So you think emailing your MP is a waste of time?

Well, I think the 38 Degrees grassroots campaigning organisation have convincingly proved otherwise. After a barrage of emails and letters from angry constituents to MPs on the Government’s plans to sell off the forests, the Government decided to think again. MPs listened and they forced the Government to listen too. You could say that they finally saw the wood for the trees.

A nice little display of people power. And I must admit, I’m a big fan of 38 Degrees and always thinking of things and campaign ideas to steal from them for NDCS’s campaign work to force the Government to listen to concerns on cuts to help for deaf children. Can a little people power be exercised on this? And how can an organisation like NDCS help nudge this along besides the standard template emails for people to send to their local decision-makers?

A good day for trees.


Hands up for help on the telly

The BBC2 programme See Hear featured the National Deaf Children’s Society Hands up for help! campaign this week. It was a great summary of what the campaign is all about and included some good vox-pops, such as one from a deaf young person on why her visiting Teacher of the Deaf is so important. It also included a cute deaf baby if you like to go “awwww!” at such things.

Image courtesy of

One of the Mums was from Hillingdon in London and See Hear went on to interview a man from the council. He basically admitted that the council doesn’t provide better support because it doesn’t have the money. So there you have it. If you’re a deaf child in Hillingdon, you’re probably not getting a fair chance to achieve. And this situation is being repeated all across the UK.

If you’re angry about this, you can contact your councillors using NDCS’s fancy thingybob to demand they, at least, maintain spending on help for deaf children. At a time when lots of councils are making cuts, the situation in places like Hillingdon could get even worse.

Oh, and you can watch the See Hear programme online. Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

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

The National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) has been busy playing political bingo today on our last day at the Conservative party conference, trying to track down our top targets. And I don’t think we’re doing too badly. The team has now spoken to the entire Conservative front bench team on education and two of the top targets on health, as well as a few other key MPs. Very happy indeed.

It’s not been easy though finding them all though. But our young ambassador, Megan (who has her own blog), has come up with a bright suggestion to make it easier to spot out top targets in the future. Basically, all MPs should be required to wear hats. The more important the MP, the bigger the hat they should have to wear. And the Prime Minister should have a hat that can be seen from miles away. Simple.

Megan meets Chris Skidmore MP

Megan has been a powerhouse and has done an amazing job in explaining to MPs the challenges the deaf young people face. It’s also been good for MPs to meet someone who has a mild/moderate hearing loss. I think sometimes there is a perception that children with mild/moderate deafness have lesser needs than those with severe/profound deafness. I think there’s also a tendency to equate deafness = sign language users. Megan has done a great job of showing that a) deaf young people with a mild/moderate hearing loss are still “deaf ” and still need help and b) if this is help is given, deaf young people can do absolutely anything.

But enough of me, what did Megan think of today? Here’s her report from the day.

How have the meetings gone today? How did you feel when speaking to the MPs?
The meetings were interesting, and although some were more serious, others had a light-hearted air about them. I quite enjoy speaking to MPs; I would liken it to dialogue with any other person – except, perhaps, that there is more emphasis on conveying a particular idea – and I did not feel any particular unease throughout.

What did you speak to the MPs about?
I discussed my own experiences with the education system, primarily focusing on special educational needs and Teachers of the Deaf.

And what did the MPs say to you? Did they seem interested to learn about your experiences? Ask any questions?
The MPs had a variety of responses, ranging from “mhmm, yes, yes” accompanied by a series of nods, to actively discussing issues they were aware of in their own constituencies. One MP even used me as an example in one of his fringe meetings!

What else have you been up to today?
I attended some nice fringe meetings, one of which was about the coalition government and another on education. I also was stood, coincidently, in the path of the Camerons, so I was asked to stand to the side and had a brilliant view of them as they walked by.

You said yesterday conference was a bit like a school playground? Have your views changed? Do you have any views on how the conference could be different?
I believe the conference is still very much like a school playground; everyone speaking to each other before moving onto the next person and people networking left right and centre. I believe the conference, despite being somewhat hectic, is quite efficient. Although, I still say everyone should wear identification hats.

