Posts Tagged ‘Parliament’
Posted by Ian Noon on July 29, 2010
I was reminded of the old saying this week that laws are like sausages; you really don’t want to know how they are made…
The Academies Bill is now law, meaning that lots of schools will soon be able to convert to academies, and be independent from local authority control. I personally don’t mind where deaf children are taught, providing they get the support they need. But in most areas, specialist support services are provided by the local authority. So there was always a real question mark over how academies would be able to support deaf children when they’re cut off from the local authority. There were also some big questions over where the money for this would come from, given that academies effectively disperse school funding far and wide.
In an ideal world, there would have been plenty of time to consider and reflect on these issues and come up with solutions that work. But the new Government was hell-bent on getting the Academies Bill into law as soon as possible to allow schools to convert from September. That didn’t stop the House of Lords from trying to slow things down. There were lots of lengthy debates on specialist support services and special educational needs. To the Government’s credit, some big concessions were made early on to help consistency in the legal framework on special educational needs. But they were reluctant to move on specialist support services. It was incredibly frustrating. The Government recognised there was a problem. But wouldn’t come forward with any solutions before the Bill became law. Their response could basically be characterised as “Meh…”
Enter the amazing Baroness Wilkins, a long standing NDCS supporter. With help from NDCS, she kept returning to this issue, put forward a draft amendment to the Academies Bill and eventually forced a vote on it in the House of Lords. The Government rarely loses votes in the Lords or the Commons. It lost this one. It was the 2nd defeat in the Lords for the new Government, and arguably the first major one.
And so the law was changed. It requires funding for support to remain with the local authority, to prevent it being dispersed far and wide. It also means the Government has the power and responsibility to ensure that any large scale conversions to academies do not disadvantage deaf children and other children with low incidence needs. To our surprise, the Government didn’t try to reverse the change to the law, though that was probably because its own deadlines didn’t allow for this. They have even made some fairly positive noises about it, despite trying to resist it in the Lords.
To me, perhaps the most disconcerting thing was that I drafted the change to the law on behalf of the Special Educational Consortium, despite not being an expert in such things and without access to an army of Government lawyers. On the one hand, I’m proud it wasn’t laughed out. On the other hand, I’m slightly alarmed that someone like me has effectively made the law. Is this how Judge Dredd felt?
It’s not the end of the road and the new law doesn’t revolve the issues and concerns fully. So NDCS and parents of deaf children will need to monitor what’s happening in academies going forward. But overall, despite a few weeks of frustrating to and fro, the end result is equivalent to a succullent sausage.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: academies, Academies Act, Academies Bill, Baroness Wilkins, deaf children, debates, House of Lords, Parliament, specialist support services | 1 Comment »
Posted by Ian Noon on July 2, 2010
Image courtesy of NDCS
The NDCS/RNID parliamentary reception on Wednesday was a huge success. 57 MPs came, the deaf children, young people and adults were fantastic and the cakes were lovely.
I was in charge of making sure the deaf children and young people were fully involved, but I was barely needed. They were hugely confident and assertive in telling MPs about the importance of deaf awareness and what action they wanted MPs to take. They were so good and so confident, that it was a bit scary to be honest.
Lots of photos were taken which are now winging their way to local media across the UK. Hopefully, this will get the message about deaf awareness far and wide.
Overall, it’s been a great Deaf Awareness Week. Lots of NDCS supporters have been sending in their thoughts and tips, and we also took the opportunity to share these with MPs.
It’s a shame we have to wait a whole year now for the next Deaf Awareness Week, really…
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Deaf Awareness Week, MPs, National Deaf Children's Society, NDCS, Parliament, reception | 2 Comments »
Posted by Ian Noon on June 25, 2010
Next week is going to be all about me. And the other 8,999,999 people who are deaf or hard of hearing in the UK.
Yes, it’s Deaf Awareness Week and this year’s theme is “Look at me”. The idea is to talk about simple deaf awareness tips throughout the week – like facing deaf people when you talk. And, of course, by looking at deaf people, you can finally find out one way or another whether deafness really is an invisible disability.
I’ve been busy at the National Deaf Children’s Society gearing up for it. The main focus of our work is a parliamentary reception next week where deaf children and young people will be part of a group educating and testing MPs on their deaf awareness. NDCS is joining forces with RNID and the UK Council of Deafness for the event.
For NDCS, the whole thing is a follow-up from the NDCS election pledge work. 223 MPs committed to making deaf children matter. Now is their opportunity to find out how.
I’ll be blogging throughout Deaf Awareness Week about what’s going on, and NDCS will also be encouraging supporters to get involved. So watch this space.
In the meantime, what are you up to for Deaf Awareness Week? Leave a comment below to let us know.
