2011 predictions on campaigning for deaf children

What will 2011 bring for my work as a campaigns officer for deaf children? Last year, the general election meant that it was impossible to predict anything with any certainty. This year, I’m tempted to have a shot. Here are three predictions from me.

1) Acoustics in schools is going to come back on the agenda. At the end of 2009, the National Deaf Children’s Society won a big campaign victory on acoustics. However, this year we are expecting the Department for Education to come up with a new strategy for how it builds new schools, whilst the Department for Communities and Local Government is revamping Building Regulations. Both could potentially result weaken, rather than strengthen, standards on acoustics. If they do, the Sounds good? campaign may be making a return.

2) The cuts are coming. Last year, the Government announced the cuts it would be making to overall budgets. This year, the impact will start to be felt and we are likely to see some heavy cuts in many parts of the UK. Much of my time this year is going to be spent working with parents to fight the cuts to help for deaf children.

3) The special educational needs debate goes out of the box. The Department for Education is publishing its policy ideas on special educational needs. This year. Probably. It’s already been postponed twice. Assuming they do see the light of day, we can expect to see some quite radical proposals. Personal budgets for children with special educational needs is rumoured to be one of the proposals coming out. Some MPs think that the Government might go further and ditch the whole statementing system. It will certainly be interesting at the very least.

Do you have any other predictions for the year ahead in campaigning for deaf children? Leave a comment below to share them.

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Review of 2009 for deaf children… and predictions for 2010

Well, we’re already a week into the new decade / ice age, but for my first blog post of 2010, I’d like to look back at some of the highlights / lowlights of NDCS campaigns in 2009.

Highlights
The big one has to the campaign victory on acoustics, which dominated most of our campaigning activity from the past year. It was great to see all of our work, including a parliamentary event, briefings to MPs and mentions in parliamentary debates, reports on how lots of local authorities didn’t have a clue about the quality of acoustics in their new schools, all make a difference. The Government announcement in October that it would take action to require testing in new schools was a delicious moment which will make a big difference to the quality of education for deaf children.

Although it was quite a long time ago, the announcement back in January last year that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) would recommend cochlear implants as an option in one or both ears for all severely / profoundly deaf children was another biggie for deaf children. It follows lots of concerted and co-ordinated lobbying by NDCS and other deaf charities. A year on, nearly all local health bodies seem to be doing a good job with getting on with implementing the recommendations.

And although the dust hasn’t really settled on it yet, the Lamb inquiry into the special educational needs system offers the promise of lots of significant changes for deaf children and their parents. Laws are being changed as we speak by the Government to implement some of its recommendations.

For me, personally, the highlight is supporting and watch deaf young people campaigning in action for NDCS, whether at party conferences or our parliamentary events. It’s always good to see parliamentarians walk away realising what deaf children can achieve, providing they’re given the right support. It was also great to see Louis Kissaun, a deaf young star, on Shameless, the Channel 4 programme, this year.

Lowlights

The continuing failure by the BBC to provide access to its online news content continues to be depressing, especially on news stories that feature deaf children and young people. Quite a few people clearly seemed to have skipped class the day they were covering disability awareness training at the BBC.

And the continuing problems with Phonak Naida hearing aids are also a bit of a worry, though it’s good to see that the powers that be are working hard on this problem as we speak.

Predictions for 2010?

Apparently, there’s going to be a general election in a few months. Whatever the result, there are going to be a lot of new faces in Parliament and lots of new ideas for how schools and hospitals should be run. NDCS will be busy getting to grips with the new political landscape and making sure deaf children are high on the agenda.

It also looks as if we’re going to be doing a lot more campaign work around audiology services this year. More to follow on this, but a range of issues are cropping up, for example, on the training of audiologists. NDCS will be on alert making sure deaf children get the audiology services they need.

Here’s hoping it’s a good new year for deaf children and NDCS campaigns. Please do keep sending in your comments, thoughts and any stories about how deaf children in your area are doing. We’ll do our best to respond and incorporate into our campaign work. Happy new year!

How the acoustics campaign victory woz won

VictoryWell, 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?

So what was all the party conference fuss all about?

When the party conferences finished a few weeks back, I was at a stage when I couldn’t look at a MP on the TV without screaming “No! No more!” and looking wide-eyed for a hill to run up. Happily, I’ve now recovered enough to look back and attempt a sum-up of the NDCS experience at the party conferences 2009, bookending all of the daily blogs I did here last month.

Looking at the numbers, altogether, we met 57 MPs, peers and candidates for election. Of these, 27 were Ministers or Shadow Ministers, including:

* Lead on education for each party, and another four junior education ministers.
* Minister responsible for Building Regulations.
* Minister for Disability, and his Conservative counterpart.
* Minister responsible for audiology services.
* 11 prospective parliamentary candidates who are likely to be influential in the next Parliament.

