I probably shouldn’t be showing you this…

… but here’s an exclusive preview of the cover of the campaign report we’ll be launching next week.

The drawing was the winning entry to our “When I grow up…” postcard drawing competition. Everyone in the office loved it so where better to put it than the cover of our report.

We took our time to come up with a title – and went for “Must Do Better” in the end. It’s a playful challenge to the Government using the language of school classrooms (of mine, anyway). The hope is that it gets people’s attention and helps them understand quickly what the report is about.

The report is being launched imminently. I’m way too excited…


Ian’s to-do list for this week

You know I’m busy when I’ve got lots of yellow post-it notes on my desk. Well, right now, my desk is a sea of yellow. I think there’s a PC underneath it somewhere and, come to think of it, I haven’t seen the IT guy in a while.

Why so busy? Well, on the 24th June – next Tuesday! – we’ll be launching our campaign report on educational underachievement of deaf children. It’s all written and done and dusted so I don’t have to worry about that. What I do have to worry about it is making sure it makes a big splash and get people’s attention. So this is the plan:

* Try to get lots of MPs to come to the launch of our campaign report. Lots have already said they’re coming. But I want more! So I’ll be doing some chasing this week.

* Talk to civil servants from the Department for Children, Schools and Families about what our report says and what we want them to do.

* Write a briefing paper that explains all about our campaign. And then cut the length in half and remove anything that sounds tecchie – all to make sure as many people as possible read it.

* Update the campaigns section of the NDCS website so all our members and supporters know what we’re up to, and know how they can support our campaign.

* Ask our staff members what they’ve got hidden away in their closets. Yes, you read that right. Because “when I grow up” is such a strong theme for the campaign – and to help us get some strong, eye-catching images for the media – we’re going to give MPs the option to dress up a bit, and tell us what they wanted to be when they grow up! I’m slightly worried as to what is going to end up on my desk but anyhow…

And much more. Busy, but good busy. Hopefully, it will all make a difference.

Why I *heart* Baroness Walmsley

Baroness WalmsleyYes, Baroness Walmsley is officially my favourite person at the moment. Kylie has been temporarily demoted and will just have to deal with it. The Baroness achieved this great honour after she spoke out about deaf chlidren and NDCS in the House of Lords. Here’s what she had to say:

“I was surprised to discover in the briefing from the National Deaf Children’s Society the underachievement of deaf children. As it rightly points out, deafness is not a learning disability and there is no reason why deaf children should not achieve just as well as their hearing peers. I was staggered that deaf children are 42 per cent less likely than the average to achieve the expected level of attainment in their GCSEs and that that is the only known published statistic on the educational attainment of deaf children. We need to know more. There has apparently been no major government research into the issue since a literature review in 1998.”

The Baroness was speaking in a debate about a draft piece of legislation called the Special Educational Needs (Information) Bill. This Bill would require the Department for Children, Schools and Families to collect and publish more information about children with special educational needs. As the Baroness points out, we badly need more information:

“I hope that the Bill will change that situation. It can improve our understanding of what works, raise expectations, provide a better basis for the evaluation of programmes, give us a better basis for good practice, improve our understanding of the training and continuing professional development needs of professionals and provide a more secure basis for national policy. The potential is a lot wider than just the academic attainment of children, and that is particularly welcome.”

The Bill is a Private Member’s Bill – meaning that it has not been proposed by the Government directly, but by a backbencher MP. Sharon Hodgson MP is behind this particular Bill. Now normally, Private Member’s Bills don’t get very far because MPs are always far too busy debating the proper Government Bills. But this one has bucked the trend and has already been agreed by MPs in the House of Commons. To become law, it now needs the approval of Lords and last Friday (Friday 13th June – eek!) it was debated in the House of Lords. Happily, the Lords in attendence all agreed the Bill was a good idea – and it now passes to the next stage in the House of Lords where it will be looked at in more detail.

Fingers crossed it gets through the House of Lords. It’s a Bill that could make a huge difference for deaf children, and indeed any child with special educational needs.