PS You can also get the latest via the NDCS UK twitter account – so get tweeting!
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: communication, Deaf Awareness Week, deaf children, MPs, NDCS, Parliament | 10 Comments »
Posted by Ian Noon on June 2, 2010
The Queen was dragged away from her TV last week to come and open Parliament for the new Government and to read a speech written for her by the Government on new laws coming through. I wonder if one day the Queen will just say “read your own speech, I want to watch Loose Women” but that day hasn’t arrived yet.
One of the new laws she announced was the Academies Bill. Academies are a type of school which are independent of the local council. They were popularised by Tony Blair and there are now over 200 of them. The new Government wants to oversee a massive expansion of the programme.
I can see some of the pros of the proposal. Why not allow headteachers and teachers to run their own school themselves; they themselves know their own pupils best, rather than some local council bureaucrat. It’s not as if local councils have been a complete success at improving the educational attainment of disadvantaged children.
On the other hand, there some real uncertainty about specialist services for deaf children. The problem is that this is usually provided and funded by local councils. If academies are independent of local councils, the councils will have less money for these kinds of specialist support services for deaf children. Academies would have to pay for it as an extra cost. But most academies may only have one deaf child; the cost of high quality expert specialist support may be proportionally very expensive unless you have lots of academies pooling their resources. So will deaf children in academies get the support they need?
The other concern is that, in a desire to give academies more freedoms, it’s unclear whether some laws on special educational needs are being followed. For example, non-academies have to make sure that their special educational needs co-ordinators are qualified teachers. The same law doesn’t apply to academies.
The National Deaf Children’s Society will be flagging up these concerns with politicians as they debate the Academies Bill. But since there are relatively few Academies already in operation, there is a lack of information over how deaf children already in academies are getting on at the moment. Is it good, OK or bad?
If you know of any deaf children, let us know how they’re getting on by leaving a comment below or emailing email@example.com.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: academies, Academies Bill, deaf children, education, NDCS, Parliament, Queen's Speech, schools, support | 1 Comment »
Posted by Ian Noon on April 29, 2010
Image courtsesy of NDCS
Well, in a week’s time, the UK will be going to the polls to decide who will form the next Government. It means that time is running out for you to help make deaf children matter during the election by asking your own local candidates to sign the National Deaf Children’s Society election pledge for deaf children.
And if you’ve already done it, now is good to remind them to sign it if they haven’t already. The NDCS pledge check page has a list of everyone who’s signed it thus far.
How to contact your local candidates? Click here, tell us where you live, click a few more times and bingo. NDCS works out who your candidates are and brings up a template message. Much easier to do than remembering to take off your microphone when having a private conversation about someone you’ve just met.
An update so far? Well, when I was first working on the pledge for NDCS, I thought maybe around 300 would sign it. 500 at a push. Well, so far, a whopping 839 have signed it. I’m amazed. The total includes 22 Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet Ministers, including the leads on education for each party. Over 120 Conservative candidates have signed it, even though the party traditionally tends not to sign election pledges. I’m doubly amazed.
Whilst this is fantastic, not all of these people will get elected to become MPs. Which is why it would be great to get the number up even higher in the next week to increase the chances of getting a good large bunch of MPs who know about deafness and are willing to take action to support deaf children. Given that deafness is a “invisible” disability and given the likelihood of big cuts to public spending, NDCS needs as much support as possible from MPs over the next five years.
So contact your local candidates now while they’re still running around the country desperate to get your vote.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: candidates, Conservative, deaf children, election, MPs, NDCS, Parliament, pledge | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Ian Noon on April 13, 2010
Originally uploaded to Flickr by Joep R.
Yesterday, Parliament shut up shop. MPs were booted out. Maybe even chucked into the River Thames. But before they all went back to their constituencies, last week they were busy trying to pass lots of laws before Parliament dissolved. And two new bits of law were created which are worth getting a little bit excited about.
These are the Children, Schools and Families Act and the Equality Act. The former introduces a new right of appeal for parents of deaf children if their local authority refuses to update their statement for special educational needs support needed at school. And the latter makes a major changes to disability discrimination law by saying that disabled children now have the right to specialist equipment like radio aid microphones. Previously, this was only guaranteed to disabled children if it was included in their statement of support. A rather strange get-out clause for schools has now been closed.
Why are they important? Government figures from last year suggest that deaf children are 42% less likely to do as well in their GCSEs as other children. It’s an obvious point but unless deaf children are getting the support they need, we won’t close the gap in attainment. I think the Government deserves some plaudits for getting these new laws on the book.
