5 reasons to stop what you’re doing and write to your MP

I’ve been looking at some of our internal statistics… and more people seem to be reading my blog than writing to their MP to tell him/her about our campaign!

So for this post, I’d like to encourage you to write to your MP about our Must do better! campaign report. Get him/her to ask the Department for Children, Schools and Families to implement the recommendations of our report.

Click here to write to your MP. Or here. Here will do as well.

Still unpersuaded? Here are five good reasons to write to your MP.

1) We have special software on our website that makes it quick and easy for you to do this. If it takes you longer than 5 minutes, I’ll give you a Malteser to compensate you for your time.

2) You don’t need to know who your MP. Just type in your details and we’ll work it out. We promise not to tell anyone that you don’t know.

3) We write a draft letter for you so you don’t have to do any work. You can just email it straightaway at the click of the button or you can print it off, sign it and pop it in the post. And if you want to personalise the letter so you sound less like me, you can do that too.

4) You’ll help us make a difference. MPs do take notice of these things. They’re scared of you because you can drive them out of a job. So you can use that power to get MPs to take notice of the fact that deaf children are being let down. The more MPs that take notice, the more the Government takes notices, and the more the Government notices, the more the people who have the power to change things start to change things for the better.

So it it all starts with you.

5) And finally, you’ll make me happy. You can also make me happy by buying me some chocolate digestives but I’ll settle for writing to your MP.

Here’s the link again.

And if you’ve already done it, why not email your friends and family to tell them all about it? We have special software that allows you to do that too!


Don’t mention the phonics!

So after all that hard work in getting our campaign report written, published and launched, what have we achieved? Have we changed the world for deaf children and campaigned ourselves out of existence? Or was it all as pointless as Ray Quinn? Let’s take a look at what’s happened in the past month…

1) All MPs received a copy of the report and quite a few of them wrote to the Department for Children, Schools and Families to ask what the Department was doing about educational under achievement of deaf children. Quite a few replies have started trickling back to us. In one letter I’ve seen, Lord Adonis, the Minister responsible for children with special educational needs (SEN), says:

We support the aspirations of those, like the National Deaf Children’s Society, who believe that the perfomance gap between children with a physical or sensory impairment and children without special educational needs should be eliminated.

Ahh. The letter also says:

Our priroirty is to personalise learning, by focussing on each pupil’s progression, so that every child achieves their potential, whatever their starting point. High quality, systematic phonics… should be the prime approach for teaching children to read.

Arghh! Phonics is a way of teaching literacy to children which basically involves listening to the sounds of words. Because it involves listening, our report specifically says that the emphasis on phonics can sometimes be inappropriate for teaching many children literacy. So why is phonics being advocated as the prime approach? Slightly frustrating.

2) MPs have also been tabling questions in parliament on our behalf. Just before Parliament closed down for the summer, both Michael Gove and Simon Hughes asked about deaf children, which elicited an interesting reply. In one excerpt, the Minister says:

Our renewed literacy strategy builds on Sir Jim Rose’s independent review of the teaching of early reading by putting phonics at the heart of teaching reading in order to help to raise attainment levels amongst all pupils.

Arrrghhh! Phonics again!

3) We also managed to get lots of local papers from across the UK, from Glasgow to Cambridge covering our campaign, and highlighting how their local MP was supporting it. Here’s an example from Glasgow about Jim Murphy‘s support for our campaign.

Close the gap press cutting

Local press coverage like this is helping us spread awareness of the problem across the UK. Disability Now magazine also covered the story.

4) Finally, Lord Adonis has agreed to meet with NDCS in September. This is very good news, and will hopefully allow us to explain in person why the need for action is so urgent. And why I go “Arrrgh!” everytime I hear the word ‘phonics’. We’re currently thinking up our ‘hit list’ of things we want to ask him to do.

My overall assessment? Well, we haven’t changed the world, but then that was never really going to happen overnight. Some of the replies coming through so far are slightly disappointing in their emphasis on phonics, suggesting that key civil servants haven’t really digested this point.

But I hope we’ve created a wide and warm base of support from which seeds of action may grow. It is encouraging that MPs are raising issues relevant to us – sometimes at our prompting but often at their own behest. Clearly we have some way to go – but we’ve made some small steps forward.

What’s your assessment? Let me know your thought while I take some big steps forward towards the pub.

Keeping Mum sweet: NDCS campaign planning

My Mum once made me promise that I would never become an MP because “MPs never keep their promises”. Well, if my Mum is reading this now, I hope this post convinces her that campaigners DO keep their promises – as promised in a recent blog, here’s where I attempt to compare how my rhetoric on campaign planning matches the reality. As it’s going to the main focus of my work in the coming month, I’m going to outline the planning behind our Close the Gap campaign.

1) Objectives:
Our overall objective is clear. We want to close the gap. In other words, we want deaf children to be achieving the same as their hearing peers. Deafness is not a learning disability – so I personally think it’s outrageous that deaf children are 42% less likely to get 5 good GCSEs at school than other children. I also find it incredibly depressing that some people don’t seem so surprised or think that deaf children are doing well if they are ‘coping’. As part of this, we have a number of secondary objectives to remove the barriers that hold deaf children back. I won’t list them all here – but they cover things like audiology services, family support, mainstream school provision and so on.

2) Targets:
Our principal target is the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), who have the power to remove many of the barriers that hold deaf children back, so we’ve been working and meeting with DCSF Ministers and their civil servants. To influence the Department, we are working with and talking to a range of other charities and think tanks who share our concerns, to work together in raising key issues. We are also working with the media to help them get them on board too.

3) Messages:
When writing about educational achievements of deaf children and the barriers holding them back, one of the challenges has been to try and keep the message simple. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of getting lost in the detail. For example, one of our objectives is to improve the local authority performance management framework. This means getting into policy on local indicators, disability equality impact assessments, the use of data and so on. Well, I’m bored already. And actually, at the end of the day, it kind of just boils down to making sure that council workers make deaf children matter and act on their needs.

4) Timing:
The scale of under achievement by deaf children is such that we probably would have been campaigning on this whenever. As it is, the policy mood has definitely shifted in the past few year and policy makers have been talking about the needs of disabled children much more. The Treasury did a report on Aiming High for Disabled Children and the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign group has been really effective in getting the needs of disabled children on the agenda. It feels like MPs and civil servants are really receptive to arguments and debates on the education of children with disabilities.

5) Tactics:
I could write a whole blog on this – and I probably will – but we’ve tried to use a range of tactics to get people talking about the need to close the gap. We’ve worked with MPs to try and raise awareness of the issue in Parliament. We’ve also been trying to get our members involved by getting them to write to their MP. One MP has tabled a motion (kind of like a parliamentary petition) to call for action on this. Others have spoken about the needs of deaf children in parliamentary debates. Our hope is that DCSF are taking note of MPs interest in this – and thinking about how to address their concerns.

Later this month, we’ll be deploying another tactic – a campaign report. This will set out in more detail what we think the barriers are, and what the Government needs to do about it. Watch this space for more information on that.

Again, lots of stuff I haven’t mentioned, but what do you think? Grateful for any thoughts on our planning for this – and any suggestions for improvements.

In the meantime, I’m off to tell Mum I’ve been a good boy today.