New education laws to improve education for deaf children

Originally uploaded to Flickr by Joep R.

Yesterday, Parliament shut up shop. MPs were booted out. Maybe even chucked into the River Thames. But before they all went back to their constituencies, last week they were busy trying to pass lots of laws before Parliament dissolved. And two new bits of law were created which are worth getting a little bit excited about.

These are the Children, Schools and Families Act and the Equality Act. The former introduces a new right of appeal for parents of deaf children if their local authority refuses to update their statement for special educational needs support needed at school. And the latter makes a major changes to disability discrimination law by saying that disabled children now have the right to specialist equipment like radio aid microphones. Previously, this was only guaranteed to disabled children if it was included in their statement of support. A rather strange get-out clause for schools has now been closed.

Why are they important? Government figures from last year suggest that deaf children are 42% less likely to do as well in their GCSEs as other children. It’s an obvious point but unless deaf children are getting the support they need, we won’t close the gap in attainment. I think the Government deserves some plaudits for getting these new laws on the book.

The bad news is that the proposed new law on pupil and parent guarantees didn’t make it in the end. The week before Parliament is dissolved is known as the “wash-up” period where MPs take all their dirty coffee cups to the kitchen and where the Government and the opposition party also have to agree what laws will pass in the short time left. The guarantees didn’t get cross-party support so they fell by the wayside. I thought it was a shame. The guarantees wouldn’t have changed the world overnight for deaf children. But they could have been an important means to an end; of setting out new entitlements that would, again, have helped make sure that deaf children get the support they need.

Still, a nice little bookend to the last parliamentary session. More information about the new laws is on the NDCS website.

What do you think? Will the new laws make a difference? What else needs to be done to close the gap? As always, good to hear your thoughts.


What will the Conservatives do for disabled children?

While I was off in Scotland last week looking for the Loch Ness monster, David Cameron was busy setting out the Conservative party’s stall on policy towards disabled children.

It made for very interesting reading. Some interesting points jumped out at me:

1) Instead of subjecting parents to repetitive assessments by different professionals, a ‘crack team’ of professionals should visit families at the same time to assess what support is needed – in terms of social care, benefits, etc. The idea is that a one stop shop will reduce the bureacratic experience faced by many parents.

2) Decisions about what education support a disabled child should be given should be based on their needs. Yet too many parents feel that the local authority cares more about how much it’s going to cost them. At the moment, the same people who do the assessments are the same people who pay for it. In response, David Cameron has pledged to look into making assessments independent of decisions about funding.

3) The Conservatives seem to want to end the trend towards closing special schools ending – to ensure that disabled children aren’t put into mainstream provision where this is inappropriate and to give parents more choice.

The above chime with much of what NDCS is calling for as part of our Close the Gap campaign – and so is something to be welcomed. Personally, I’d like to hear more about the Conservatives will be closing the gap in attainment between deaf children and their hearing peers. Will there be more specialist support funded, for example?

We’ll be keeping an eye out for more policy announcements from the Conservatives to see what they might mean for deaf children. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on the above?

Data on how deaf children are doing at school – now out

Last week, while I was sunning myself on holiday, NDCS published the data given to us by the Department for Children, Schools and Families on how deaf children do in their GCSEs in England in 2008. They don’t make for pleasant reading:

Only 28% of deaf children got five GCSEs at grades A* to C (including English and Maths) compared to 48% of all children. Put in another way, nearly three quarters of deaf children leave secondary school having failed to hit the Government’s expected benchmark of success.

27% of deaf children hit the same benchmark in 2007, so deaf children are doing slightly better. However, all children are doing better too. As a result, the attainment gap between deaf children and all children has widened between 2007 and 2008. When we do the number crunching, we see that in 2008, deaf children were 42% less likely to as well in their GCSEs than all children.

Given that deafness is not a learning disability, 42% is a pretty big attainment gap. We’ll be doing some media work to highlight this gap and to support our ongoing campaign to close the gap.

We also have data for each of the regions in England. London fares as the region where deaf children are least likely to do as well as all children. Here, a deaf children is 50% less likely to hit the Government’s expected benchmark for success than all children.