Keeping Mum sweet: NDCS campaign planning

My Mum once made me promise that I would never become an MP because “MPs never keep their promises”. Well, if my Mum is reading this now, I hope this post convinces her that campaigners DO keep their promises – as promised in a recent blog, here’s where I attempt to compare how my rhetoric on campaign planning matches the reality. As it’s going to the main focus of my work in the coming month, I’m going to outline the planning behind our Close the Gap campaign.

1) Objectives:
Our overall objective is clear. We want to close the gap. In other words, we want deaf children to be achieving the same as their hearing peers. Deafness is not a learning disability – so I personally think it’s outrageous that deaf children are 42% less likely to get 5 good GCSEs at school than other children. I also find it incredibly depressing that some people don’t seem so surprised or think that deaf children are doing well if they are ‘coping’. As part of this, we have a number of secondary objectives to remove the barriers that hold deaf children back. I won’t list them all here – but they cover things like audiology services, family support, mainstream school provision and so on.

2) Targets:
Our principal target is the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), who have the power to remove many of the barriers that hold deaf children back, so we’ve been working and meeting with DCSF Ministers and their civil servants. To influence the Department, we are working with and talking to a range of other charities and think tanks who share our concerns, to work together in raising key issues. We are also working with the media to help them get them on board too.

3) Messages:
When writing about educational achievements of deaf children and the barriers holding them back, one of the challenges has been to try and keep the message simple. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of getting lost in the detail. For example, one of our objectives is to improve the local authority performance management framework. This means getting into policy on local indicators, disability equality impact assessments, the use of data and so on. Well, I’m bored already. And actually, at the end of the day, it kind of just boils down to making sure that council workers make deaf children matter and act on their needs.

4) Timing:
The scale of under achievement by deaf children is such that we probably would have been campaigning on this whenever. As it is, the policy mood has definitely shifted in the past few year and policy makers have been talking about the needs of disabled children much more. The Treasury did a report on Aiming High for Disabled Children and the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign group has been really effective in getting the needs of disabled children on the agenda. It feels like MPs and civil servants are really receptive to arguments and debates on the education of children with disabilities.

5) Tactics:
I could write a whole blog on this – and I probably will – but we’ve tried to use a range of tactics to get people talking about the need to close the gap. We’ve worked with MPs to try and raise awareness of the issue in Parliament. We’ve also been trying to get our members involved by getting them to write to their MP. One MP has tabled a motion (kind of like a parliamentary petition) to call for action on this. Others have spoken about the needs of deaf children in parliamentary debates. Our hope is that DCSF are taking note of MPs interest in this – and thinking about how to address their concerns.

Later this month, we’ll be deploying another tactic – a campaign report. This will set out in more detail what we think the barriers are, and what the Government needs to do about it. Watch this space for more information on that.

Again, lots of stuff I haven’t mentioned, but what do you think? Grateful for any thoughts on our planning for this – and any suggestions for improvements.

In the meantime, I’m off to tell Mum I’ve been a good boy today.

Delicious MPs. Shame about the cakes.

Well, the launch of NDCS’s Big Plans seemed to be a big success. Lots of MPs and Lords came to hear about our plans to become a more child-centred organisations, that puts deaf children at the heart of the decision-making process. I’m a big believer that nothing should be done for deaf children, unless, as much as possible, it’s done by them (how we do this in campaigns is one of the challenges I need to get to grips with over the coming year – ideas very welcome).

Chairing the event was Tara, a sparky, intelligent young girl from Middlesborough who, earlier in the day, was chatting away to Newsround. And we had lots of deaf children in attendance talking to the VIPs. Once again, they all made my job look easy. Pesky kids…

And, quite a few MPs and Lords came along to meet the children – including Malcolm Bruce (NDCS Vice President and parent of a deaf child), Annette Brooke, Sharon Hodgson and Tom Levitt so their presence was really welcome. They may not be household names – but they’ve done a lot of work over the years for disabled children. My job at the event was to make the most of their presence. These VIPs were not allowed to leave unless they knew all about our Big Plans, had met some of the bigwigs at NDCS and were fully persuaded of the need to campaign for deaf children in Parliament. Depending on how malicious I was feeling, I would also ask them to name as many Kylie Minogue hits as possible.

