Thousands of pupils who are deaf and hearing impaired are starting secondary school unable to read adequately, according to research.
The study, by academics from City University, London, and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, said urgent specialist interventions were needed to improve their reading skills.
Researchers found that more than half of the deaf children assessed had reading difficulties that were at least as severe as those faced by pupils with dyslexia, and in some cases worse.
However, unlike for hearing children with dyslexia, there are no specific reading interventions for the deaf, which means that their progress falls behind that of their classmates.
The study, one of the largest of its kind ever undertaken, examined two groups of children aged 10 to 11: deaf children who can speak rather than use sign language (known as oral deaf), and hearing children with dyslexia.
A total of 79 children with a severe/profound level of deafness took part in the study, representing a significant proportion of oral deaf children in the UK at this age.
The study said that because of their hearing loss, deaf children have difficulty hearing the speech sounds that make spoken language – known as phonology – and upon which reading is based.
Dr Ros Herman, reader in deafness and communication at City University, and one of the authors of the study, said that, ideally, teachers should be better trained in methods that would help deaf children to read.
She explained: “These findings were a surprise to us because they showed that about half of the children were struggling with reading on entry to secondary education.
“Deaf children typically learn spoken language later and therefore have a problem understanding language, so that makes it harder for them to learn to read. They need more support and some of this should be specialised support, of the type that dyslexic children receive.”
Dr Herman said the research has established that it is possible to use “reading and dyslexia-sensitive tests developed” for hearing children successfully with oral deaf children.
She added: “A small number of the poor deaf readers have underlying deficits comparable to dyslexia, but too many deaf children continue to fail at reading. Poor reading is not an inevitable outcome for every deaf child.
“With a proper understanding of their reading deficits and appropriate support, the outlook for deaf children in the UK can change.”
Josh Hillman, director of education at the Nuffield Foundation, said: “This evidence reveals the extent to which the education system is currently failing to address the needs of deaf children with reading difficulties.
“However, on a more positive note, it also demonstrates that it is possible to identify and address those difficulties at an early stage.
“We now need to see specialist reading interventions for deaf children who communicate using spoken language, to ensure they receive the equivalent support to their hearing classmates.”
The findings come after an investigation by the National Deaf Children’s Society last year found that one in three local authorities were cutting support for deaf children as a result of austerity measures.
The City University research team’s next project will be to investigate the reading skills of signing children. To download the current report, go to http://bit.ly/1fmiuDe