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.


So what was all the party conference fuss all about?

When the party conferences finished a few weeks back, I was at a stage when I couldn’t look at a MP on the TV without screaming “No! No more!” and looking wide-eyed for a hill to run up. Happily, I’ve now recovered enough to look back and attempt a sum-up of the NDCS experience at the party conferences 2009, bookending all of the daily blogs I did here last month.

Looking at the numbers, altogether, we met 57 MPs, peers and candidates for election. Of these, 27 were Ministers or Shadow Ministers, including:

* Lead on education for each party, and another four junior education ministers.
* Minister responsible for Building Regulations.
* Minister for Disability, and his Conservative counterpart.
* Minister responsible for audiology services.
* 11 prospective parliamentary candidates who are likely to be influential in the next Parliament.

Not bad, if I say so myself. All of these chin-wags helped us achieve cross party support for our campaign on acoustics which, in turn, helped us achieve our recent campaign victory and the new package of measures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families. In fact, the conferences came at just the right time for us, allowing us to do some precision lobbying at the moment it mattered.

Part of the reason why so many MPs wanted to meet with us was Louis Kissaun, our deaf young person with us, who was able to explain the issues in a more direct way to MPs. After all, it’s young people like Louis who suffer most from rubbish acoustics. Louis seemed to enjoy himself: you can read our little interview with him here.

More than anything, the conference was a chance to chin-wag, muscle in on conversations, network and have an informal chat about our work and concerns, which is something you can’t really put a price on. It was one big Mastercard priceless moment if you like. Lots of unexpected opportunities arose during the conference, like a chance encounter with a journalist from ITV Yorkshire, think tank academics working on special educational needs, other charities concerned about new schools, and so on. And not forgetting all the fringe meetings. We attended around 30 and tried to sneak in a question at every one.

By August next year, I will have forgotten how tiring three weeks of schmoozing is, and will be raring to go again…

NDCS campaigns at Labour conference 2009: day 4

Picture3 002On our final day at the Labour party conference, on a day the sun disappeared, we were on the hunt… for someone to take responsibility for building regulations.

Our Sounds good? campaign on school acoustics has got the attention of Ministers and officials at the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), but to get what we want – a requirement for acoustic testing in all new schools – there needs to be a change to the building regulations which govern how school buildings are built. Which is the responsibility of the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG).

Sadly, though, having spoken to four Ministers who work at the Department, including the Secretary of State who in theory has overall responsibility for everything in his Department, none of them seemed entirely sure who was responsible for this issue. It was slightly worrying. In the end, one of them agreed to look into it further and get back to us.

Otherwise, the day was spent networking and going to more fringe meetings. Overall, there have been some really interesting fringe meetings over the past week. Some of the highlights include:

* The Every Disabled Child Matters meeting which featured four ministers in total. Our acoustics campaign got a mention when someone else asked about the accessibility of new school buildings. I raised a question about whether Access to Work, to pay for additional help for disabled people in the workplace, should be extended to disabled people doing unpaid internships, to help them get up the career ladder. The answer from the Minister for Disability, Jonathan Shaw, was that he would like to, but there wasn’t really any money for it. So that was that.

* At a NASUWT fringe meeting, we asked a few questions about acoustics. DCSF Minister Vernon Coaker, who used to be a deputy headteacher, asked my boss to “come and see him afterwards”. Fortunately, it was not for a detention or corporal punishment but to convey his desire to see this problem sorted out as soon as possible. He said he would ask officials to update him.

* And at a fringe meeting by Action for Children, with Baroness Morgan, Children’s Minister, in attendence, we again raised the concerns that the social care needs of deaf children are being overlooked.

Overall, it’s been a busy few days getting NDCS mentions here and there, introducing Louis Kissaun to MPs, and raising awareness of the needs of deaf children. Now we’re going to get busy drafting letters and doing all the things we promised MPs that we would do, before the next conference for the Conservatives in Manchester…

Any points you want us to raise at the Conservative conference about deaf children? Leave a comment and let us know.

NDCS campaigns at Labour conference 2009: day 3

Louis has continued today in his determination to make campaigns look easy, lobbying a further three MPs today on acoustics in schools. The MPs were:

Virendra Sharma
Virendra Sharma

Sharon Hodgson
Sharon Hodgson
Iain Wright
Iain Wright

Virendra Sharma: Louis’s local MP in London who affectionately described Louis as an “Ealing boy”. Virendra seemed particularly shocked about what we had to say on acoustics in schools – the reaction we were looking for – and has promised to raise this issue with the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Sharon Hodgson: A strong supporter of NDCS in the past and an even stronger advocate for children with special educational needs, Sharon asked Louis lots of questions about his deafness and his experiences. Louis and Sharon also had a detailed discussion about the merits of Twitter and Facebook!

Iain Wright: Another DCSF Minister, this time responsible for policy for children aged 14 to 19. Iain is familiar with our acoustics campaign having previously worked at the Department for Communities and Local Government. Again, Iain asked lots of question and also took the time to listen to our simulation of poor acoustics in the classroom. He seemed shocked by how difficult it was to make out what the teacher was saying.

With all MPs, we’ve been preparing local press releases to send out in the hope of getting some local media coverage highlighting our concerns on acoustics. Despite being camera shy, Louis has gamely posed for lots of photos with MPs!

As Louis has been a superstar, we took some time out from the conference to treat him to a game of crazy golf on the seaside in Brighton. For someone who has never played before, he managed to beat my interpreter and get a hole in one. Worringly, there seems to be no end to his talents…

Louis has now headed off back home, but we have another day of lobbying to do at the Labour party conferences tomorrow, so pop back tomorrow for another daily update.

