Ofsted failing to inspect education for deaf children?

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Tomorrow, a recurring issue around Ofsted inspections will be under the spotlight again in Parliament…

The issue? Why Ofsted inspections of schools that cater for deaf children, for example, those with a unit or resource base, so often seem to be inspected by people with zero expertise in deafness? Parents of deaf children already get very little information about education for deaf children, so I imagine many feel patronised that Ofsted inspectors don’t seem to think it’s important enough to comment on their children’s specific needs. Or they send someone who can’t even communicate with the deaf children at the school.

The National Deaf Children’s Society submitted evidence to the Lamb inquiry on the problem so it was great that the final report recommended that Ofsted change the way it looks at education for children with special educational needs (SEN). Some other good news came when Ofsted announced it would change its inspection framework, as of September last year, to make sure that inspectors of provision for children with SEN actually have expertise in that SEN.

So it was pretty disappointing to hear towards the end of last year from a father that his deaf son’s school, which has a unit, had just been inspected, and that the inspectors didn’t engage with the deaf children at all. Only after persistent chasing, was the father able to get Ofsted to confirm that none of the inspectors had any expertise in deafness.

Tomorrow, the House of Commons will be looking at a section of the Children, Schools and Families Bill which covers the Lamb inquiry recommendation on Ofsted. We’re supporting this section of the Bill and we hope that MPs will be able to confirm with the Government that Ofsted really is going to improve the way it handles these types of inspections.

Have you got any views or experiences of Ofsted inspections of education for deaf children? If so, please have your say and leave a comment below.

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Review of 2009 for deaf children… and predictions for 2010

Well, we’re already a week into the new decade / ice age, but for my first blog post of 2010, I’d like to look back at some of the highlights / lowlights of NDCS campaigns in 2009.

Highlights
The big one has to the campaign victory on acoustics, which dominated most of our campaigning activity from the past year. It was great to see all of our work, including a parliamentary event, briefings to MPs and mentions in parliamentary debates, reports on how lots of local authorities didn’t have a clue about the quality of acoustics in their new schools, all make a difference. The Government announcement in October that it would take action to require testing in new schools was a delicious moment which will make a big difference to the quality of education for deaf children.

Although it was quite a long time ago, the announcement back in January last year that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) would recommend cochlear implants as an option in one or both ears for all severely / profoundly deaf children was another biggie for deaf children. It follows lots of concerted and co-ordinated lobbying by NDCS and other deaf charities. A year on, nearly all local health bodies seem to be doing a good job with getting on with implementing the recommendations.

And although the dust hasn’t really settled on it yet, the Lamb inquiry into the special educational needs system offers the promise of lots of significant changes for deaf children and their parents. Laws are being changed as we speak by the Government to implement some of its recommendations.

For me, personally, the highlight is supporting and watch deaf young people campaigning in action for NDCS, whether at party conferences or our parliamentary events. It’s always good to see parliamentarians walk away realising what deaf children can achieve, providing they’re given the right support. It was also great to see Louis Kissaun, a deaf young star, on Shameless, the Channel 4 programme, this year.

Lowlights

The continuing failure by the BBC to provide access to its online news content continues to be depressing, especially on news stories that feature deaf children and young people. Quite a few people clearly seemed to have skipped class the day they were covering disability awareness training at the BBC.

And the continuing problems with Phonak Naida hearing aids are also a bit of a worry, though it’s good to see that the powers that be are working hard on this problem as we speak.

Predictions for 2010?

Apparently, there’s going to be a general election in a few months. Whatever the result, there are going to be a lot of new faces in Parliament and lots of new ideas for how schools and hospitals should be run. NDCS will be busy getting to grips with the new political landscape and making sure deaf children are high on the agenda.

It also looks as if we’re going to be doing a lot more campaign work around audiology services this year. More to follow on this, but a range of issues are cropping up, for example, on the training of audiologists. NDCS will be on alert making sure deaf children get the audiology services they need.

Here’s hoping it’s a good new year for deaf children and NDCS campaigns. Please do keep sending in your comments, thoughts and any stories about how deaf children in your area are doing. We’ll do our best to respond and incorporate into our campaign work. Happy new year!

Final Lamb inquiry report on SEN now out

Brian Lamb finally published his report last week on how the Government can increase parental confidence in the special educational needs (SEN) system, and just before Christmas too. After three interim reports, the Lamb reports were beginning to feel a bit like a gift that keeps on giving.

The final report makes for very interesting reading. It contains not 1, not 2, but 51 recommendations on actions needed to improve the SEN system. NDCS has given a very warm welcome to the report which addresses a range of issues from our Must do better! report on educational underachievement of deaf children and our Close the Gap campaign.

Some of the recommendations had already been published and are being acted upon already by the Government. For example, recommendations on making Ofsted inspectors more inclusive and stronger rights of appeal for parents in the statementing process are being taken forward by the Children, Schools and Families Bill. This piece of legislation is due to get its first debate in Parliament in January, and NDCS will be calling for it to get through Parliament quickly, before the general election.

