Campaigning for deaf children at the Labour party conference

My colleague has returned from the Labour party conference in Manchester in one piece which is good news. Apparently, it was all a very interesting atmopshere what with the brothers fighting it out to decide who will be leader. I assume this is referring to the Milibands rather than what’s going on in North Korea but anyhow.

It sounds like the team were rushed off their feet meeting with MPs to let them know about the National Deaf Children’s Society Hands up for help! campaign. Again, all the MPs seemed very positive and keen to do what they can to help make sure deaf children get a fair chance at school. Some examples included:

* Pat Glass MP, who seems to know more about special educational needs (SEN) than the rest of the Houses of Parliament combined. She strongly agreed with one of the recomendations of the Hands up for help! report: that local authorities should join forces to make sure that they can offer a comprehensive package of support to every deaf child. In fact, she tried to do this when she worked on SEN in London. Great minds thinking alike, etc.

* Rosie Cooper MP, whose parents are deaf and who has been a leading figure on the All Party Parliamentary Group on Deafness. She was very keen to get more information about services for deaf children in her local area and even more keen to write letters, table parliamentary questions and so on to highlight some of the issues raised in the report.

* Michael McCann, MP from Scotland. Michael has three deaf siblings. And one of his siblings has four deaf children. They should call themselves the McCann deaf factory. Again, very supportive and keen to help make sure that deaf children in Scotland get the help they need too.

I also heard that my colleague did some effective stalking and managed to track down Ed Balls MP, who used to be Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and is still a strong champion for disabled children, as well as a leading figure in the party. Rather gratifyingly, Ed had heard of the campaign and said he would read the report with interest. Very gratifying, indeed.

And finally the conference were a good opportunity to talk about wider and important non-education issues that affect deaf children – such as play and mental health services.

All in all, it sounds like another successful conference for the National Deaf Children’s Society. Next week is the third and final conference as the team heads to Birmingham for the Conservative party conference where we’ll be handing over to Megan, a deaf young person, to lobby MPs on education issues, instead of us. Really looking forward to it.


Tweeting with Ed Balls

Ed BallsI’ve been tweeting for around a month now and still finding my way around it all. But one of the things that I’ve been wondering about is who does the tweeting for the Ministers and MPs who have their own Twitter accounts?

I have now received not one but two tweets from Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Childrens, Schools and Families. Which certainly livens up my office on a Monday morning. But the cynical part of me couldn’t help thinking that it wasn’t really him and was surely just a work experience student in his office…

Well, my cynicism is ill-founded this time. At Channel 4’s first ever “twinge” at the Labour party conference, Ed Balls said that everybody doubts the authenticity but that he does in fact do all of his own tweets.

An unexpected benefit of Twitter; direct access to Ministers…

I don’t quite have the kudos of Ed Balls, but if you want to be in with a chance of a tweet from me, I’m at!

NDCS campaigns at Labour conference 2009: day 2

Louis Kissaun with MPs Ed Balls and Mary Creagh
Louis Kissaun with MPs Ed Balls and Mary Creagh

Every now and then I get paranoid that deaf young people want to steal my job… Louis Kissaun has now joined that list of people to fear. Here’s what Louis had to say at lunchtime today about his first morning of the Labour party conference:

“I am Louis Kissaun, a 17 year old student who is now studying his last year of A levels at Mary Hare School for the deaf. I am studying Art, English Literature and Media Studies. I have also recently taken an opportunity to work and appear in a TV series called Shameless on C4.

Because of my experience of Shameless, I have been asked by the National Deaf Children’s Society to act as a representative for deaf children and young people at the Labour party conference. They have also chosen me because I went to a mainstream primary school before Mary Hare which had very bad acoustics which affected my English and Maths grades. So it’s nice to campaign for something and help others like me avoid the same struggles in lessons.

My first morning has been interesting at times. Particular the first moments with the MPs which was quite nerve racking. At one point, we met with 3 MPs at the same time, one of which was Ed Balls, the Children’s Secretary. After a few moments, I felt more relaxed and confident in explaining why acoustics is important. I feel that almost all the MPs agreed with the issues we talked about. I think we have certainly got a few more MPs on board with the campaign.

We are meeting more MPs today. I feel tired but am looking forward to it!”

What makes me fear Louis even more that he’s being somewhat modest. He did a fantastic job of explaining to MPs what it’s like for deaf children to be in a classroom with rubbish acoustics, referring back to how he used to get headaches because of the noise in his primary classroom and how he had to move to a specialist school for deaf children to be able to listen and learn effectively in the classroom.

