Making deaf children matter

Musings and blogs from a deaf campaigner

Posts Tagged ‘Department for Education’

Stolen Futures campaign video and why the Government needs to step up

Posted by Ian Noon on February 11, 2013

Image courtesy of NDCS

Well, today was very exciting. The new campaign video for the National Deaf Children’s Society Stolen Futures campaign was released. It features actor Jim Carter (him off Downton Abbey, not the ex-peacenik-President) and my heroine Dame Evelyn Glennie (her banging the drums at the Olympics). And Jim then appeared on Lorraine this morning to tell everyone about the petition. Don’t tell anyone but I’ve always had a secret crush on Lorraine. It’s that husky Scottish voice. Rrrr.

Anyhow, the video is great. Please do watch and see for yourself. But it has a serious side. Vital services for deaf children are still being cut across the UK. Deaf children’s futures are still being stolen. And the Department for Education are still buck passing. The National Deaf Children’s Society still needs 100,000 signatures to force the Department to take responsibility.

“It’s a matter for local authorities,” the Department say.

“We’ve protected funding for vulnerable learners,” they protest.

“Go and have a go at the council bosses, light some firecrackers down the council building,” they haven’t quite said but it lies near the surface.

By April 2013, one in three local authorities will have cut the vital services that deaf children rely on. Is the Department for Education seriously expecting parents from across all those areas or charitable organisations like the National Deaf Children’s Society to be able to hold them all to account? For real?

It’s the Department for Education’s money. It’s their responsibility. They need to sort it.

Hence, the petition to get them to intervene. It’s building momentum. Over 28,500 so far. Share the video with everyone you know to help them see why this is so important. Get them to sign the petition. And then get them to share the video with everyone they know. And that way we can get the Department for Education to finally step up.

Deaf children deserve better than all this buck passing.

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Social care safety nets for deaf children to be slashed?

Posted by Ian Noon on August 2, 2012

Most of the time, I can see the logic behind a government policy, even if I don’t personally agree with it. From time to time though, I come across proposals that are just manifestly completely bonkers, shoddy and ill-thought out. And that happened last week when I went to the campaign launch for Every Child in Need to hear more about proposals to weaken social care safety nets.

A bit of context first. We know from research that deaf children are pretty much invisible on the radar of social care services. We know also there’s a real lack of specialist expertise in deafness among the social work profession. And we know that sadly deaf children are more vulnerable to abuse and mental health difficulties.

So it’s pretty alarming that the Government have put forward proposals that would have the effect of making it harder for deaf children and other children in need to get the help they need. Even more alarmingly, the Government’s own impact assessment has identified that these proposals come with considerable risks for children in need. To think the Government initially planned not to bother with any consultation on these changes…

Key issues include:

* Doing away with the requirement for social care services to do an ‘initial’ assessment of children referred to them. If urgent help is needed, it will take longer for this to be identified and sorted.

* Doing away with any timescales for when a full ‘core’ assessment must be done by.

* Weakening the requirement to produce a plan of action at the end of the assessment.

The government’s rationale? Social workers should be freed from ‘bureaucracy’ and trusted to get on with their jobs. In an ideal world, this would be fine. But we live in a world instead where there are fewer social workers around, particularly any with any expertise in deafness. We also live in a world where local authorities are slashing budgets for social care services. And we also live in a world where parents of children in need continuously have to take councils to court to get the help their child needs. In this context, these safety nets are more important than ever. They’re essential.

The Every Child in Need website has lots of info about how you can support the campaign, including by signing their petition against the changes.

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What does the big special educational needs shake up mean for deaf children?

Posted by Ian Noon on July 23, 2012

The Department for Education are now full steam ahead with the biggest shake up of the special educational needs framework in England for 30 years. It certainly feels like 30 years since they announced their initial proposals but has actually only been less than 2 years. So what will the shake up mean for deaf children? Will it lead to better services and more choice for parents?

Well, despite a recent ‘Next steps’ update from the Department, some of the details are still somewhat hazy and will only become clear when the Department publishes their new laws in draft in September. Lots of the proposals are also still being tested by pilot pathfinders in 30-odd areas across England. The reforms are mega and it’ s impossible to try and summarise everything in one go. But I’ll have a go. Here’s a selection of 3 key questions and areas of uncertainty.

1) Education, Health and Care Plans

The statements are dead. Long live the Education, Health and Care plans. Yes, the statements – the legal entitlements to support that around 25% of deaf children currently have – is going to be broadened out and replaced with Education, Health and Care plans. The stated intention is to better ensure joined up working and prevent parents from having to give professionals the same information over and over again when their child is being assessed.

But will it do the job? Some key issues include:

* Existing legal protections won’t be lost (i.e. for education). But it’s not yet clear whether the plans will introduce any new legal protections (i.e. for health and social care). If it doesn’t, it kind of begs the question as to what the whole point of changing it is.

