Making deaf children matter

Musings and blogs from a deaf campaigner

Posts Tagged ‘National Deaf Children’s Society’

Working to influence the Children and Families Act

Posted by Ian Noon on March 18, 2014

This blog first appeared in the National Deaf Children’s Society campaigns blog

Last Thursday was a big day – Her Majesty decided to give her “royal assent” to the Children and Families Bill, thus turning it into the ‘Children’s and Families Act’.

This Act sets out a whole new range of laws on special educational needs. A National Deaf Children’s Society FAQ for parents has more information but it’s been described as the biggest shake up of the special educational needs (SEN) system in 30 years and will have big implications for how deaf children are supported. So no pressure on us here at the National Deaf Children’s Society…

We’ve been working to influence these reforms right from the very start. It’s been a long hard slog. There have been many meetings, countless consultations and plenty of parliamentary debates – all to make sure that the needs of deaf children were considered.

Before all of that though, we needed to find out what parents of deaf children thought. We ran a series of focus groups and surveys and then wrote up what parents thought of the proposals. Politicians and civil servants were then reminded repeatedly about what our members want. It really helped bring our arguments to life. 

So what’s been achieved along the way? Some key achievements include:

1)    A review is now taking place into whether Ofsted should have a greater role in inspecting local SEN provision.

2)    It will be harder for local authorities to end support to a young person just because they’ve turned 19. Now local authorities must consider if they’ve achieved the outcomes set for them and not just “have regard to age”.

3)    At one point, parents would be required to undergo mediation with the local authority if they wanted to take any issues to a Tribunal. Now they must consider mediation, but now have the option to say no.

4)    Not every disabled child has ‘SEN’ but many will still need support. This created a risk that some children would fall through the net. The Special Educational Consortium (SEC) and Every Disabled Child Matters (EDCM) pushed hard for more strategic support from local authorities for both disabled and SEN children.

5)    Recognition of the essential role of Teachers of the Deaf has been kept – for example, the Act requires that Teachers of the Deaf be involved in any statutory assessments of deaf children.

Key to our success has been the way the sector has worked together. The National Deaf Children’s Society has worked closely with our counterparts at RNIB and Sense to raise common issues in relation to children with sensory impairment, as well as with EDCM and SEC.

Not everything has gone our way. Some of the above changes have been hard fought right to the end. Other times, it’s felt like we’ve been banging our heads against brick walls…

And there’s still plenty of work to be done. Whilst the Act provides the overall framework, a lot of the practical requirements will be set out in guidance, called the SEN Code of Practice. We’re expecting this to be published this spring and Westminster will again get the chance to debate this. Also, it’s great that Ofsted are reviewing the SEN inspection framework but we will need to monitor it closely to make sure they take action after this review.

And, of course, all of these changes have to be implemented. Our biggest concern remains that these changes are going to be made in a context of massive spending cuts, as we know from the Stolen Futures campaign. There is the potential for massive upheaval for services for deaf children. The National Deaf Children’s Society’s team of Regional Directors will now be working to influence implementation in each of the 152 local authorities in England and to challenge any cuts where they arise.

Overall, the Bill becoming an Act is a big milestone. It feels like a good moment to pause and reflect on how far we’ve come… and then start to get ready for the next phase of this big SEN shake up. 

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Five random reflections on deaf life at primary school

Posted by Ian Noon on March 11, 2014

I spent most of last week musing on life at primary school. I do love a good amble down memory lane but I had another reason; I had volunteered to give a presentation to parents of deaf children at a National Deaf Children’s Society family weekend. These are weekends for parents to learn more about various issues facing deaf children and to meet other families with the same kind of experiences.

I was mainstream all the way through the system. I loved primary school; I got my education. It’s fair to say I was probably a bit of a swot. I loved getting gold stars and certificates. My best friend now and back then in primary school is the one and same very person and he doesn’t even wonky ears like me. But primary school did come with its challenges and listening to other deaf adults, I get the impression that I wasn’t alone in these kind of experiences.

