A new menace is sweeping specialist support services for deaf children across England and the protagonists claim they’re doing so with the Government’s approval. It goes by many names. But most people refer to it as “traded services”.
Definitions vary. But when I refer to traded services, I refer to it as the practice whereby local authorities stop providing specialist support services for children with special educational needs free of charge, and instead start “selling” or “trading” their services to schools who must now buy them back in. Warwickshire council, for example, charges up to £85 for an hour of Teacher of the Deaf time and up to £285 for a day with a specialist Teaching Assistant.
Why is this a problem for deaf children?
1) Because deafness is relatively uncommon, most schools will rarely come across a deaf child. How will they know what to buy?
2) How are they going to pay for it? If budgets are split between all schools, regardless of whether they’ve got a deaf child, then the schools where there are actually deaf children present are not going to have enough money to buy the help that deaf children need.
3) It produces a whole set of distorted incentives. Schools are incentivised to save money for buying support “on the cheap”, like a general teaching assistant, rather than a specialist teaching assistant. Councils are incentivised to spend more time “marketing” their services rather than actually giving deaf children the help they need.
In Warwickshire, these problems are particularly acute because of (in my view) the incredibly cack-handed way in which the service has made the shift to traded services. A sub-group of deaf children have now been shifted over to “traded services.” 3 reasons to be angry with the council are:
1) Schools haven’t been given ANY extra cash to help pay for the help they are now expected to purchase for deaf children. The council repeatedly refused to answer questions on this issue and the council only admitted there was a funding cut when forced to through a Freedom of Information request.
2) Headteachers were told about the move to traded services for some deaf children over the summer break. When the school was closed. Many may only have got the letter once school term started.
3) Parents weren’t initially told. Many parents only found out when they discovered their child was no longer getting any help from a Teacher of the Deaf. The council has been remarkedly reluctant to meet with parents.
Warwickshire’s attitude has been incredibly cavalier. These deaf children are now the responsibility of the schools, they say. It’s a pretty shocking state of affairs when a council can just wipe their hands of a group of deaf children that they had until recently been supporting.
Parents are rightly upset and outraged. They’re petitioning the council to think again. And on Saturday, there will be a campaign day of action in Stratford-upon-Avon. The National Deaf Children’s Society is supporting their campaign to reverse the move to traded services. The help that deaf children receive should be determined by what they need, end of. Not by what their school is able or willing to buy back. And any cuts should be openly and honestly (or not at all). Not through reckless changes to funding systems or by stealth.