Impressively, in a chaotic morning with MPs either being late or early, he managed to hold court with three MPs at the same time. And one of them was the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls, and another was the Minister responsible for special educational needs, Diana Johnson. Louis also later met Jonathan Shaw, Minister for Disability and Phil Hope, Minister responsible for audiology services. And if that wasn’t enough, he also met two other MPs and two people likely to become MPs at the next election. All of them seemed interested in our work and campaigns, thanks in no small part to Louis. We feel pretty confident that it will help move our campaign for better acoustics in schools forward in a big way.

Thanks to Louis, my role was pretty much limited to fetching the tea. Pah! Not bad for a 17 year old… A few more meetings tomorrow where I shall be watching out to see if Louis goes for the kill…

Government opens 30 new schools – but do they sound good for deaf children?

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

Yesterday looked like a fun day for the Government; they appeared to be on a Cabinet-wide office day out when they collectively when to visit 30 schools between them. Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, seemed to cram in around five visits in one day. A man with stamina, or a beneficiary of a secret government cloning programme?

I had a bit of fun too, but without leaving my desk. Throughout the morning, I tweeted the various tweeting Ministers to ask them whether the shiny new schools they were visiting were accessible for deaf children and had good acoustics. This was done on a specially created Twitter discussion thread. It proved to be a surprising and direct way to get the Government’s attention and highlight our Sounds good? campaign for good acoustics in schools. Ed Balls tweeted back to say that he would get back to me on our concerns. Another Minister, Jim Knight, also responded.

My colleagues now fear I’ve become a tweeting addict…

Celebrating new legislation on Special Educational Needs

I went to a reception at the Department for Children, Schools and Families last week for a special reception. I knew it was going to be my kind of party when I saw they were serving Pringles. As a child, I was reknowned all around Leicestershire for my ability to eat a whole tub of Pringles in one go.

Anyhow, the purpose of the reception was to celebrate the passing of the Special Educational Needs (Information) Act. This is the piece of legislation, which I’ve blogged about a few times before, that will require the Government to collect more information about children with special educational needs do at school and was spearheaded by Sharon Hodgson MP. For deaf children, it’s an important development. If we don’t measure how deaf children are doing, how can we improve it? As the legislation was making its way through Parliament, we worked hard to lobby MPs to support the Bill.

Attending were a range of charities who had supported and lobbied for the Bill, Sharon Hodgson herself, Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, and the new Minister for SEN – Sarah McCarthy Fry.

Sarah was still only around 3 days into the job so we were not expecting her to talk at length about the Act and what will happen in practice going forward – but she did say a few encouraging words about how there was no reason why disabled children should not be doing better. Which is exactly the point at the heart of our Close the Gap campaign. Sharon Hodgson also took the opportunity to thank NDCS and all other charities that had supported the Bill – which was very nice of her.

It was a good opportunity to meet everyone and find out what’s happening next on a range of things. I did unfortunately get slightly starstruck when meeting Ed Balls. And I was even more lost for words when Sharon Hodgson gave me a peck on the cheek as I was leaving. Clearly, I’m not as cool as I thought…

Going forward though, we’ll be keeping an eye out on the Act and making sure it is used to produce lots of useful data about deaf children. And, as for me, I’m going to be trying to wean myself off my addiction to Pringles all over again.

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

We may have peaked too soon but today at the Labour party conference was relatively quiet compared to yesterday. We had arranged to meet one MP but he forgot about it and rang us later in the day to apologise profusely. Oh dear, but as he asked to arrange something after the conference, we’re not complaining too much.

And then later in the day, the conference pretty much grinded to a halt for the Prime Minister’s speech. I watched it on a big screen alongside lots of other lobbyists / stalkers of MPs and a TV cameraman who kept shoving a camera in people’s faces to get a ‘reaction’ shot only to find that most people’s reaction was along the lines of “why is there a camera lens peering up my nostril?”

Instead, we took the time to tour the exhibition stands (and get more freebies). The exhibition stands are an opportunity for charities and other organisations to show off their work. It does cost money though – someone mentioned a cost of £13,000 for the space and for their banners – and more if you for a big garish displays to entice in the punters and MPs. The value for us is that it allows us to chat with other organisations working with children to see what scope there is to work together. Action for Children had a particularly interesting stand where MPs had been invited to say what they wanted to happen for children. Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, had written:

Every child has potential and every child can succeed whatever the barriers with the right help and all our support.

A very neat summary of what our Close the Gap campaign is all about – so quite nice to see it written down by a Government minister.

Although we haven’t met as many MPs as with the Liberal Democrats, this is to be expected since we don’t have the draw that Laura provided – after all, who wants to meet a boring old campaigns officer when they could meet a sparky clever 15 year old girl? But it’s still been a useful way of making connections and getting ourselves noticed. We’ll be using thank you letters to futher bind these new connections.

But back to London tomorrow to get ready for the Conservative party conference in Birmingham – where we have more networking to do and, importantly, more freebies to get hold of. So watch this space.