So without further ado, I present my top five random reflections of times gone by at primary school:

1) Teachers never remembered to turn the microphone on. Every morning I left my microphone on my teacher’s desk. And nearly every morning I would then have to put my hand up as the lesson started to prompt my teacher. Luckily, I was a cocky confident little boy who was happy to do so. And it didn’t stop there; teachers invariably forgot to turn the microphone off. The range on these microphones back then was quite something. I heard all sorts of staff room conversations that I shouldn’t have been listening to. I felt like James Bond Junior sometimes.

2) The Teacher of the Deaf came to visit weekly to check everything was alright. She was great. But she seemed to have an impeccable knack for coming exactly when lessons were getting most interesting. I would always have to sheepishly leave the classroom at inopportune times and then return to loads of questions from my friends as to where I’d been bunking off to.

3) My speech had a bit of work. A lot of work. I didn’t always enjoy it though I think I knew then it was done with good intentions and “for my own good”. But there were times I felt completely demoralised realising again and again that I wasn’t saying something right. And it’s left a legacy of me hating to do any public speaking,  finding myself worrying more about how I’m saying something, rather than what I’m saying and often ending up having a verbal car crash with my words.

4) Break times were sometimes tough. It could be a struggle to work out what my friends were up to. Being spontaneous was a challenge. As a result, I often ended up trying to ‘arrange’ and ‘control’ the fun myself by putting myself in charge. That way I could know what was going on. Unfortunately, it didn’t endear me to my friends and I ended up getting a reputation for being bossy and bolshy.

5) Finally, teachers invariably made assumptions about what I already knew, based on what everyone else already knew. And, invariably, they were mistaken. The classic example on my part is the Lord’s Prayer. I was at a Church of England school so every morning we all had to recite the Lord’s Prayer. For six years I didn’t have a clue what the words were. In fact, it wasn’t until Cliff Richard did that millennium prayer song, that I finally picked it up. Of course, everyone else picked it up just by listening to everyone else. I was too embarrassed to admit I didn’t know. The moral of the story is that gaps in incidental learning means there is loads that deaf children don’t quite pick up. And it turns out apparently that our Farther arts in Heaven, rather than Devon. Who knew?

It’s difficult to be angry or sad about any of the above. Had I not worked through any of the above challenges, I wouldn’t be where I am today. But part of me hope that things are better now, that deaf children are thriving rather than coping.  And that teachers are reading the guidance produced by (shameless plug alert) the National Deaf Children’s Society. I suspect though that there is more work to raise awareness among teachers of the little idiosyncrasies around supporting deaf children in school.

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Debating deaf children’s futures

Posted by Ian Noon on October 13, 2013

After 18 months of campaigning and 50,000+ petition signatures, MPs have agreed that concerns over cuts to funding to support for deaf children are so serious that Parliament should debate them.

Deafness is invariably described as the invisible disability. The needs of deaf children too often get overlooked. Well, not on Thursday. This isn’t going to be a debate in some poky committee room – it will be on the floor of the House of Commons. The needs of deaf children will take centre-stage and the Government will be forced to explain what exactly they are doing to make sure deaf children get the help they need. And the whole world can judge whether this is good enough. This is a big deal, ladies and gentlemen.

The debate is going to be an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the fact that help for deaf children is being cut across the country. The Government say they have protected funding for vulnerable learners yet this protection isn’t being carried through at a local level. 29% of local authorities are cutting services and another 25% are at risk, according to analysis from the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS).

You might take the Government’s point that this is a matter for local communities. But there’s only so much fire-fighting that parents can do without getting exhausted or neglecting their core job – being Mums and Dads to their deaf child. It’s time for the Government to take action to stop the fires starting in the first place.

There are different ways the Government can do this. It could intervene directly in some of the worse cases and name and shame council bosses that don’t protect funding for vulnerable learners. The Government seems quite happy to tell councils what to do about rubbish collections and council magazines after all.

It could also introduce stronger checks over councils. It could make Ofsted inspect specialist services for deaf children. It’s easy for councils to cut services if they don’t think there are going to be any serious consequences.