What’s been the best thing about being here at conference?
I think the best aspect of the conference is the learning environment it provides, people gather together to discuss issues, promote their own interests and in the process may become more knowledgeable on others’ issues.

And the worse?
The breakfast-in-a-bag, is certainly the least… enthusing part of the conference.

What advice do you have for any deaf young person coming to party conference in the future?
I would advise that you should be firm in your experiences, and enthusiastic. For one to enjoy the conference to it’s uppermost. It may be useful to have some interest in politics, or at least a vague general knowledge, to benefit from the diverse topics discussed within the conference.

Finally, any plans to work in politics or campaigns in the future?!
I find politics incredibly interesting and hope to embark on such a career in my future. I also enjoy campaigns, however I think I shall read law first.

A big relief to hear that we haven’t put Megan off from working in campaigns and politics. If she can handle two days with the Conservatives, then I can well imagine that in around ten years time I’ll be coming to conference to lobby Megan the newly-elected MP.

And that’s about it from Birmingham and the party conferences. Back to civilisation when full analysis to follow. Once everyone has had a proper night’s sleep for the first time in three weeks!

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

The party conference travelling circus has now dropped us off in Birmingham where we’re now busy stalking Conservative MPs, campaigning for deaf children. And we’ve now been joined by Megan, a deaf 15 year old, who has popped along to tell MPs about her own experiences of education and explain why she’s supporting the National Deaf Children’s Society Hands up for help! campaign.

And our first day has gone pretty well. We’ve managed to hit two of our top Tory targets. Firstly, Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education (and the one with a deaf sister), who got a quick briefing about some of our concerns on academies and acoustics. He was receptive, positive and promised to nag his officials for answers to our questions. And secondly, Graham Stuart MP, who is chair of the influential Education Committee which holds the Department of Education and Ofsted to account. His words of advice to the Government was that they should “just chill and get it right”. Pretty good advice, I would say.

At the end of the day, I caught up with Megan to find out how she was surviving the conference. Here’s what she had to say:

For those that don’t know, where are you and why are you here?
I’m at the Conservative Party Conference, Birmingham as a guest for NDCS, discussing my experiences with MPs with the aim of reducing cuts which would directly impact the education of deaf individuals.

Planning the day ahead at the Conservative party conference

How did the day start?
The day started at 7am, when I got up and dressed. Shortly after this, I retrieved my breakfast-in-a-bag from outside my door. We then gathered downstairs and ate, before Jess and I headed off to a discussion about climate change I particularly wanted to attend.

What did you do throughout the day?
Over the course of the day, I attended a few more discussions mostly about education. These were very intriguing and I now have a better idea of the Conservative stance on education, as well as the opinions of some of the other speakers.

How did the meetings with the MPs go? What did they learn from you?
In my opinion, the meetings with MPs were successful. I found the individuals to be diverse, some being more humorous than others. I would like to believe that the MPs left the meetings with a greater understanding and that deaf children would be taken into greater consideration when they do decide where cuts should be made.

What do you think so far of the Conservative party conference?
I think the conference is certainly interesting, different. In some ways it reminds me of a school playground, with everyone milling around in a hectic manner. I think the issues which are raised will now have a greater chance of being considered and I believe the conference reminds attendees of the many problems with the world.

How are you feeling now?
Somewhat tired, but I certainly found the experience, thus far, to be great. I doubt it’ll be one I forget any time soon.

What’s happening tomorrow? Are you looking forward to it?
Tomorrow, I have some more meetings, and yes, I am looking forward to it; hopefully, I learn something new.

Very excited to see what Megan gets up to tomorrow. Will be back again then for another update on the last day of conference campaigning for deaf children.

PS If you can’t wait until then, don’t forget you can follow us on Twitter at @NDCS_UK.

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.

Publishing more information on how deaf children are doing

Image courtesy of NDCS

The second recommendation in the National Deaf Children’s Society Hands up for help! campaign report is probably the one quickest to turn me into angry deaf man mode.

