spontaneity.

I specifically requested that this issue of interpreters be raised at the Schools Forum so that it could be clarified across the County and was delighted when this was agreed and a report put forward for December last year. Here is the brief summary put forward by the Council Officer:

Funding for British Sign Language interpreters.

Schools Forum Date: 2nd December 2009. Type of Decision: For decision. Background Documents: None. Author: Keith Elliott, Acting Head, Advisory Teaching Service. Background: The situation has arisen where a small primary school has on roll the children of profoundly deaf parents whose first language is British Sign Language. The school has paid for interpreters to support the parents at meetings to enable them to access and support their children's learning. Under the Disability Discrimination Act this is where the responsibility lies. The costs are £95 per two hours or part thereof plus travel expenses. Over the academic year 2008-09 the cost to the school was £600 for three consultations including one on the non-academic yet important issue of internet safety. One of the children will transfer to secondary school in September 2011. Following discussions with secondary school colleagues it is likely that the future cost of this support will also be approximately £600 per year once the child transfers. The Advisory Teaching Service is aware of one other family where both parents are profoundly deaf, they have a child under two so have not required this type of support as yet. Interpreter support for other disability and minority ethnic groups is paid for by the setting. Proposal: That the county council agrees to accept responsibility for the provision of British Sign Language interpreters for deaf parents and that £2,000 be made available for this annually. Recommendations: That Forum decides on whether or not funding for British Sign Language interpreters for deaf parents should be made available from the 2010/11 DSG.

Well it seems that this was dropped from the December meeting without letting us know - councillors never got to even see the recommendation - so my delight disappeared quickly - the Officer who had written the report had left and his replacement judged it not to be important. The new officer said on the phone to me that he considered it was the schools responsibilities to pay and that many schools had unusual or different costs - they could not make an exception. I suggested that this should be a trial scheme, recognising there were many different needs but that issues like this should be addressed from the County rather than an individual school.

In other areas the Council rather than the school bear the costs - the campaign continues to try and get recognised the rights of deaf parents to be able to take an active and full part in all aspects of their children's education. I finish with a comment from another deaf parent: "What we want is for them to recognize the needs of local people with various disabilities to access school events. Would the County allow a wheelchair user to look through a window to watch a school play?"

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