Getting answers to Parliamentary Questions about deaf children in Westminster

It was two days late but we finally got an answer to Tom Levitt’s parliamentary question on deaf children and what is being done to narrow the gap in educational attainment (which I blogged about last week). The reply, which came from Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Minister for SEN) and which constitutes an official statement on the issue, was:

We have been looking at the data on attainment gaps between hearing impaired children and their peers with the National Deaf Children’s Society, in the context of our public service agreement target to narrow attainment gaps between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. Our national strategies advisers are looking with local authorities at the proportions of children who are achieving less than levels expected for their age at Key Stages 2 and 4, and at the actions being taken to reduce those proportions over time. We have commissioned research from the National Children’s Bureau and the Thomas Coram Research Centre to establish why there are such wide variations between authorities on the identification and classification of children with all types of SEN but using deaf/hearing children and autism spectrum disorders as exemplars.

To help narrow outcome gaps between children with SEN and disabilities (including children whose hearing is impaired) and their peers, we committed £18 million in the Children’s Plan to: improve work force knowledge, skills and understanding of SEN and disability through better initial teacher training and continuing professional development; developing better data for schools on how well children are progressing, and guidance for schools on what constitutes good progress; and continue to strengthen the position of SEN coordinators in schools. The Training and Development Agency is currently consulting on proposals for nationally accredited training courses for new SEN coordinators.

We have also committing to funding, from September 2009, additional places on courses leading to approved mandatory qualifications (MQ) for teaching children and young people with sensory impairments. The TDA has been working with interested parties to establish arrangements for making best use of the funding we are making available.

In addition, we have committed £800,000 for a pilot project to raise awareness of British Sign Language and upskill the current specialist work force.

Tom Levitt at the launch of the Close the Gap report On the plus side:

* It’s good to get the Government’s own view on how it thinks it is working to close the gap. There are clearly a few work streams in place which is obviously good news and good to be reminded about. It’s all useful information for our Close the Gap campaign.

* NDCS got a mention. Which is always nice.

On the downside:

* There was a missed opportunity for the Government to set out a clear ambition to close the gap in attainment between deaf children and their hearing peers. This has always been implicit, and it’s always slightly disappointing that it’s never been made fully explicit.

* The answer doesn’t provide any numbers or targets for how it expects the gap to close. We may come back to the Government to press them on this issue.

Anyhow, it’s a useful reply, and one which can refer back to in our correspondence with Government officials. We’ll also be thanking Tom Levitt for raising this issue in Parliament and helping to raise awareness among other MPs of the deaf children and educational attainment.

We’re expecting some more questions to be tabled in Parliament next week on deaf children, which I’ll be blogging about soon.


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