Conservatives sets out education plans… but what does it mean for deaf children?

Image courtesy of www.conservatives.comThe Conservative party launched their draft manifesto on education yesterday. It’s not very long and makes for very interesting reading for those wondering what a Conservative government might mean for deaf children and other children with special educational needs and disabilities.

One of the most interesting points for me, that hasn’t really been picked up by the media, is the line that says: “We will call a moratorium on the ideologically-driven closure of special schools and end the bias towards the inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools.”

What this might mean in practice? Are we likely to see a trend of more schools for the deaf opening under a Conservative government? How will any ‘bias’ towards inclusion in mainstream schools be addresssed? Lots of food for thought…

If you’re interested, NDCS has issued a statement giving their initial response to the draft manifesto. What’s your response? Be interested to hear your thoughts on their proposals…

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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?

Campaigning for deaf children at the Conservative party conference: day 2

One of the ways a charity can punch above its weight at the party conferences is go to lots of fringe meeting and ask a question to the speakers at the end. It gets you noticed and gets you attention as a player in the game. It also means people know who you are afterwards, and can lead to all sorts of new connections. This is advice that our Director of Policy and Campaigns has been taking up at virtually every single opportunity throughout the party conference. And today, in a very interesting fringe meeting hosted by RNID, Treehouse and NUT on special educational needs and inclusion, he took the opportunity to ask about the tension between national standards and local autonomy. In other words, people often talk about the importance of delegating funding and decisions to schools – but does this make it more difficult to ensure that deaf children still get the support they need and expect across the UK? It’s a good question, and triggered an interesting debate and, I suspect, some thought-provoking, in the audience.

Apart from lots of fringe meetings, we’ve also met with a few MPs, either pre-arranged or we’ve grabbed them as they passed by. As with the other party conferences, all MPs have been supportive of our aims to ensure the best possible start for every deaf child and keen to help in whatever way they can. One MP seemed keen to start hosting parliamentary meetings on our behalf which was a very welcome suggestion.

But our time at the party conference is now pretty much over. We head back to London tomorrow to start all the follow ups and all the thank you letters for everyone we met with, importantly, details for them of what practical things they can do to support us. I, for one, am absolutely knackered. One party conference is tiring. Three in a row is exhausting. So whilst its been fun, I’m more than happy to be returning to my bed back in my flat. Once I’ve had a good night’s sleep, I’ll be doing a post mortem of the past few weeks and a summary of what we’ve achieved. And asking the question whether our near-exhaustion was worth it.

Oh, and I’ll also be doing an in-depth comprehensive analysis of the freebies on offer. Don’t miss it.

Campaigning for deaf children at the Conservative party conference: day 1

The travelling circus has now moved to Birmingham where the Conservatives are finishing off the party conference season. As we’re still knackered from the last two and as we have a busy day tomorrow, we took today a bit easy – but still managed to go along to two fringe meetings and meet some of our fellow charity campaigners on the travelling circus to see what they’re up to.

Our first fringe meeting was on the role of schools in promoting well-being in children, an issue we’re likely to be looking at in more detail in the near future in relation to deaf children. There was a lot of discussion about the well-being needs of children with special educational needs. I came dangerously close to becoming an angry deaf man when one man, a school governor, suggested that the needs of children with special educational needs shouldn’t overshadow a focus on the needs of gifted children. My immediate thought was that many children with special educational needs would be gifted if they had the right support and focus on their needs! It was a disconcerting point of view to hear. On the plus side, after the meeting, we managed to persuade a leading MP to come and visit a school for deaf children. And the hamburgers served up during the meeting were quite nice.

Later on, we went to the Every Disabled Child Matters fringe meeting. They’re campaiging on disabled children having more places to go and play – and have produced a very excellent video of disabled children talking about their own experiences and frustrations. It had a powerful impact, and reminded me that campaigns tend to pack a more powerful punch when it gives a voice to the people directly impacted.

A packed day tomorrow, and lots of MPs to stalk. Watch this space.

Party conferences: NDCS’s plans to stalk MPs

The political party conferences are coming up in September. There are where all the MPs and members for each party get together. Depending on the political mood in the party, MPs will be talking about how wonderful it is that the general public seem to like them or wondering what poison to put in their leader’s tea. They have lots of meetings and speeches and debates and pass motions and talk about policy.

The party conferences tend to be in seaside towns, giving MPs the opportunity to stock up on their ‘Kiss-me-quick’ hats. But this year, only the Liberal Democrats are going for a seaside feel by hosting their conference in Bournemouth. Labour are heading to Manchester and the Conservatives are in Birmingham.

As all the MPs for each party are all in one place, it is the best opportunity any campaigns officer gets to lobby lots of people at once. So the party conferences are also full of people like me who go in the aim of persuading key decision makers to support their campaigns. It sometimes rather feels like stalking. Last year, I took this to a new level by going to three meetings where one particular MP was speaking before finally nabbing him as he was leaving the third meeting and asking him to table a motion in Parliament about deaf children and education. I’m pleased to say that my stalking paid off.

And we’ll be doing the same this year. Right now, I’m currently sorting out all the arrangements for this – arranging meetings with MPs, looking up the list of seminars that key MPs will be speaking at, deciding what our key messages will be, sorting out travel/hotel stuff and so on. To complicate things, I also have to sort out the arrangements for my interpreter, who will be accompanying me this year to help with communication support, as well. It makes me long for the gift of time. Or a PA. Or some chocolate biscuits.

To make things a bit different this year, we are taking along a young deaf person with us to one of the party conferences – she is called Laura and you may have been watching this space for her after I blogged about meeting her quite recently in Newbury. The idea is that we give MPs the opportunity to hear from a young deaf person directly about some of the things that matter to them. We’ll see how it goes this time and try and do it all the time in the future. I’m pretty confident that Laura will do a great job and am looking forward to seeing what she thinks of it all.

Look out for more blogging updates on the party conferences and I’ll let you know how it all goes.