The debate is also going to be an opportunity to say that, well actually, before even all of these cuts, in many places the support deaf children were getting wasn’t good enough. Over two thirds of deaf children fail to get 5 good GCSEs. It’s an opportunity to debate openly the fact that:

  • Too many families aren’t getting enough support after their deaf child is born. Where they want to learn sign language, families sometimes have to pay thousands of pounds just to learn to communicate with their own child.
  • Too many deaf children don’t get the specialist support they need in the classroom. They have to learn in poky noisy classrooms without extra help and support.
  • Too many deaf young people don’t get the help they need to prepare for adulthood and independence.

My biggest fear is that the Government will, come Thursday’s debate, do as they’ve done before and just bat away concerns. They’ll point to tiny pots of money given for small projects – not unappreciated but not enough. They’ll point to new laws on special educational needs even though this doesn’t address the fundamental issues deaf children face.

This is why a big turnout from MPs is needed. The more MPs that turn up and say something must be done, the more likely the Government will actually do something substantial. So MPs need to know this debate is important. MPs need to hear from families and deaf people of the individual stories and challenges that deaf children face. MPs need to challenge the Government to do more, much more.

And hopefully then Thursday’s debate will be the start of a lasting change that makes a big difference to deaf children.

To ask your MP to come along on Thursday, you can email him / her via the NDCS website. For more information about the debate, you can also check out NDCS’s Stolen Futures campaign pages. You can email your MP via the

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Is this really the right time to push ahead with special educational needs reform?

Posted by Ian Noon on February 18, 2013

Sad parliamentary geeks of the world, rejoice! The long-expected Children and Families Bill has now been published, setting out, amongst other, wide-ranging proposals for reform to the special educational needs framework. This is likely to result in significant changes to how deaf children and their families are supported and educated. If you’re unfamiliar with what the reforms mean, the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) have produced a FAQ for parents of deaf children.

For much of this year, I’m going to be working on the Bill and briefing politicians what it might mean for deaf children and which bits of the Bill they should support, question, clarify or violently throw their Committee chairs against the wall and revolt against. Who knows, I might end up accidentally changing the law again.

In short, it’s going to be a big deal. So before we get into all of that, it’s worth asking a fairly fundamental question: is it sensible to go ahead with these proposals now?

The reason I ask is that the NDCS Stolen Futures campaign has already found that in the two years running up to April 2013, 1 in 3 councils have cut vital services for deaf children. So who is going to be left to implement these reforms?

The reforms are not cost-neutral. That much is clear from the ‘pathfinders’ who have been testing out the reforms. One Teacher of the Deaf working in one of the pathfinder areas told me that the work she had been doing on creating new ‘Education, Health and Care Plans’ involved lengthy meetings with parents and lots of work to co-ordinate with other professionals. This is not to say that the reforms are a bad idea. But it is to question whether they are sustainable in the long-run, without extra investment. However, the Department for Education have been clear that there is no new money on the table.

The big fear is that this reform actually causes so much upheaval that services get worse and deaf children’s education suffers. Parents of deaf children are already a little anxious about what this all means. In a NDCS survey, just 6% of parents of deaf children thought the proposals would mean that deaf children would get better support. 80% of parents who were familiar the reforms said they thought the real aim was to reduce spending. The Department clearly has some work to do to reassure parents.

As the Bill goes through Parliament, NDCS is going to be reinforcing this point: that unless the Department for Education ‘step up’ and intervene where local authorities are making cuts to services, their SEN reforms risk making a bad situation worse.

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Stolen Futures campaign video and why the Government needs to step up

Posted by Ian Noon on February 11, 2013

Image courtesy of NDCS

Well, today was very exciting. The new campaign video for the National Deaf Children’s Society Stolen Futures campaign was released. It features actor Jim Carter (him off Downton Abbey, not the ex-peacenik-President) and my heroine Dame Evelyn Glennie (her banging the drums at the Olympics). And Jim then appeared on Lorraine this morning to tell everyone about the petition. Don’t tell anyone but I’ve always had a secret crush on Lorraine. It’s that husky Scottish voice. Rrrr.

