Campaigning for deaf children at the Conservative party conference: day 1

The travelling circus has now moved to Birmingham where the Conservatives are finishing off the party conference season. As we’re still knackered from the last two and as we have a busy day tomorrow, we took today a bit easy – but still managed to go along to two fringe meetings and meet some of our fellow charity campaigners on the travelling circus to see what they’re up to.

Our first fringe meeting was on the role of schools in promoting well-being in children, an issue we’re likely to be looking at in more detail in the near future in relation to deaf children. There was a lot of discussion about the well-being needs of children with special educational needs. I came dangerously close to becoming an angry deaf man when one man, a school governor, suggested that the needs of children with special educational needs shouldn’t overshadow a focus on the needs of gifted children. My immediate thought was that many children with special educational needs would be gifted if they had the right support and focus on their needs! It was a disconcerting point of view to hear. On the plus side, after the meeting, we managed to persuade a leading MP to come and visit a school for deaf children. And the hamburgers served up during the meeting were quite nice.

Later on, we went to the Every Disabled Child Matters fringe meeting. They’re campaiging on disabled children having more places to go and play – and have produced a very excellent video of disabled children talking about their own experiences and frustrations. It had a powerful impact, and reminded me that campaigns tend to pack a more powerful punch when it gives a voice to the people directly impacted.

A packed day tomorrow, and lots of MPs to stalk. Watch this space.

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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.