Must do better campaign report: addressing the critics

Apologies for the radio silence – I’ve just come back from a short holiday overseas. The holiday has left me feeling very relaxed and calm – which is a good thing since this blog is about something that tends to turn me very quickly into an angry deaf person.

Yes, I’m talking about people criticising my work!

Our Must do better! campaign report on educational under achievement has not, it seems, been widely welcomed and we have received a range of negative comments about it. Whilst I love constructive criticism with my morning cup of tea, and ruefully recognise that most things I do will be far from perfect, some of the feedback received has been frustrating.

To go through just a few of the points raised with us:

1) The data we use is unreliable
We’ve been told that the data on how deaf children are doing in schools is not perfect. Without being too rude, my initial response is: Duh! The campaign report is quite clear that better data is needed and the page where all the data is shown includes a health warning box that sets out the caveats in more detail.

But should this mean that we throw out all the data we have and not use it? I take the view that the data, as imperfect as it is, is still useful. It highlights a problem that we know exists – that deaf children are under achieving. I’ve seen no data that suggests that deaf children are not under achieving. And there are grounds for thinking that the scale of under achievement may be wider than Government figures are suggesting.

The data is also a powerful campaigns weapon. It gives us a basis on which to talk to the media and MPs about the fact that deaf children are under achieving. This is an important point – it will be more difficult to place pressure on the Government to close the gap if we cannot show to others, through evidence (as imperfect as it is), that demonstrates there is a problem that needs action.

But more widely, it is not data that we’ve just made up on a rainy Friday afternoon. It is data provided to us by the Government, who have cleared the publication of it for our report. We’re campaigning for the Government to improve it’s data collection but if it’s good enough for their purposes, I see no reason not to use it ourselves.

2) It is an attack on the work of educational services working with deaf children
Page 1 of the report, in the opening two paragraphs, we refer to the dedication of professionals and the need to provide more support to professionals. We make it very clear on page 2 that we do not believe that teachers and specialist staff are getting the resources they need from local authorities to able to support deaf children. On page 4, we set out how many parents are satisfied with the provision for their child and the clear dedication from professionals. Throughout the report, there are many more such references, including quotes from parents about the positive support they’ve received. None of this seems to get an acknowledgement. In fact, it’s seemingly wilfully ignored.

Apparently, even the title of the report – Must do better – has proved offensive even though it was meant as a fun play on words you might hear in the classroom. We were actually thinking of central Government when we thought up the title – and it’s interesting that the old Minister for SEN, Lord Adonis, did not seem to have a problem with it when he congratulated NDCS on the report (again, I won’t let it go to my head).

3) The report will be misused by parents to attack local services
This is perhaps the most interesting criticism because it seems to imply a fear of parents or of possibly being asked to hold up their services to account. I don’t think good local services have anything to fear from the report – they can use it to show how they’re meeting the needs of deaf children. If they’re lacking in support and resources, they can use the report themselves to lobby their local authority for more support and resources.

Some of the feedback has had a point and has been useful and will be taken into account. For example, we were, in retrospect, wrong to name specific local authorities in our case studies and we were doubly wrong to (inadvertently) use two negative case studies from the same area.

But generally, it has been frustrating that there seems to have been a complete misunderstanding of the need for a campaigns document to be loud and brash and urgent in setting out the problems and calling for actions. It is doubly frustrating given the effort that was made to recognise the important role of professionals and to recognise some of the positive comments from parents around the country. Some of the feedback I’ve had from other campaigners has been the report is actually far too nice for a campaigns document and should have been harder in tone. After all, a document which is warm and cuddly which says there may be a problem, but we can’t give you any numbers and anyway, it may be misused or upset people will not rally decision-makers to action.

And action is needed. It is one of our soundbites but deafness itself is not a learning disability. There is no reason for most deaf children to be under achieving any less than their hearing peers and I believe it is a scandal that any one deaf child is under achieving because of their deafness. I would happily go home and begin a career in knitting the day I see comprehensive evidence that deaf children are not under achieving. But whilst I see examples of good practice and of deaf children proving the art of the possible, there are still too many deaf children being let down.

This is the objective of the campaign report – to make sure that more support and resources are available to parents, professionals and children to make sure that every deaf child achieves their full potential. And this is what is the most frustrating of all – that some people would seemingly rather quibble over our campaign report, rather than take action to support this objective.

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