NDCS campaigns at Labour conference 2009: day 2

Louis Kissaun with MPs Ed Balls and Mary Creagh
Louis Kissaun with MPs Ed Balls and Mary Creagh

Every now and then I get paranoid that deaf young people want to steal my job… Louis Kissaun has now joined that list of people to fear. Here’s what Louis had to say at lunchtime today about his first morning of the Labour party conference:

“I am Louis Kissaun, a 17 year old student who is now studying his last year of A levels at Mary Hare School for the deaf. I am studying Art, English Literature and Media Studies. I have also recently taken an opportunity to work and appear in a TV series called Shameless on C4.

Because of my experience of Shameless, I have been asked by the National Deaf Children’s Society to act as a representative for deaf children and young people at the Labour party conference. They have also chosen me because I went to a mainstream primary school before Mary Hare which had very bad acoustics which affected my English and Maths grades. So it’s nice to campaign for something and help others like me avoid the same struggles in lessons.

My first morning has been interesting at times. Particular the first moments with the MPs which was quite nerve racking. At one point, we met with 3 MPs at the same time, one of which was Ed Balls, the Children’s Secretary. After a few moments, I felt more relaxed and confident in explaining why acoustics is important. I feel that almost all the MPs agreed with the issues we talked about. I think we have certainly got a few more MPs on board with the campaign.

We are meeting more MPs today. I feel tired but am looking forward to it!”

What makes me fear Louis even more that he’s being somewhat modest. He did a fantastic job of explaining to MPs what it’s like for deaf children to be in a classroom with rubbish acoustics, referring back to how he used to get headaches because of the noise in his primary classroom and how he had to move to a specialist school for deaf children to be able to listen and learn effectively in the classroom.

Impressively, in a chaotic morning with MPs either being late or early, he managed to hold court with three MPs at the same time. And one of them was the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls, and another was the Minister responsible for special educational needs, Diana Johnson. Louis also later met Jonathan Shaw, Minister for Disability and Phil Hope, Minister responsible for audiology services. And if that wasn’t enough, he also met two other MPs and two people likely to become MPs at the next election. All of them seemed interested in our work and campaigns, thanks in no small part to Louis. We feel pretty confident that it will help move our campaign for better acoustics in schools forward in a big way.

Thanks to Louis, my role was pretty much limited to fetching the tea. Pah! Not bad for a 17 year old… A few more meetings tomorrow where I shall be watching out to see if Louis goes for the kill…

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

We may have peaked too soon but today at the Labour party conference was relatively quiet compared to yesterday. We had arranged to meet one MP but he forgot about it and rang us later in the day to apologise profusely. Oh dear, but as he asked to arrange something after the conference, we’re not complaining too much.

And then later in the day, the conference pretty much grinded to a halt for the Prime Minister’s speech. I watched it on a big screen alongside lots of other lobbyists / stalkers of MPs and a TV cameraman who kept shoving a camera in people’s faces to get a ‘reaction’ shot only to find that most people’s reaction was along the lines of “why is there a camera lens peering up my nostril?”

Instead, we took the time to tour the exhibition stands (and get more freebies). The exhibition stands are an opportunity for charities and other organisations to show off their work. It does cost money though – someone mentioned a cost of £13,000 for the space and for their banners – and more if you for a big garish displays to entice in the punters and MPs. The value for us is that it allows us to chat with other organisations working with children to see what scope there is to work together. Action for Children had a particularly interesting stand where MPs had been invited to say what they wanted to happen for children. Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, had written:

Every child has potential and every child can succeed whatever the barriers with the right help and all our support.

A very neat summary of what our Close the Gap campaign is all about – so quite nice to see it written down by a Government minister.

Although we haven’t met as many MPs as with the Liberal Democrats, this is to be expected since we don’t have the draw that Laura provided – after all, who wants to meet a boring old campaigns officer when they could meet a sparky clever 15 year old girl? But it’s still been a useful way of making connections and getting ourselves noticed. We’ll be using thank you letters to futher bind these new connections.

But back to London tomorrow to get ready for the Conservative party conference in Birmingham – where we have more networking to do and, importantly, more freebies to get hold of. So watch this space.

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

There is a cloud hanging over the Labour party conference in Manchester. But that’s what you get when you hold a party conference up north, rather than by the seaside. Today was day one for us at the Labour party conference, being held amidst lots of gloom about Labour’s future prospects. There is also, of course, that metaphorical cloud hanging over the conference. That said, day one has gone much better than I thought it might.

We don’t have a Laura anymore, but we do have a Jan, our campaigns officer for Scotland who has been busy telling everyone about her work for NDCS Scotland. Collectively, we had arranged meetings with 2 MPs and managed to accost a further three, plus the Children’s Commissioner for England, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, and the Head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips. Result.

Highlight of the day was Anne McGuire, who is Minister for Disabled People. Warm and friendly, she seemed very interested in our campaign work, across UK and in Scotland. She took away a copy of our campaign report, Must do better! and promised to support our campaign work in Scotland. One we’ll be following up.

We also went to a very inspiring fringe meeting held by Every Disabled Child Matters, where two Ministers spoke, plus two MPs. But, as always, the star of the show was a Corey Scott, a young disabled person who spoke about his own perspectives.

But party conferences are not just about meeting MPs and attending fringe meetings. They are also about collecting as much kitsch as you can. A lot of exhibitors are giving away lots of free stuff and, with my latent magpie tendencies, I have been collecting as much of it as I can. When the party conferences are all done, I’ll do a rundown of the best freebies from the party conferences.

More meetings tomorrow and a ridiculously early start for a 8am fringe meeting…