Anyhow, the video is great. Please do watch and see for yourself. But it has a serious side. Vital services for deaf children are still being cut across the UK. Deaf children’s futures are still being stolen. And the Department for Education are still buck passing. The National Deaf Children’s Society still needs 100,000 signatures to force the Department to take responsibility.

“It’s a matter for local authorities,” the Department say.

“We’ve protected funding for vulnerable learners,” they protest.

“Go and have a go at the council bosses, light some firecrackers down the council building,” they haven’t quite said but it lies near the surface.

By April 2013, one in three local authorities will have cut the vital services that deaf children rely on. Is the Department for Education seriously expecting parents from across all those areas or charitable organisations like the National Deaf Children’s Society to be able to hold them all to account? For real?

It’s the Department for Education’s money. It’s their responsibility. They need to sort it.

Hence, the petition to get them to intervene. It’s building momentum. Over 28,500 so far. Share the video with everyone you know to help them see why this is so important. Get them to sign the petition. And then get them to share the video with everyone they know. And that way we can get the Department for Education to finally step up.

Deaf children deserve better than all this buck passing.

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Stop what you’re doing, sign a petition and help stop cuts to deaf children’s services

Posted by Ian Noon on July 26, 2012

My colleague Jenny caught me talking to myself the other day. I simply reminded her about the importance of internal communications in our office. And in the best spirit of internal communication, I am going to interview myself in this blog. I think I’m sitting comfortably, so here we go.

Hello! Do you have 5 minutes to sign a petition? 

God, not another pointless pontificating petition for socialist eco-warrior peaceniks to sign…

No, no, no – this is a petition to help save services for deaf children. 1 in 4 councils are cutting vital services for deaf children like Teachers of the Deaf, communication support workers, audiologists, social workers, speech and language therapists. NDCS’s Stolen Futures report sets out the full scale of cuts across England.

Yeah, yeah, all very sad, boo hoo, but cuts are taking place everywhere, innit?

Yeah, but are things really so bad that we have to start cutting help for deaf children, some of the most vulnerable children in society. To force deaf children to sit in classrooms missing what’s being said and falling further and further behind because their Teacher of the Deaf isn’t able to come in anymore? Is that how we think we should treat deaf children?

Er, yes, that’s bad but…

Hang on dear, there’s more. Imagine you’re a Mum who’s just found out that your child is deaf. You know nothing about deafness. 9 out of 10 parents don’t. You need someone to explain what deafness is, how you can teach your child to develop language and communication, and help you navigate all the other services out there. You need someone to give you hope.

Yeah, OK, it’s pretty immoral and something needs to be done, but a petition, yeah? Hardly going to change the world…

But if this petition gets 100,000 signatures, Parliament will hold a debate on the petition.

A debate? Snooze… I thought we were trying to stop the cuts? How is a debate going to change things?

A debate is still a big deal. Very few petitions hit the 100,000 mark so those that do get noticed. Government Ministers will have to explain themselves in front of everyone and answer some tough searching questions about what’s happening to deaf kids. Even if nothing happens immediately, it’s going to put them under huge amounts of pressure to do something. Plus, it will send a really strong signal that people care about deaf children. That people think the Government and councils should have some basic decency and not abandon deaf children.

But what’s the point of asking Westminster to do anything? The local councils are the bad guys right? Why can’t you just keep fighting them locally like you’ve been doing already? Take them to court and flog ‘em? 

True, dat. It is the councils making cuts. But the Government holds the big purse strings. And they have real powers of direction over councils. There’s 152 councils in England. As much as they would like to and as much as they can try to, organisations like NDCS can’t fight the local cuts everywhere. Central Government can, should and needs to intervene.

100,000 signatures though? Impossible. Do you want me to raise the Titanic while I’m at it? 