The bad news is that the proposed new law on pupil and parent guarantees didn’t make it in the end. The week before Parliament is dissolved is known as the “wash-up” period where MPs take all their dirty coffee cups to the kitchen and where the Government and the opposition party also have to agree what laws will pass in the short time left. The guarantees didn’t get cross-party support so they fell by the wayside. I thought it was a shame. The guarantees wouldn’t have changed the world overnight for deaf children. But they could have been an important means to an end; of setting out new entitlements that would, again, have helped make sure that deaf children get the support they need.
Still, a nice little bookend to the last parliamentary session. More information about the new laws is on the NDCS website.
What do you think? Will the new laws make a difference? What else needs to be done to close the gap? As always, good to hear your thoughts.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: appeal, attainment, auxilary aids, Children Schools and Families Act, Close the Gap, deaf children, education, Equality Act, GCSEs, Parliament, rights, statements, support | 3 Comments »
Posted by Ian Noon on December 2, 2009
Yesterday, I braved the freezing elements to get out of the office and head to Westminster for an All Party Parliamentary Group on Deafness meeting about communication. The Group is basically an informal bunch of MPs and peers who have an interest in deafness and want to advocate within Parliament for more support for deaf people. RNID and NDCS are both temporary custodians of the group for the year, and this was the first meeting in Parliament with us running things.
Happily, it all went very well, with a respectable turn out from MPs. On our side, NDCS Director of Policy and Campaigns spoke about the need for parents to have impartial information in order to make an informed choice about communication with their deaf child, and for the family to be given support from the local authority in learning how to communicate effectively within the family. Raena, an inspiring mother of a deaf son, followed this with a talk about her own experiences and challenges, and her determination to make sure her son was fully included within the family, with the whole family committing to learning sign language. Hopefully, MPs left with a strong message that it can’t be ethical to leave families to their own devices when learning how to communicate with their own child.
Sadly, the message on impartial information and informed choice was lost on some members of the audience with one person strongly advocating for an oral approach and another for sign language and a range of views being expressed between them which caused a sharp intake of breath in me. I’m always surprised that some people seem to think that one approach is going to work for every deaf child, which cannot possibly be in the child’s best interests. Still, if one good thing came out of the exchange, being exposed to two opposite extreme views always leave me feeling quite reassured that I must be right if I completely disagree with both.
You can read more about the meeting, and one of the speeches, on the NDCS website. Am looking forward to the next meeting already.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: All Party Parliamentary Group on Deafness, communication, family sign language, NDCS, Parliament | 3 Comments »
Posted by Ian Noon on October 30, 2009
Well, it’s been two weeks now since we won the campaign victory on acoustics and the Government announced a package of measures to improve acoustics in new schools. So how did it all happen? Having mused and reflected upon it, here are what I think were the five key ingredients behind the campaign success:
1) Getting good media coverage. We were fortunate that the Times Educational Supplement, which is read avidly by civil servants and Ministers at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, were keen to follow the campaign throughout the year and to keep highlighting the issue with stories popping up in January on the launch of the campaign, May about support from other disability charities and, more recently, in October about a new school with poor acoustics.
2) Getting the message out to MPs and peers. We invested lots of time and effort in making MPs aware of the campaign, encouraging them to sign a parliamentary petition and to write to the Department to demand action. We couldn’t have done this without our supporters taking action and writing to their MP to check they were on board. In total, nearly 600 emails or letters were sent to MPs and the Government on acoustics by our supporters. It helped that we had a simple message that was easy for MPs to understand and get on board, all of which ensured we had a cross-party army of supporters within Parliament…
3) Making sure deaf young people led the way. Of course, one of reasons why so many MPs were keen to support the campaign is that they had attended a parliamentary event we arranged in June and met with a group of deaf young people to hear about their own personal experiences of poor acoustics, and why action is needed. The same group also appeared on the telly on BBC2 programme See Hear to demand action. They made a powerful appeal for action which was difficult for MPs and the Government to ignore.
4) Making sure we developed a strong case for action. Whether it was doing our own survey of local authorities to confirm that too many new schools were being built with poor acoustics or commissioning research from a school in Essex to show the dramatic impact that improved acoustics can have, we were keen to make sure that our briefings to Government were backed up by a compelling set of facts, pointing to a problem that needs to be solved.
5) Negotiations over a possible law change. Having got lots of attention from MPs and peers, several were keen to try and get the law changed to improve acoustics. Baroness Wilkins, a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Deafness, tabled an amendment to the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill. We were quite lucky in a way; the Government was already behind schedule on this Bill and were keen to reduce the amount of time spent on debates in the House of Lords. But a good campaign exploits any luck and opportunities that presents itself. And so we entered into a game of brinkmanship and a series of negotiations to agree to a deal whereby the Department agreed to acoustic testing in exchange for the amendment being withdrawn. We ended up getting a good package that surpassed our expectations of what we could realistically achieve.