Other recommendations are new and a welcome surprise to boot. Currently, schools don’t have to take ‘reasonable adjustments’ if a deaf child needs auxiliary aids (like, for example, a microphone or amplification system). It’s often provided as a part of a statement, but this isn’t much consolation to the many deaf children who don’t have a statement. So the Lamb inquiry proposes that disability discrimination laws be improved so that schools do have to make reasonable adjustments in this area. NDCS is going to be writing to the Government to stress how important this is.

Another surprise was a recommendation for a new national and independent helpline on SEN. Given the volume of calls NDCS’s free helpline gets, there would seem to be a clear need for this.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families is going to be publishing it’s formal response to all of the recommendations in January, but already they’ve issued a fairly warm response. I’ll be checking to make sure the warm words lead to warm actions.

What do you think of the report and its proposals for improving the SEN system? Is it good news for deaf children? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Shake up for Ofsted inspections of deaf children

Last week, I blogged about the first of two interim reports from the Lamb inquiry into parental confidence in the SEN system. The second one looked at an issue which NDCS has been pestering the Government about for ages – the deaf awareness of Ofsted inspectors.

The pestering commenced last summer when we published our Must do better! report into the barriers holding deaf children back at school. In it, we called for a stronger focus on deafness at Ofsted, pointing out that if inspections of provision for deaf children are not conducted with the necessary rigour, underpinned by good awareness and expertise in deafness, Ofsted cannot play an effective role in driving up standards for deaf children. If the line sounds rehearsed, then it’s because it’s something I’ve been saying with alarming regularity since then.

For example, earlier this year, we asked Glenda Jackson MP to table a PQ about it which elicited an interesting reply from Ofsted. We followed this by briefing the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee on this issue. John Heppell MP directly challenged the Head of Ofsted on the issue. And more recently, we sent a submission to the Lamb inquiry highlighting some of the examples we’d come across of Ofsted inspectors being deaf unaware.

All of this has culminated in the Lamb inquiry proposing that a) Ofsted inspectors should be specifically required to report on provision for children with special educational needs in all school reports and b) that inspectors should have more disability awareness training. The Government has already accepted these recommendations.

I’m not sure NDCS can take all of the credit for this, but I think we’ve been a leading figure in putting the issue on the agenda. If anything, we deserve an award for refusing to shut up about it. And now we’ve got a great result which should result in big improvements in the way Ofsted do inspections.

What do you think? Do you think it will have a positive impact? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

New rights for parents of deaf children

The Lamb inquiry into parental confidence in the special educational needs system pumped out two more interim reports on Monday. The first one was on the quality of statements of support for children with special educational needs. And it contained a recommendation that left some of my colleagues flabbergasted – a new right for parents to appeal if the statement for their child is not updated or modified to reflect changing need.

Lots of parents have told NDCS that statements seem to be set in stone once they are drafted. So a child moving to secondary school might still have the same statement they had when they had as a very young child. There are apparently examples of statements for older children saying that a child is not yet toilet trained. Children don’t stay the same forever, so why should statements? NDCS stressed this point in our formal submission to the Lamb inquiry.

Currently, statements should be annually reviewed and a parent can ask for an interim review. But the local authority doesn’t have to change the content of the statement unless the parent demands a re-assessment, a long and painful process for many parents to contemplate.

So the recommendation, which has already been accepted by the Government, is big news, which is likely to make a big difference. Another recommendation that guidance should be produced for local authorities on how to draft statements will also helpfully shake things up. Part of me still wonders whether more needs to be done to monitor and check the quality of statements but maybe that will come in the final Lamb inquiry report, due out in the autumn.

And I haven’t even started on the second interim report which had also offers the promise of more big changes for deaf children and Ofsted. Come back soon for more info on this…

How to improve parental confidence in the education system?

That’s the question the Lamb Inquiry is currently looking at since last year after being asked by the Government to hold an inquiry on the special educational needs (SEN) system and why so many parents feel like they have to wage war to get support for their child.

We’ve been feeding in some informal thoughts but now NDCS is going to be producing a formal response which I’m currently working on. I spent much of today in a meeting with one of my colleagues to find out more about what parents of deaf children have fed back to us over the years. And one big issue that comes up time and time again is the process of how a child comes to get a statement, which sets out their entitlements to support at school, and how the SEN Code of Practice is followed in practice.

Some of the key points that seem to be emerging include:

* Lots of statements tend to be vague about a deaf child’s needs and what impact deafness has on their daily life. This makes it difficult to then specify what support is needed on a practical basis.

* Local authorities are often very reluctant to specify exactly what support the child needs / will get. For example, it might say that the child should have access to a communication support worker. But it won’t say how often or what skills the communication support worker should have. Some local authorities apparently have a policy of never being too specific on statements to avoid having to make commitments they made not be able to afford.

* Annual reviews of the statement sometimes seem to be just a talking shop. Parents are sometimes not provided with the necessary papers beforehand. Others find the meetings intimidating. Children’s views are not always sought. And perhaps worse, if a child’s objectives are not met, a few parents report that last year’s objectives are just copied and pasted into next year’s objectives, rather than using the annual review as an opportunity to problem solve why the objectives have not been met and work out what other support is needed.

One Family Officer said that in all her years of supporting parents on statements, she had “not come across one OK, let alone good, statement”.

What do you think? If you’re a parent of a deaf child, what have you been your experiences of the statementing system? What needs to be done to improve things? I’ll factor in any thoughts into the formal response.