GCSEs attainment gap for deaf children closes!

Image courtesy of http://www.deafblog.co.uk

With the new ice age upon London, I came across some good news the other day that warmed the cockles of my heart.

After years of stagnation, the attainment gap between deaf children and other children is finally beginning to close with provisional government figures showing deaf children making a big leap in the last year. Last year, 29% of deaf children achieved the government’s benchmark for GCSE success. This year, it’s 36%, compared to 66% of children with no special educational needs.

The attainment gap is still pretty wide and there are still far too many deaf children under achieving. But the new figures do at least hold out the promise that the National Deaf Children’s Society’s campaign work to close the gap has begun to have an impact. By shining a spotlight on how many deaf children under achieve and banging on about the injustice of it, I hope the campaign has led to higher expectations for deaf children and better results. Not that I want to take all the credit for these figures…

Of course, all of this could be placed at risk if local authorities make massive cuts to their services for deaf children. NDCS is continuing to call on decision-makers to protect funding for these vital services. Members of the public can show their support by contacting their local councillors about this issue.

But for now, a nice piece of news to enter the Christmas holidays with.


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.

Awarding F for failure to exam bodies on access for deaf children

It’s the time of year again when lots of expectant young people find out how they did in their A Level and GCSE exams. So we thought it would be a good idea to remind the media about how the exam system is stacked against deaf children.

Legislation requires disabled candidates to be given the necessary support they need during exams. Yet we repeatedly get emails from parents with horror stories about their deaf child being unable to access an exam. Examples include transcripts of audio and video tapes not being provided on time, deaf children being asked questions in English about music and being asked to remove hearing aids in case they whistled during the exam (despite the fact this would cause tinnutis for the affected child).

If deaf students can’t access exams, then they’ll be less likely to get the qualifications they need for a good job that reflects their abilities. There are no excuses for not getting it right.

Exam bodies have very bad form on access to exams. Our bad beef began back in 2005 when the regulator suddenly decided to withdraw all support available to disabled candidates, apparently on the basis that this was unfair to non-disabled candidates. It was around two years, after a big campaign led by NDCS, before this support was reinstated. Since then, exam bodies have continued to grumble. They still don’t seem to really grasp their responsibility to design exams in a way that disabled candidates are able to demonstrate their abilities.

We think a fundamental overhaul is needed and, when Parliament returns, we’re going to be doing some lobbying work on the Equality Bill to try and drag exam bodies into the 21st century.

Data on how deaf children are doing at school – now out

Last week, while I was sunning myself on holiday, NDCS published the data given to us by the Department for Children, Schools and Families on how deaf children do in their GCSEs in England in 2008. They don’t make for pleasant reading:

Only 28% of deaf children got five GCSEs at grades A* to C (including English and Maths) compared to 48% of all children. Put in another way, nearly three quarters of deaf children leave secondary school having failed to hit the Government’s expected benchmark of success.

27% of deaf children hit the same benchmark in 2007, so deaf children are doing slightly better. However, all children are doing better too. As a result, the attainment gap between deaf children and all children has widened between 2007 and 2008. When we do the number crunching, we see that in 2008, deaf children were 42% less likely to as well in their GCSEs than all children.

Given that deafness is not a learning disability, 42% is a pretty big attainment gap. We’ll be doing some media work to highlight this gap and to support our ongoing campaign to close the gap.

We also have data for each of the regions in England. London fares as the region where deaf children are least likely to do as well as all children. Here, a deaf children is 50% less likely to hit the Government’s expected benchmark for success than all children.

This is the first time much of the data has been made available. Some is already hidden away on DCSF’s website in a different format – but DCSF have not published regional data, information on the attainment gaps and details of three year averages. They’ve passed this information to us because we asked for it, and have been happy for us to go ahead and publish it for them.

DCSF’s website also contains information about how other groups of children get on. I haven’t checked for this year but in the past, the gap in achievement between deaf children and all children was greater than that between a) boys and girls and b) white boys and black Caribbean boys. The achievements of all children is obviously important – but it is striking how much attention has been placed on the latter two attainment gaps.

What do you think about the gaps in attainment? Are you surprised that it’s not narrowing? And what does the Government need to do to start closing the gap?

Data on how deaf children are doing at school

Apparently, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. And then there’s a new category: figures relating how deaf children get on at school.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families have given us the latest figures on the attainment of deaf children and we intend to publish them next Tuesday with some accompanying analysis and a pretty little spreadsheet. I don’t think it will come as a huge surprise when I say the figures will confirm that there is still a large attainment gap between deaf children and all children. We’ll be doing some media work to promote the figures and to call for more support for deaf children at schools.

At the same time, I’m bracing myself for a barrage of tut-tutting. The figures are quite controversial in some quarters because they don’t include all deaf children, only those who are getting specialist support at schools. Some have argued it’s misleading to use these figures and that it demoralises professionals.

I take a different view. The figures are not perfect but they are still the best available. No evidence has been provided to suggest the figures are unrepresentative or that there is not a wide attainment gap between deaf children and their hearing peers. If there was, I’d quite happily go home and watch Hollyoaks all day.

I see the point about demoralising staff. Which is why we’re always careful to say that we think professionals are dedicated and doing a good job with a lack of wider support and funding from their local authority and central Government. In any event, should professionals working with deaf children be exempt from wider discussion and scrutiny about how deaf children are doing?

Finally, the data is used for an important end – to shine the spotlight on the education of deaf children and to persuade Government to take action. If we held off from ever using data unless it was 100% verifiable and perfect, then we may never be able to make the case for action. And all the time, the education of deaf children would suffer. And that’s not acceptable.

It’s going to be interesting to see the reaction. In the meantime, what do you think? Are we right to publish the data and to use it to shine a spotlight on education of deaf children.