Impossible? It’s said that everyone in the world is connected through six people. Around 500 people read my last blog last week. You all have friends, right? You also have colleagues, social groups that you’re involved in? If you sign it, then get 10 people to sign the petition and then they too get 10 people to sign it, we’re half way there already.

And I suppose when you get to  halfway other people will start to notice and say to themselves, actually yeah, this is a pretty appalling way to treat some of the most vulnerable children in society.

Absolutely. Aren’t you a clever clogs. And think what a signal it would send if the needs of deaf children reach the top of the agenda. Councils and Government would seriously think twice about ever doing anything to mess with people who care about deaf children and other disabled children.

Alright then, I’ll sign the bloody thing. Er, and how do I do that? 

Easy. Go to this website. Add your details. Click send. Then wait for an email to confirm you’re not some lunatic spambot and click on the link in the email. And you’re done. Then email everyone you know and get them all fired up. Sorted.

I’ll do my best. I’m still just 1 person though. Can I really make a difference?

Yes. If enough people take small steps to stand up to an injustice, big things can happen.

Deaf children are some of the most vulnerable children in society. If we don’t stand up for their rights and stop the cuts, then who will?

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What does the big special educational needs shake up mean for deaf children?

Posted by Ian Noon on July 23, 2012

The Department for Education are now full steam ahead with the biggest shake up of the special educational needs framework in England for 30 years. It certainly feels like 30 years since they announced their initial proposals but has actually only been less than 2 years. So what will the shake up mean for deaf children? Will it lead to better services and more choice for parents?

Well, despite a recent ‘Next steps’ update from the Department, some of the details are still somewhat hazy and will only become clear when the Department publishes their new laws in draft in September. Lots of the proposals are also still being tested by pilot pathfinders in 30-odd areas across England. The reforms are mega and it’ s impossible to try and summarise everything in one go. But I’ll have a go. Here’s a selection of 3 key questions and areas of uncertainty.

1) Education, Health and Care Plans

The statements are dead. Long live the Education, Health and Care plans. Yes, the statements – the legal entitlements to support that around 25% of deaf children currently have – is going to be broadened out and replaced with Education, Health and Care plans. The stated intention is to better ensure joined up working and prevent parents from having to give professionals the same information over and over again when their child is being assessed.

But will it do the job? Some key issues include:

* Existing legal protections won’t be lost (i.e. for education). But it’s not yet clear whether the plans will introduce any new legal protections (i.e. for health and social care). If it doesn’t, it kind of begs the question as to what the whole point of changing it is.

* Who will get one? When similar reforms have been done in other parts of the UK, the stated intention has been to reduce the number of children with statements. Will the same happen in England?

* Who’s going to do all these assessments? NDCS’s latest Save Services report, Stolen Futures, has found that 1 in 3 councils have cut education services since April 2011. Half of these cuts involve Teachers of the Deaf. Are the Government’s ambitions being thwarted by the cuts taking place on the ground?

* What will the plan look like? Will it have a proper focus on how deaf children should be doing and what support they need to get there? Or will it be a wiffly-waffly smiley face document of general platitudes? Some of the pathfinders seem to be going down the latter route…

2) Personal budgets

Parents who have a statement/plan will now get the chance to take control over the budget for their child’s services and buy in services from whoever they choose. The right to personal budgets will be an option and councils are expected to provide support to parents to help them navigate the system through what are sometimes known as ‘key workers’. Tricky issues here include:

* What will parents be able to buy with a personal budget?

* Choice for parents is great. But if parents chose not to buy from existing services, how much of a problem will that be?  Will existing council-run services have to wind down? Will personal budgets in effect end up actually reducing choice for other parents?

* The concept of personal budgets assumes a choice of services for parents. Yet does this really apply to educational services for deaf children? Can a parent pop down to Tesco to get a new Teacher of the Deaf?

3) The local offer

Every council will now have to say what’s available in their area for parents of children with special educational needs via a new ‘local offer’. The idea is that it will improve accountability and help parents get the information they need more readily. But…

* Will information be broken down by type of special educational need? The needs of a child with autism will be very different from that of a deaf child so how will councils produce something which is genuinely useful to all parents without cutting down the Amazon?

