A small number of children with ‘glue ear’ go on to experience longer term hearing difficulties, an important issue for SENCOs to convey to class teachers

‘Glue ear’ is a by-product of the many colds and flu that circulate in schools. As many as four out of five children have at least one bout of glue ear before their fourth birthday – with a substantial proportion of them experiencing regular recurrence of temporary hearing loss throughout their primary school years. A smaller group go on to experience hearing difficulties in their teenage years.

Children with glue ear can experience different levels of hearing loss from day to day – even from lesson to lesson. Their inattentiveness can sometimes be mistaken for naughtiness, so it’s important to know the signs and be able to pick up on any clues to hearing loss. Look out for children who:

  • Seem inattentive, hear only ‘what they want to hear’
  • Talk too loudly
  • Are quiet and ‘in a world of their own’
  • Turn up the volume control on PCs and televisions
  • Say ‘pardon’, ‘what?’ more than usual
  • Look to classmates for a lead about what to do and copy their actions
  • Do not react to a noise or instruction coming from behind them.
  • Complain of earache and not feeling well.
  • Mispronounce some sounds/words.
  • Get very tired during the day – having to concentrate very hard to hear people uses up a lot of energy.

For pupils with hearing impairment:

  • Be sure to speak to parents – they may not have picked up on the problem.
  • Check the best seating position (e g. away from the hum of OHP, computers, etc) with good ear to speaker. Cut down background noise where possible.
  • Make sure that the pupil can see your face, for reading your facial expressions and lip reading. Avoid talking when facing the board, obscuring your face with a book, or standing and talking in a position where the light is behind you, e.g. near the window, where you appear in silhouette to the child. Also avoid places where your face is in strong shadow.
  • Talk face-to-face when possible – sitting or bending to the same level as the child for one-to-one exchange.
  • In a whole class or small group situation, attract the child’s attention by saying his/her name before asking a question or giving a instruction; be prepared to repeat points.
  • When talking to the child speak clearly using a normal voice at normal speed. It does not help to try to emphasise your lip-patterns or to raise your voice, but use gesture to reinforce what you say. Keep instructions short.
  • Provide a list of vocabulary, context and visual clues – especially for new subjects. Phonics teaching can be a particular challenge – it will be necessary to revisit particular sounds taught while a child has been experiencing hearing loss.
  • During class discussion allow one pupil to speak at a time and indicate where the speaker is; allow the child to turn around to see other children when they are talking.
  • Check that any hearing aids are working and if there is any other specialist equipment available.
  • Ensure that the child has understood instructions.
  • Be aware that difficulty with spelling can result from hearing loss, particularly with word endings for example walk, walks, walked and walking.
  • Explain to other children in the class how they can help a child with hearing loss.


Find out more: > Articles on special educational needs
> Special educational needs publications
> Back to SENCO Week index page

This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2007

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.