* Who will get one? When similar reforms have been done in other parts of the UK, the stated intention has been to reduce the number of children with statements. Will the same happen in England?

* Who’s going to do all these assessments? NDCS’s latest Save Services report, Stolen Futures, has found that 1 in 3 councils have cut education services since April 2011. Half of these cuts involve Teachers of the Deaf. Are the Government’s ambitions being thwarted by the cuts taking place on the ground?

* What will the plan look like? Will it have a proper focus on how deaf children should be doing and what support they need to get there? Or will it be a wiffly-waffly smiley face document of general platitudes? Some of the pathfinders seem to be going down the latter route…

2) Personal budgets

Parents who have a statement/plan will now get the chance to take control over the budget for their child’s services and buy in services from whoever they choose. The right to personal budgets will be an option and councils are expected to provide support to parents to help them navigate the system through what are sometimes known as ‘key workers’. Tricky issues here include:

* What will parents be able to buy with a personal budget?

* Choice for parents is great. But if parents chose not to buy from existing services, how much of a problem will that be?  Will existing council-run services have to wind down? Will personal budgets in effect end up actually reducing choice for other parents?

* The concept of personal budgets assumes a choice of services for parents. Yet does this really apply to educational services for deaf children? Can a parent pop down to Tesco to get a new Teacher of the Deaf?

3) The local offer

Every council will now have to say what’s available in their area for parents of children with special educational needs via a new ‘local offer’. The idea is that it will improve accountability and help parents get the information they need more readily. But…

* Will information be broken down by type of special educational need? The needs of a child with autism will be very different from that of a deaf child so how will councils produce something which is genuinely useful to all parents without cutting down the Amazon?

* Will there be a set format for a local offer? If not, how easy will parents find it to make comparisons between what’s in their own area and in neighbouring councils?

* Do parents really want a local offer? Or do they want a national offer? To be confident that the same basic services for deaf children will be available everywhere? I suspect the latter, but the Department has effectively already ruled this out.

This is barely scratching the surface and there are loads of other unanswered questions. NDCS’s response to the initial proposals sets out some of these other issues. Suffice to say, it would be a shame if the biggest, and badly needed, shake up of special educational needs reform doesn’t improve things for deaf children. So anyone with an interest in deaf education should start paying very close attention to the developing proposals in the coming months to make they do deliver for deaf children. Watch this space very closely.

If you’ve got any views on what the reforms will mean for deaf children, drop a line below – be good to hear from you.

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How I started to lose faith with the Government on deaf children

Posted by Ian Noon on December 16, 2011

I can’t really pinpoint the moment when it happened. I started with really high hopes. But slowly, I’ve personally been getting more and more exasperated with the Government. The trickle of inconsistencies. Assumptions. And, above all, the lack of urgency on protecting help for deaf children when 1 in 5 councils are making cuts to the vital services on which deaf children rely.

My main gripe is the increasing tendency for the Government to say it’s a “matter for local authorities” to arrange provision for deaf children. That councils are expected by the Government to protect funding for “vulnerable learners”. If deaf children are not getting the help they need from specialist support services for deaf children and/or where massive cuts are taking place, it’s the nasty councils’ fault. Don’t blame the Government.

The Government can’t do everything, obviously. But at the end of the day, where else does the buck stop? The Government has the legal powers to intervene in specialist support services for deaf children. But even when faced with evidence of councils making swingeing cuts to vital services and not following legal processes, it has seemed quite relaxed about the impact on deaf children. Whenever asked to intervene, we hear that the Government can only intervene in “limited circumstances”. What those circumstances are remain a mystery – the Government has refused to be drawn, despite several attempts.

I wouldn’t mind so much if this was a principled approach on not intervening. But it isn’t. Instead, there’s a rather arbitrary way of categorising what’s for local authorities to sort out and when local authorities can’t be trusted. For example, the Government appear quite unapologetic about apparently imposing academies on poor performing schools, regardless of the views of the local community – if this article is anything to go by.

The Government’s main defence is that they have a massive programme of reform underway with the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Green Paper. But many of the proposals will only benefit the quarter of deaf children that have a statement. The proposals come with a lot of risks that haven’t yet been properly assessed or mitigated. Throughout it treats children with special educational needs as a homogeneous group; there’s little in it that is directly focused on the unique needs of deaf children. But most importantly, if so many councils are making cuts, what’s going to be left by the time the Green Paper is implemented?

The article I mentioned earlier includes this quote from a Department for Education spokesperson:

“We can’t just stand by and do nothing when schools are sub-standard year after year.”

It’s a shame they seem content to stand by and do nothing for deaf children when their services are being slashed.

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