All in all, a good result for deaf children and lots of lessons to take forward to the next big campaign! I can’t chose but any thoughts on which was the most important factor out of this five?
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: acoustics, Apprenticeships Skills Children and Learning Bill, Baroness Wilkins, Campaigns, DCSF, deaf children, Department for Children Schools and Families, NDCS, Parliament, See Hear, Sounds good?, times educational supplement | 1 Comment »
Posted by Ian Noon on July 27, 2009
Parliament has now broken up for summer. As a campaigns officer, my initial response to this news is always “Praise be!”. As much as I love MPs, the summer months give us a time to reflect, strategise and do some blue sky thinking. Or some grey sky thinking if you’re enjoying the same weather as I am.
One thing we’ll be reflecting on is our Sounds good? campaign on acoustics. Looking back, I think we can point to some solid campaign ‘wins’, including:
* A recognition by the Government that there is a problem over poor acoustics, to which action is needed.
* A commitment to publishing guidance on how to achieve good acoustics.
* An unofficial clamp down on the use of alternative performance standards from those set out in government guidance, where there is weak justification.
* A recommendation of acoustic testing in new ‘minimum standards’ for new schools published by the Government.
* A reference to acoustic testing in new draft contracts for use by local authorities for new secondary schools.
* A promise to review the acoustics in new school buildings in future “post-occupancy evaluations”.
We’ve done this backed up my widespread support. Nearly 80 MPs have signed a parliamentary petition on this, 45 came to a parliamentary event, 16 organisations have endorsed the campaign and over 400 members of the public have contacted their MP to call for action on this issue.
All of this is pretty good. If we were to end the campaign tomorrow, I would do so with my head held reasonably high as I rush to buy some Pringles to celebrate.
But there is one very important thing missing that we think is needed: a hard mandatory requirement for new schools to be tested for their acoustics. Nothing has been put forward that would be a watertight requirement and which would apply to all new schools (and not just secondary schools). Without this, we don’t think there is any real incentive to make acoustics a top priority. It would fall off the radar as soon as we stopped our campaign.
Baroness Wilkins, a strong NDCS supporter, has been pressing to get the law changed to introduce this new requirement and her amendment will get debated after the summer. We had a meeting with civil servants last week to discuss this and we have a commitment that they will be seriously thinking about this.
In the meantime, we’ll be thinking about ways in which we can keep the campaign on the top of people’s minds when Parliament comes back from summer… Any ideas?
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: acoustics, Baroness Wilkins, DCSF, deaf children, Department for Children Schools and Families, NDCS, Parliament, schools, Sounds good? | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Ian Noon on April 17, 2009
MPs have now gone through the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning (ASCL) Bill, line by line, and considered all of the amendments. Such was their determination to do it, they ended up staying up in Parliament until well past midnight. This left me with an image of MPs sitting in a room with their pyjamas, clutching hot water bottles and teddy bears, but anyhow…
NDCS concerns got raised a few times which we were pleased with. Anything that raises the needs of deaf children within Parliament is always good news. Here’s a very brief run down of what was said:
1) Teacher training. We want the Government to give teachers an explicit entitlement to training if a child with special educational needs enters the classroom. Currently, it’s proposed that all employers will have the right to request training. We think teachers need to be proactively encouraged and enabled to take up training to work with children with special educational needs – and given a clear entitlement to this.
The Government made some positive noises about ongoing efforts to improve teacher training so that teachers know how to work with children with SEN. But no new rights. So we’ll continue to lobby on this.
2) Ofsted. We wanted an amendment that would make sure that a school couldn’t be given a ranking of good or outstanding unless provision for children with special educational needs is also good or outstanding. The Minister said it would be “highly unlikely” if this happened. This in itself was helpful and gives us something to hold the Government to account to. But then again, we were left wondering that if it will be highly unlikely, why not make it completely impossible? So again, we’ll be continuing to lobby the Government on this.
3) Acoustics. We again made our call for pre-completion acoustic testing to be required in all schools. Here, we were disappointed by the Government’s response which pretty much said that a review was ongoing. It didn’t really respond to any of the concerns raised and didn’t take us any further forward. You can guess what we’ll be doing next.
There was also a bit of debate over apprenticeships and disabled people which I’ll come back to another time as we’ve had some interesting correspondence with Government officials on this.
So when will we get to do some more lobbying? The Bill will soon have its third reading in the House of Commons where MPs basically tie up loose ends. Then it will be the turn of the House of Lords to look at the Bill. The plan is to engage with and brief peers on our concerns on the Bill in the aim of making improvements to benefit deaf children.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: acoustics, Apprenticeships Skills Children and Learning Bill, ASCL Bill, deaf children, House of Commons, MPs, NDCS, Ofsted, Parliament, SEN, special educational needs, teacher training | Leave a Comment »