What are auxiliary aids and why do they matter?

I was having a rummage around the attic in my parents’ house over the weekend and came across a blast from the past: my old radio aids from school.

My radio aid clipped onto my belt and had a wire that plugged into my hearing aid. My teachers or my mum would wear a microphone around their neck. And hey presto, everything said would be amplified remotely into my hearing aids.

They weren’t perfect. I could only hear what the teacher was saying, not my best friend sitting next to me. They sometimes amplified wider background noises. And, of course, the teacher would sometimes forget to turn the microphone off. Let’s just say I’ve been subject to conversations in the staff room that I really shouldn’t have.

But it did the job. I could follow lessons in the classroom. And my Mum could do her job and help me develop language. And other children loved the fact I could give them a 5 minute warning of when the teacher would be back from the staff room.

Radio aids like mine are often cited as an example of an “auxiliary aid”. It sounds like something from Star Trek but they are basically things that help disabled children in the classroom. They could also include, for example, communication support workers. Lots of deaf children get this kind of support because they have a statement of special educational need that says this help is needed. But most deaf children don’t have a statement and therefore no entitlement to this help if they need it.

Around 18 months ago, the previous Government passed a law, with cross-party support, that would legally require schools to provide auxiliary aids as a “reasonable adjustment”. In other words, schools better have a very good excuse if they didn’t provide it, if needed. A consultation has just closed on whether the Government should go ahead and bring this law into force. Better late than never.

It’s a really important change to the law and will introduce a new safeguard to help sure deaf children get the help they need. I needed it 20 years ago and deaf children today need it now. If the Government don’t hurry up and bring it into force, I’m going to seriously question their commitment to helping deaf children.


Stopping Stoke from slashing services for deaf children

A combination of holidays and post-holiday work mean I haven’t been blogging for a while. But I think I might break the silence to give an update on the Save Services for Deaf Children campaign in Stoke on Trent. Stoke has been one of the big battlegrounds from the start. 2 years ago, they had 8 Teachers of the Deaf. When deaf children start school again in September, there will just be 4. Despite this, the council still maintain the fiction that their changes will improve matters for deaf children in Stoke.

A few campaign tactics from the start have been bearing fruit recently. NDCS set up a petition early on and which attracted nearly 600 signatures. As a result, NDCS was asked to speak before the whole council last week. By all accounts, this had a big impact. One councillor wrote in to NDCS to say it was a “very moving, reasoned and inspiring speech”. The speech got a round of applause and was covered in the respected local paper too.

Encouragingly, the petition has now been unanimously referred to a scrutiny committee within the council which will look again at the decision. Though I’m not holding my breath, the hope is that the council will finally realise they cannot slash the service for deaf children in Stoke by half without it having a devastating impact on deaf children.

The moral of the blog though? Even doing a simple thing like creating and signing a petition can have a big impact in saving services.

Good news on academies and help for deaf children

Clearly this blog is very influential and being read by people at the heart of Government. Because within a fortnight of my blog about academies and deaf children, the Government took action to respond to concerns on this. Bucks Fizz all round!

The risk was that deaf children in academies wouldn’t get the help they need because of the way that the silly funding arrangements work. And that specialist support services for deaf children would lose funding.

Clearly, the Government has been listening to these concerns because yesterday they wrote to all local authorities to announce that they would be tweaking the funding arrangements so that specialist support services for children with special educational needs would not lose funding. It’s a short term, one-year, solution, pending a review of academy funding, but still a very welcome one. Here’s the NDCS story on it. A good day for deaf children.

If any Government Ministers are reading this, I also think every deaf person should be given a free I-Phone. Ahem.

Government failing deaf children in academies?

I mused a long while ago in this blog whether academies are bad news for deaf children. The way the Government is going, the answer seems to be a pretty resounding yes.

I’m not anti-academies. If it delivered a good education, I wouldn’t care if deaf children were being educated in McDonalds. What worries me is that the funding system is set up in a way that risks deaf children in academies not getting the help they need.

Charlie Swinbourne’s recent article in the Guardian explains, but in a nutshell, imagine, if you will, a pie. The local authority normally looks after the pie and gives it out according to whoever needs it most. Now allow a group of schools that decide to become independent from councils and become academies, to take a chunk of the pie and split it evenly amongst themselves.

If everyone’s need for the pie was the same, there would be no problem. But when it comes to support for deaf children, the need isn’t the same. Most academies won’t have any deaf children and so will have no need for any pie. This bit of the pie gets wasted. But the academies that do have some deaf children are only getting a tiny piece of the pie. It won’t be enough.

Worse, the more academies taking a piece of the pie, the less that is left for the local authority to give out to deaf children in other schools. At some point, the service will become unsustainable.

Not all local authorities deliver a good service to deaf children. If they did, there wouldn’t be such a wide attainment gap. But without any changes to the funding arrangements, things aren’t going to improve and the pie isn’t going to taste any better.

What really hacks me off is that none of this is new. The National Deaf Children’s Society has been raising these concerns for ages. And the Government promised – in the Houses of Parliament, no less – that they would sort it. A year on, we are still no closer to a solution. And yet the Government is still expanding and accelerating its programme for more academies through it’s new Education Bill.

The message the Government is giving? Deaf children are an afterthought and it’s OK to leave them in limbo. Is this fair?

Making sure there’s enough money for help for deaf children

Well, it’s been a week since I help the National Deaf Children’s Society launch the Hands up for help! campaign report. In that time:

* Over 250 people have contacted their MP in support of the campaign
* It’s been plastered all over BBC London news, reaching millions of viewers
* Over 200 people have joined the Facebook fanpage for the campaign
* Lots of people have also leaving details of their own experiences of help for deaf children on NDCS’s interactive map
* Over 300 people have downloaded the campaign report

Image courtesy of NDCS

The campaign’s key message – that every deaf child deserves a fair chance at school – seems to have hit a chord, among a wide range of people, which is great to see.

So what next? The report makes four recommendations for action and NDCS is going to be lobbying MPs, Ministers, Peers, councillors, local authority decision makers, anyone who will listen, to get them to take action.

The first recommendation is probably the most important. It says:

The Government must ensure adequate funding for specialist support services so all deaf children have a fair chance at school, no matter where they live.

The context behind this isn’t hard to see. We know that massive spending cuts on the way. In the past, local authority budgets have been hit hard. And with deafness being a low incidence, “invisible” disability, budgets for specialist support services have often been seen as an easy target. Anecdotally, there is evidence of vacancies for Teachers of the Deaf being frozen and of loads of local authorities exploring the scope for cuts through SEN “reviews”.

So now NDCS is going to have to make sure deafness isn’t “invisible” in discussions around budget cuts across England.

Have you come across any cuts to services for deaf children where you live? If so, leave a comment below or email NDCS at campaigns@ndcs.org.uk.

I’ll blog about the campaign report’s other recommendations over the next few weeks.

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.

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.