This is the first time much of the data has been made available. Some is already hidden away on DCSF’s website in a different format – but DCSF have not published regional data, information on the attainment gaps and details of three year averages. They’ve passed this information to us because we asked for it, and have been happy for us to go ahead and publish it for them.

DCSF’s website also contains information about how other groups of children get on. I haven’t checked for this year but in the past, the gap in achievement between deaf children and all children was greater than that between a) boys and girls and b) white boys and black Caribbean boys. The achievements of all children is obviously important – but it is striking how much attention has been placed on the latter two attainment gaps.

What do you think about the gaps in attainment? Are you surprised that it’s not narrowing? And what does the Government need to do to start closing the gap?

NDCS supports call for action on inclusion

As well as being an opportunity to eat lots of easter eggs, Easter is traditionally the time of the year when teachers get together for their various conferences. The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Woman Teachers or NASUWT have been busy this week debating the difficulties teachers face in making inclusion of children with special educational needs a reality in the classroom.

This chimes with much of our campaign work to Close the Gap in how deaf children do at school compared to their hearing friends. So we issued a press statement in support. And here is what we said:

“The National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) is supporting the NASUWT’s call for action on inclusion. NDCS believes all deaf children have a right to an education that makes them feel fully included in the life of the school and ensures that they make the same educational progress as their hearing peers. To achieve this, a continuum of provision is needed to ensure that the education service meets the needs of all deaf children. Too often, this is not available and children are expected to adapt without the support they need. As a result deaf children continue to under achieve – deaf children were 41% less likely to achieve 5 GCSEs at grades A* to C, including. English and Maths, in 2007.

A significant number of parents regularly contact the National Deaf Children’s Society with concerns that their child is not receiving his or her entitlement to appropriate education. When we investigate, we often find frontline classroom teachers trying their best in very difficult circumstances without the required support and advice to meet the pupil’s needs.

Teacher’s need more support. When a child with special educational needs enters the classroom, teachers should automatically be given training, access to qualified specialist support and guidance on how to adapt the curriculum for their needs.

We support NASUWT’s call that inclusion needs to be addressed. Government and local authorities need to take action to ensure that inclusion is a reality for all deaf children.”

There you have it. I’m now going to go back to wondering how to pronounce NASUWT…

An end and a beginning for deaf children in Westminster

Last week, the parliamentary year ended. And then this week, a new one began. Nobody did an Auld Lang Syne, though the Queen did dress up a bit and hit the town.

With the end of the parliamentary year, all parliamentary petitions (known as early day motions) were wrapped up and no more signatures could be added to them. So we did a bit of number crunching to see how many MPs supported one or both of the two early day motions that were tabled in the last year on deaf children and education. These were early day motions 592 and 1607. Both called on the Government to take action to close the gap in attainment between deaf children and their hearing peers, and both pointedly pointed out that deafness is not a learning disability.

And the total number of MPs came to…. 156. Considering there are 645 MPs, this is nearly a quarter of all MPs. Since Ministers or anyone with a small part in running the machinery of Government cannot sign an early day motion, 156 is really quite good. I’m pleased. It’s allowing us to say that one in four MPs support our campaign.

But we won’t be looking back. On Wednesday, the Government set out it’s priorities for the future and its legislative plans for the year ahead via the Queen’s speech. NDCS did a news item on this, setting out the Bills that NDCS is going to be paying close attention to. For example, the proposed Equalities Bill might provide us with an opportunity to put forward changes that will benefit deaf children. This will be a big piece of work for us going forward. The proposed Children, Learning and Skills Bill might also be an opportunity for NDCS as well.

So its out with the old and in with the new…

PS Did you spot anything in the Bill that caught you eye or which might positively impact on deaf children? Let us know any thoughts you might have…

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.

Asking questions about deaf children in Westminster…

One MP who has been very supportive of NDCS’s work is Tom Levitt. He’s one of the few MPs in Parliament with a qualification in sign language and has given deaf awareness training in a previous life.

And, prompted by our campaign to close the gap in educational attainment between deaf children and their hearing peers, he’s also tabled a parliamentary question on our behalf which we’ve been told will be getting a reply on the 10th November. The question is:

To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, what progress has been made in narrowing the gap in educational attainment between deaf children and their hearing peers; and what further steps he intends to take to further narrow the gap.

Will be looking forward to seeing what the Department for Children, Schools and Families say…