* Will there be a set format for a local offer? If not, how easy will parents find it to make comparisons between what’s in their own area and in neighbouring councils?

* Do parents really want a local offer? Or do they want a national offer? To be confident that the same basic services for deaf children will be available everywhere? I suspect the latter, but the Department has effectively already ruled this out.

This is barely scratching the surface and there are loads of other unanswered questions. NDCS’s response to the initial proposals sets out some of these other issues. Suffice to say, it would be a shame if the biggest, and badly needed, shake up of special educational needs reform doesn’t improve things for deaf children. So anyone with an interest in deaf education should start paying very close attention to the developing proposals in the coming months to make they do deliver for deaf children. Watch this space very closely.

If you’ve got any views on what the reforms will mean for deaf children, drop a line below – be good to hear from you.

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Is the Government telling deaf people to PIP off on disability benefits?

Posted by Ian Noon on February 28, 2012

It took me a while but I finally read through the Department for Work and Pension’s consultation on the eligibility criteria for the new benefits for disabled people, Personal Independence Payments. Otherwise known as PIP. To be fair, there were three, rather long documents, to read through to understand what was being proposed. And I’m still not sure I’ve got it.

For those that don’t know, PIP is the new DLA (Disability Living Allowance), a benefit for disabled people to fund the various additional costs associated with being disabled. Though the Government keep implying otherwise, it’s not linked to employment status. PIP will be introduced from next spring for disabled young people aged 16+. Disabled children have a stay of execution and will remain on DLA for now.

The Government have confirmed that when the move to PIP happens, 500,000 disabled people will lose their PIP. Yup, that’s half a million people who will be worse off. And looking at the guidance, it seems that many deaf people will be among the losers.

This is because in order to get the new “standard” rate of PIP, a deaf person would have to show that they couldn’t understand “basic” information when communicating out and about. Difficulties in understanding anything more than basic information will, on its own, not get you the points you need to qualify. Examples given in the document seem to suggest that only deaf people who communicate entirely and solely in sign language will be eligible for the new PIP. Everyone else, it would seem, nothing.

Ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions recently said that deafness was a “moderate” disability. The policy intention is that funding needs to be taken away from deaf people and given to those with more severe disabled needs. This is obviously a rather narrow way to frame political choices. It’s also an approach that treats deaf people as being less “deserving” of support, regardless of any additional support that may be needed to understand more than just “hello” and “bye bye” and which ignores the additional costs and disadvantaged associated with being deaf in a hearing world.

The National Deaf Children’s Society have drafted a short guide on what the changes might mean for deaf young people. This also include some tips and suggestions on how to respond to the consultation. If you think the changes are unfair, I would encourage you to have your say and ask the Government to raise the threshold of support to make sure deaf people get the help they need.

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Speaking to media about NDCS’s Save Services campaign

Posted by Ian Noon on December 1, 2011

Image courtesy of Remark!

Sometimes I wonder if the N in NDCS stands for nagging, judging by the persistence with which some people have been trying to get me to resume blogging about campaigning for deaf children. Well, NDCS is nothing if not determined.

Where have I been? It’s been a busy few months. Lots of councils across England still seem intent on slashing the services upon which deaf children rely on to do well. Depressingly, a few have joined my list in the past few weeks, and I’m not talking about my Christmas card list.

I also lost my media virginity by doing my first TV interview, for the Hub, a programme commissioned by the innovative British Sign Language Broadcasting Trust. Thanks to lots of patient prepping from NDCS’s media team, I was allowed to answer a few questions about NDCS’s Save Services for Deaf Children campaign and managed to slip in the key messages that sum up the issues. Hopefully, the answers helped spread the word about the campaign and motivated a few more people to support the campaign. And thankfully I managed to get through the interview without splurting out some expletive about councils making cuts.

Should I be allowed in front of a camera again? Judge for yourself online – I’m on programme 8.

I promise not to leave it too long before my next blog about campaigning at the Nagging Deaf Children’s Society.

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