Not bad, if I say so myself. All of these chin-wags helped us achieve cross party support for our campaign on acoustics which, in turn, helped us achieve our recent campaign victory and the new package of measures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families. In fact, the conferences came at just the right time for us, allowing us to do some precision lobbying at the moment it mattered.

Part of the reason why so many MPs wanted to meet with us was Louis Kissaun, our deaf young person with us, who was able to explain the issues in a more direct way to MPs. After all, it’s young people like Louis who suffer most from rubbish acoustics. Louis seemed to enjoy himself: you can read our little interview with him here.

More than anything, the conference was a chance to chin-wag, muscle in on conversations, network and have an informal chat about our work and concerns, which is something you can’t really put a price on. It was one big Mastercard priceless moment if you like. Lots of unexpected opportunities arose during the conference, like a chance encounter with a journalist from ITV Yorkshire, think tank academics working on special educational needs, other charities concerned about new schools, and so on. And not forgetting all the fringe meetings. We attended around 30 and tried to sneak in a question at every one.

By August next year, I will have forgotten how tiring three weeks of schmoozing is, and will be raring to go again…

Campaign victory for deaf children on acoustics!

Happy day!

After months of lobbying and weeks of nail-biting negotiations, the Government has today announced a new package of measures to improve acoustics in new schools. We’ve been calling for a new legal requirement for all new schools to be tested. What we’ve got is:

* A new contractual requirement for all secondary schools to be tested as part of the Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme.
* A new condition of funding – no more money for local authorities for new schools unless they can show that recently built schools are compliant with government standards on acoustics.
* An intention to consult on a legal requirement for all new schools to be tested in the future.

So, in practice, nearly all new schools will end up being tested. We’ve been promised a list of the small number that aren’t captured by the above – so we’ll know their names, and where they live…

Lots of follow up work to do now to spread the word… But come back soon for the insider info on how it all happened.

Lobbying Conservatives on deaf children: day 3

Last day at the party conferences! The travelling circus is coming to an end for NDCS tomorrow morning when we return to London. And hibernate for a month to catch up on our sleep.

Mark HarperBut not before another busy day of meetings between our deaf young supporter, Louis Kissaun, and a range of Conservative MPs and candidates standing for election. Of which a surprising number have a deaf father or grandfather (three, at the last count). One of the highlights for Louis was meeting Mark Harper MP, who is the Conservative Shadow Disability Minister. Mark really took the time to engage with Louis and ask lots of questions. Gratifyingly for us, we had very little need to lobby Mark on our concerns on acoustics and access to examinations for disabled people – he already set out his position, nearly identical to ours, before we’d even said anything. Lovely, I thought.

Richard BenyonLouis also met the MP for his school, Mary Hare school for the deaf. Richard Benyon MP was also very clued up on the needs of deaf children, realising that noisy classrooms will be exhausting and frustrating for deaf children, forcing them to concentrate twice as hard as everyone else. Another supporter signed up in Westminster.

The only downsides of the day were my failure to a) find an opportunity to ask what the Conservative’s think of Access to Work. Alas. Something to take up on our return to London… And b) take decent photos. I don’t think I’ll be giving up the day job.

It’s been a tough two weeks for Louis. But he has really excelled in representing other deaf children and young people, posing for lots of photos and being extremely patient with everyone. Apparently, he hasn’t ruled out a career in politics. So, watch this space…

Lobbying Conservatives on deaf children: day 2

If I’ve learnt one lesson today, it is not to travel to Manchester without a very good umbrella.

It’s been a wet day at the Conservative party conference. But also another good opportunity for MPs, Lords and prospective parliamentary candidates to hear from a deaf young person that deaf children can achieve anything – providing that Government takes action to break down the barriers holding them back. Once again Louis Kissaun has been spreading the word about why good acoustics are so important, and the impact that poor acoustics had on his English grades. And some of the key figures he’s been meeting include:

Michael GoveMichael Gove, the Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, and someone who’s been very supportive of NDCS in the past. In fact, he told Louis how much he admired NDCS and our campaign work. We won’t let it go to our head. Well, maybe a little bit.

Baroness VermaBaroness Verma, who is the Conservative lead on education in the House of Lords. She told Louis how she had a child with a unilateral hearing loss. She also expressed Tory support for the amendment on acoustics currently in the House of Lords. Gratifyingly, she already seemed familiar about our acoustics campaign.

Timothy LoughtonTim Loughton, Shadow Children’s Minister, who is the Conservative lead on safeguarding and social care, and was given a quick update on our concerns that deaf children are falling through the net when it comes to social care services.

We also took some time out to meet some bright young stars standing for election next year, including Priti Patel and Nick Boles, both of which had lots of questions about our work and lots of useful advice and suggestions for our campaign.

Overall, another positive day of campaigning for deaf children. Tomorrrow though, is our last day at the conferences and we still have a bit more stalking to do…