New NDCS campaign, Hands up for help!, launches

Exciting day as the National Deaf Children’s Society officially launches the new Hands up for help! campaign. It’s all go, and everything I’ve been working on for the past few months is now out there.

To see it all, just pop along to the Hands up for help! webpage on the NDCS website. Here you can download the campaign report, find out what deaf young people had to say about the help they get at school and see an online interactive map showing how the help a deaf child gets depends on where they live, not what they need.

And now the hard work begins. Once the launch is out of the way, NDCS will be looking to get the Government to do something, to make sure every deaf child gets a fair chance at school. To do that, we needs lots of people to spread the word and contact their MPs about the campaign. So please support the campaign by contacting your MP. As always, our website makes it easy to do this and you don’t need to know who your MP is. And we won’t make you feel guilty if you don’t.

You can also show your support for the campaign by downloading a special NDCS Twibbon on Twitter and/or “liking” the fanpage on Facebook.

I’ll be doing some blogs about the campaign and what the report found in coming weeks. But in the meantime, let us know your thoughts on the campaign.

UPDATE: London’s Evening Standard have done an article on the campaign. It also has a comments box if you want to leave your comments/thoughts/experiences.

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Are deaf children getting the help they need at school?

The National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) is launching a new campaign later this week, and I’ve been busy getting everything ready for the big kick off. The campaign is on a subject close to my heart: making sure that deaf children get the help they need at school.

Image courtesy of NDCS

For most deaf children, Teachers of the Deaf play a critical role in providing this help. These are teachers who’ve studied a little longer to become experts on how deaf children learn at school. Not all Teachers of the Deaf are perfect, as in all professions. But I think most do a good job, or the best they can. I have some fond memories of my Teachers of the Deaf as a child. They came and saw me every week, made sure I was being assertive over my radio aids and checked up on my mainstream teachers. They had nothing but the highest expecations for me, and pushed me hard. They also made my parents believe that I could do just as well as any other child. Best of all, their visits always coincided with RE lessons.

Academic research backs this up too. Specialist teachers make more of a difference than any other kind of help in the classroom, including teaching assistants. Teachers of the Deaf are also a key factor behind high achievement in deaf pupils.

So why are there so few Teachers of the Deaf? The campaign, called Hands up for Help! , will reveal evidence showing that deaf children across England have unfair access to help from Teachers of the Deaf. In the South East of England, for example, each visiting Teacher of the Deaf is working with over 50 deaf children. Unless they have some sort of time travelling device down in the Kent countryside, I find it very hard to believe that each visiting Teacher of the Deaf can really do everything necessary to make sure every deaf child is getting the help they need. A NDCS interactive map of specialist support services reveals some of the variations in the help that deaf children get. It also shows how deaf children are under achieving on a significant scale across England. It makes for pretty depressing reading. You can leave your own good or bad memories/experiences on the map too.

The new Government bandies the term ‘fairness’ around a lot. Well, a failure to provide deaf children with the help they need seems to be pretty unfair to me. So I’m looking forward to seeing their response to the campaign.

Come back later in the week for more details of the campaign launch.

Academies: good or bad news for deaf children?

The Queen was dragged away from her TV last week to come and open Parliament for the new Government and to read a speech written for her by the Government on new laws coming through. I wonder if one day the Queen will just say “read your own speech, I want to watch Loose Women” but that day hasn’t arrived yet.

One of the new laws she announced was the Academies Bill. Academies are a type of school which are independent of the local council. They were popularised by Tony Blair and there are now over 200 of them. The new Government wants to oversee a massive expansion of the programme.

I can see some of the pros of the proposal. Why not allow headteachers and teachers to run their own school themselves; they themselves know their own pupils best, rather than some local council bureaucrat. It’s not as if local councils have been a complete success at improving the educational attainment of disadvantaged children.

On the other hand, there some real uncertainty about specialist services for deaf children. The problem is that this is usually provided and funded by local councils. If academies are independent of local councils, the councils will have less money for these kinds of specialist support services for deaf children. Academies would have to pay for it as an extra cost. But most academies may only have one deaf child; the cost of high quality expert specialist support may be proportionally very expensive unless you have lots of academies pooling their resources. So will deaf children in academies get the support they need?

