Learning in the classroom and beyond – how Rushmere Hall Primary School’s specialist unit helps hearing impaired children

The hearing impairment unit at Rushmere Hall School.
Back L-R David, Sarah Arch, Jo Hughes,Ann Wade

The hearing impairment unit at Rushmere Hall School. Back L-R David, Sarah Arch, Jo Hughes,Ann Wade,John. Middle L-R Aston, Evie, Alfie. Front L-R Amelia, Madison, Georgia. - Credit: Archant

Reporter Edmund Crosthwaite visited the specialist hearing impaired unit at Rushmere Hall Primary School as part of Deaf Awareness Week (May 2-8).

A school classroom can be a challenging place for children at times. Not everyone is suited to academic learning, while some have additional hurdles to overcome which can put them on the back foot when compared to their peers.

In an environment where so much is communicated verbally and aurally, a hearing impediment could be a major set back in the education of many young lives. However through the work of hearing impaired units like that at Rushmere Hall Primary School in Ipswich specialist teaching ensures the children it works with get all the support they need.

At Rushmere Hall there are eight children in the HIU, which caters for students between the ages of four and 11. Teacher of the Deaf Jo Hughes explained how pupils get referred to her team.

“For quite a few years now children are tested at birth so early on a lot of children are diagnosed with a hearing impairment,” she said. “The education service is involved from the moment they are diagnosed. The children here (at Rushmere Hall) have attended a mainstream nursery and while at the nursery they have been given an education, health and care plan because they needed some additionally support to improve their language.

“Once they have got that education, health and care plan that means they are able to have access to a HIU.”

Mrs Hughes said the unit helps its students access the same curriculum as children in mainstream education for most subjects.

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“If, for example, in their classroom they are learning about the Great Fire of London and they need extra help, we are doing that here. Their English and maths they quite often have a bespoke programme because the curriculum has got harder and harder for mainstream children, and if the children maybe don’t have the language to follow that we have to tailor that very specifically to their needs.”

As well as learning in the HIU the students also take part in classes with the rest of their peers, assisted by a support worker who can help them communicate with fellow pupils and teachers.

“Part of the reason of being on this unit is you have got a mixture of working alongside your hearing impaired peers, which is important they see their identity and the fact they do wear hearing aids, but also that they can work alongside their hearing peers and have friendships there too,” Mrs Hughes said. “Hopefully it’s the best of both worlds.”

The HIU’s work with its children goes beyond the classroom though – it helps them deal with real life situations like those they will face outside school.

Mrs Hughes said: “We do something called a smiLE programme which is to give children confidence when they go out into the community. So for example they may go with a speech and language therapist down to the shops having been given some money and asked to go in and buy some vegetables, go and buy this, that and the other because if maybe you’re not confident with your speech it’s quite hard to go into a shop and talk to someone.

“We start off by doing visits to the office and asking for a hole punch and gradually get more tricky.”

Once children reach the upper age limit of the HIU, or when the staff there feel they are ready, they return to mainstream education. For those that need continuing support, Mrs Hughes said they are directed to another unit with secondary education provision and help find them somewhere suitable.

Obviously sign language is an important part of life for the children in the Rushmere Hall HIU, but it is not something they are all familiar with when they arrive.

“It depends on the child” Mrs Hughes said. “We have children here who don’t sign and we have children who are 100% reliant on signing.

“We have skilled practitioners, support, specialist teaching assistants who have got high level signing qualifications. There is also a BSL (British Sign Language) sign group where we have a deaf adult role model there as someone for the children to aspire to.”