I do sometimes find these events difficult, mainly because of the communication barrier, but also because you really have to be direct and fearless and go straight up to the VIPs before someone else nabs them. This time though, I was determined to make full use of the sign language interpreters and to get my fangs into a few MPs and Lords. Fortunately for me, many were receptive to our arguments of the need for action and keen to support us. Result.

Sadly, I was so busy getting my fangs into MPs, that I didn’t get a chance to get my fangs into the food. Shockingly, there were no canapes but there were some gorgeous lush looking cakes. Which the kids all ate… After my job and now after my cakes… pesky kids, indeed…

Back to Big Ben

I don’t know why they don’t just give me the keys and be done with it, but I’m heading back to the House of Commons later today for another NDCS parliamentary reception. At this one, we’re going to be talking about our “big plans” to become a more child-centred organisation. And deaf children are very much going to be in the driving seat at this event.

Come back soon for some insider information, gossip and an in-depth no-holds-barred review of the canapes.

A brave attempt to make planning seem exciting

PlanningPlanning is important. It helps you avoid a family like the Gallaghers from Shameless. It also help you to develop effective campaigns. I sometimes say to myself that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. And then I realise I sound like a zany motivational speaker and shut myself up.

Anyway, as a campaigns officer, its my job to plan and roll out campaigns. So what kind of things do I need to think about when planning a campaign? I feel another top five list coming up…

1) Objectives:
If the campaign is successful, what will it have achieved? It seems like an obvious question but I’ve come across campaigns where the answer to this question is unclear or fuzzy. Having a very clear sense of what you want to achieve at the very outset is, I think, really important.

2) Targets:
Who has the power to give you what you want. Or to help you get it? I find it helpful to think of power as being like a series of concentric circles. At the outside, you might have members of the public. And then with circles going further in, you might have the media, think tanks, civil servants, Government Ministers, people with the ear of the Prime Minister and then finally the big man himself at the very centre. Its hard to target the very centre – so you have to think about how the targets in the circles outside can help you get closer to the centre. I think a good campaign should try to target and influence as wide a group of targets as possible.

3) Messages:
Is it clear what you want? Is it simple, easy and straightforward message? Or is it complex, heavy on jargon and full of caveats? I strongly believe that the simpler a campaign message, the easier it to ‘sell it’ and be understood by the wider public and decision-makers.

4) Timing:
Timing really is everything. Sometimes this can be about assessing the political ‘mood’ and whether your message is something that people are going to be interested in. Sometimes its about spotting opportunities, like a Government inquiry or consultation into something that you can build on and respond to. To give an example, Amnesty International are currently campaigning on human rights in China, reasoning that the Beijing Olympics this summer mean that the world’s attention is going to be placed on China – and that the Chinese government may be more likely to take action, if only to avoid any bad news stories.

5) Tactics:
What are you going to do to get your campaign noticed and get people listening? This is an issue I was musing on when I wrote my earlier blog on Greenpeace. Greenpeace’s tactics often involve very loud and visible protests – such as climbing up Big Ben. There’s no denying this gets people’s attention (though there’s a debate to be had about whether this undermined their campaign – do people remember what they were actually protesting about?). Other tactics might involve face to face meetings with civil servants, trying to generate media stories, or trying to get your members to write to their MP about a really important issue. Greenpeace themselves talk about how they do a lot of private lobbying. I reckon a good campaign should flexibly deploy a range of tactics to maximise the chances of it getting noticed.

All of this is, of course, a horrible over-simplification and I’ve barely talked about why it’s so important to get members involved. But I hope its interesting/useful.

Of course, this all means that I now have to set out some of the planning behind the campaigns that I’m currently working on. I’ll be inviting feedback, comments, devastating critiques, etc. on this very blog very soon!

PS On the subject of tactics, check out a recent article in the Guardian on how to campaign without straying onto the wrong side of the law! Again, I should stress I have no plans to do anything that might involve getting arrested… Ahem.