Deaf question time for education politicians

Back in January, I mentioned that a tremendous trio of deaf students from Heston Community School in west London went to Westminster to interview MPs from each of the main political parties on on their parties’ approach to supporting deaf children to help parents of deaf children decide how to vote in the upcoming general election.

The interviews have now been published by the National Deaf Children’s Society and are available on their website.

There are a few similarities between the different parties. To be expected: no party is ever going to stand on a platform for less support for deaf children and more bullying. But it’s worth reading the interviews to tease out the slight differences in the party’s approaches.

The students – Karen, Kevin and Maynaka – were all excellent ambassadors for NDCS and their school. They even managed to tease out information about what the MPs will do to celebrate if they win the general election. Answers ranged from having a good sleep, having a curry, and playing some Lego!

Am very proud of the students!


Deaf students interrogate party leads on education

It’s hard to read a newspaper these days without being reminded that this year there will be a UK general election, probably in May, and until then, I’m going to need to be very careful not to trip over any political dividing lines.

I’m with Winston Churchill when he said that “Democracy is the worse form of Government, except for all the others”. The general election is a big opportunity to hold politicians to account and tell them what our priorities are. And if you’re a parent of a deaf child or deaf yourself, chances are you're going to want to know what will be done to improve deaf children's life chances.

So with that in mind, the National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS) has recruited three young deaf students from Heston Community School in west London and given them a big mission: to come up with a list of questions on what they think are key issues for deaf children and young people, and to then take these questions to the key decision-makers in Westminster to get answers on what each party promises to do for deaf children.

Well, the students passed the mission with flying colours. Their questions ranged from funding of specialist equipment for deaf children, bullying, accessible transport and cinema subtitles. They also slipped in a question on how the MPs would celebrate if they won the general election. And over the past two weeks, they've been travelling over to Westminster to interview Diana Johnson (Labour Government Minister responsible for special educational needs), Michael Gove (Conservative Shadow Secretary of State for Children, School and Families) and David Laws (Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Children, School and Families).

The fruits of their hard work will be appearing on the NDCS website and in the magazine in March, and you'll be able to see what each party is promising to do and see if that influences your vote. The students were also filmed in action by a TV crew, so hopefully we'll be seeing them on TV as well.

All very exciting and NDCS is very proud of the students.

New sign language project launches

Back in February 2008, Malcolm Bruce MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Deafness in Westminster, asked Gordon Brown during Prime Minister’s Questions about support for sign language users. Fast forward to today and a consortium of deaf organisations were formally launching the I-sign project and celebrating £800,000 of investment from the Department for Children, Schools and Families to undergo work to raise the status of sign language in England.

I think the i-sign project is a really important and innovative project. It’s been going since early this year and brings together various strands of work which different organisations are leading on, including NDCS, BDA, Signature, RNID and others. NDCS is leading on developing a family sign language website to help families of deaf children learn useful signs for engaging with their deaf child. And we’re taking a close interest in the work being undertaken by Signature to develop a qualifications framework for communication support workers. It’s a two year project with ambitions to become self-sustaining. It’s quite refreshing to see different deaf organisations joining forces in this way.

The new Minister for special educational needs, Diana Johnson came along to the event to lend her support and meet some families of deaf children. She was quoted as saying:

“Overcoming the communication barriers experienced by deaf children is key to ensuring they get the best education possible. The Government is committed to providing parents and the school workforce the communication support they need to ensure deaf children fulfil their potential. I am delighted that we are funding such an innovative and exciting project. Developing qualifications for teachers and providing interactive materials for parents to learn sign language will help deaf children communicate effectively both at home and at school.”

And our deaf work experience student, Paul, ended up giving a short speech in front of the Minister about his own experiences growing up as a sign language user. Probably not what he expected when he joined NDCS for the summer – but we like to keep our interns on their toes…

Overall, a good day for deaf children.

Musical chairs as Government reshuffles

For political geeks like me, the last two weeks have been fascinating. How many Ministers would abandon ship? Would we have a new Prime Minister? Would the Government just implode and leave a massive cleaning bill behind?

Well, now the dust has settled, we can see who is left standing. And once again, the musical chairs reshuffle of Government Ministers means we have a few new faces in NDCS’s key departments of interest.

Perhaps the key one is at the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF). Sarah McCarthy-Fry, who was the lead Minister responsible for special educational needs, has gone. Replacing her is Diana Johnson. Who, to be honest, I don’t know very much about though I need to find out quickly.

I can see the rationale for fresh blood. But it has been less than a year since the last injection of fresh blood. And now we have a period of uncertainty as we wait for the new Minister to get up to speed. And we have also have to start again with briefing the new Minister with details of NDCS, what we’re about and what we’d like from the Government. Just like we did less than a year ago. It’s like a Governmental Groundhog Day.

Perhaps the biggest pain of all is that a meeting between ministers at DCSF and the Department for Communities and Local Government that was due to take place next week and at which we were hoping to make a breakthrough on our acoustics campaign has now been postponed. The biggest irony of all? The two ministers in question have swapped over to each other’s departments.

Obviously, Government shouldn’t be run according to what’s convenient to campaigners like me. But I can’t help thinking, does this annual rejuvenation make for good Government? I’m not so sure.