The Government must require local authorities to publish information about the level and performance of services for deaf children so families can assess whether their child is getting a fair chance at school.

NDCS did their own survey of local authorities because a lot of the information they needed on what help deaf children are getting wasn’t out there. Many services replied quickly and fully, which was great. Others did so under suffrance. NDCS is still waiting for replies from a handful. If NDCS has these problems, what about parents? Well, when we asked parents of deaf children to let us know of their experiences for the campaign report, one mother in London replied:

“It’s not easy for parents to know what the best educational options and choices there are for deaf children. There is very small provision in the units [for deaf children], which now seems the best option for my child, but I did not even know about this provision until I heard about it from other parents!”

Amazing. Why had no-one in the local authority told her? Why wasn’t the information out there in a place, easy to find, so that she could see for herself what options were available in her area? As for information about how deaf children are doing in her local authority or how many people are employed to help deaf children? Forget about it. There’s a real absence of any specific or local information about the education of deaf children, and I think it’s completely unacceptable.

Why isn’t more information published? One clue came from a meeting the other day I went to where a Head of Service for deaf children said that she suggested that some local data on deaf children’s outcomes shouldn’t be published as it might be “used as a stick to beat her with”. How awful, I thought. If more information was published, it might be used to ask impudent questions like “are the services for deaf children doing a good job?”. How impertinent! God forbid that someone might actually try to hold her to account for the service she’s providing to deaf children?!

Another excuse, and one that makes me most annoyed, is that this kind of information can’t be published because it would be “meaningless” and that each service is different, you can’t compare and that a service is actually “good” might come across as “bad”. I think such arguments patronise the intelligence of parents of deaf children. I also find it arrogant – who are professionals to decide what information should or shouldn’t be available to parents? Surely a good service has nothing to fear from being open about how it is run? Surely a good service would welcome any opportunity to tell everyone what a great job they’re doing?

Sure, publishing data takes time. And if you’ve never done it before, it’s going to take a while to set the systems up. But it does need to be done, if parents are going to be able to exercise informed choice about how to support their deaf child. I’ve met some fantastic professionals in my time working to support deaf children and I still have happy memories of the people who supported me and insisted that my mainsteam teachers have high expectations of what I could do. I also know that some professionals and Teachers of the Deaf are as frustated as I am about the resistence to seeing more information available to parents. This resistance, I think, discredits the whole profession and I think it’s time to start challenging such views.

Campaigning for deaf children at the Lib Dem party conference: day 2

On my 2nd and last day at the Liberal Democrat party conference, I managed not to get swept away by the Nick Clegg crowd. But I did make the mistake of going to a fringe meeting of the British Youth Council, where suited and booted amongst a group of Lib Dem young people, I felt around twenty years older than I actually am. Oh dear.

But yesterday was mostly spent meeting more MPs, Lords and Ladies to tell them about the National Deaf Children’s Society Hands up for help! campaign. Happily, everyone was keen to support. For each MP we met, we also provided detailed briefing notes about what NDCS’s survey of local authorities revealed about help for deaf children in their own area, which went down well. I picked up a keen desire to understand more about how the funding arrangements for help for deaf children work, and the implications of deafness being a relatively less common disability. We received lots of offers to write to local authorities and government ministers, and to raise questions within Parliament.

Sadly, I hadn’t managed to track down two of our key targets by the time I left, though my boss was still stalking them on the conference’s last evening. Very disappointing.

What has been interesting about this conference has been finding out how becoming a government coalition partner has changed the way many Lib Dem MPs work. When in opposition, there would be a group of three or four people acting as “shadow” ministers. But now instead, we have some Liberal Democrats who are Ministers and others who are acting as “spokespeople” within the party, providing a conduit from which specific backbenchers can express their views or concerns on specific issues. It rather changes the dynamics of how I might lobby various people.

Overall, it’s a been a full-on but enjoyable few days in Liverpool. Now the travelling circus moves on to Manchester for the Labour party conference weekend where my colleagues will be picking up the baton of campaigning for deaf children. Look forward to finding out how they got on.