The other concern is that, in a desire to give academies more freedoms, it’s unclear whether some laws on special educational needs are being followed. For example, non-academies have to make sure that their special educational needs co-ordinators are qualified teachers. The same law doesn’t apply to academies.

The National Deaf Children’s Society will be flagging up these concerns with politicians as they debate the Academies Bill. But since there are relatively few Academies already in operation, there is a lack of information over how deaf children already in academies are getting on at the moment. Is it good, OK or bad?

If you know of any deaf children, let us know how they’re getting on by leaving a comment below or emailing campaigns@ndcs.org.uk.

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.

Will new pupil and parent guarantees make a difference for deaf children?

A busy week doing campaign work on audiology training, access to exams and British Sign Language in primary schools. In an attempt to try and juggle four things at the same time, I also wrote up a draft National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) consultation response on the Department for Children, Schools and Families’ proposed new pupil and parent guarantees for schools in England.

The guarantees are basically a write up of existing and new entitlements for children and parents in schools. So, for example, if a child is falling behind, the pupil is “guaranteed” catch up support. The guarantees detail how you can ‘claim’ your entitlements.

Usually when I write consultations responses, I end up saying something lilke: “Hello?! One in five children have a special educational need?! Duh!” in light of the often zero consideration of the needs of children, such as deaf children. But this consultation was refreshingly different – the needs of children with special educational needs or disabilities, and their entitlements, was referenced throughout. It is the first time I can recall seeing a government document about all children really “mainstream” the needs of children who need extra support. My draft consultation response is therefore generally supportive and positive, a new and unsettling experience for me.

As for the policy, people have mixed views on it. The “guarantees” alone won’t guarantee that every deaf child gets the support they need. But they could be a powerful means to an end? Where deaf children are falling behind, parents now have a new mechanism to make a fuss about it and demand they get more help. The proof will be in the pudding but it adds a new weapon to our armoury when battling to get better education for deaf children.

But what do you think? NDCS is inviting views on our draft response so let us know if you agree/disagree, or if there is any key point that we’ve missed. You can read the draft response via the NDCS website. Deadline for comments is the 19th March.

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.

Final Lamb inquiry report on SEN now out

Brian Lamb finally published his report last week on how the Government can increase parental confidence in the special educational needs (SEN) system, and just before Christmas too. After three interim reports, the Lamb reports were beginning to feel a bit like a gift that keeps on giving.

The final report makes for very interesting reading. It contains not 1, not 2, but 51 recommendations on actions needed to improve the SEN system. NDCS has given a very warm welcome to the report which addresses a range of issues from our Must do better! report on educational underachievement of deaf children and our Close the Gap campaign.

Some of the recommendations had already been published and are being acted upon already by the Government. For example, recommendations on making Ofsted inspectors more inclusive and stronger rights of appeal for parents in the statementing process are being taken forward by the Children, Schools and Families Bill. This piece of legislation is due to get its first debate in Parliament in January, and NDCS will be calling for it to get through Parliament quickly, before the general election.

Other recommendations are new and a welcome surprise to boot. Currently, schools don’t have to take ‘reasonable adjustments’ if a deaf child needs auxiliary aids (like, for example, a microphone or amplification system). It’s often provided as a part of a statement, but this isn’t much consolation to the many deaf children who don’t have a statement. So the Lamb inquiry proposes that disability discrimination laws be improved so that schools do have to make reasonable adjustments in this area. NDCS is going to be writing to the Government to stress how important this is.

Another surprise was a recommendation for a new national and independent helpline on SEN. Given the volume of calls NDCS’s free helpline gets, there would seem to be a clear need for this.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families is going to be publishing it’s formal response to all of the recommendations in January, but already they’ve issued a fairly warm response. I’ll be checking to make sure the warm words lead to warm actions.

What do you think of the report and its proposals for improving the SEN system? Is it good news for deaf children? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.