How I started to lose faith with the Government on deaf children

I can’t really pinpoint the moment when it happened. I started with really high hopes. But slowly, I’ve personally been getting more and more exasperated with the Government. The trickle of inconsistencies. Assumptions. And, above all, the lack of urgency on protecting help for deaf children when 1 in 5 councils are making cuts to the vital services on which deaf children rely.

My main gripe is the increasing tendency for the Government to say it’s a “matter for local authorities” to arrange provision for deaf children. That councils are expected by the Government to protect funding for “vulnerable learners”. If deaf children are not getting the help they need from specialist support services for deaf children and/or where massive cuts are taking place, it’s the nasty councils’ fault. Don’t blame the Government.

The Government can’t do everything, obviously. But at the end of the day, where else does the buck stop? The Government has the legal powers to intervene in specialist support services for deaf children. But even when faced with evidence of councils making swingeing cuts to vital services and not following legal processes, it has seemed quite relaxed about the impact on deaf children. Whenever asked to intervene, we hear that the Government can only intervene in “limited circumstances”. What those circumstances are remain a mystery – the Government has refused to be drawn, despite several attempts.

I wouldn’t mind so much if this was a principled approach on not intervening. But it isn’t. Instead, there’s a rather arbitrary way of categorising what’s for local authorities to sort out and when local authorities can’t be trusted. For example, the Government appear quite unapologetic about apparently imposing academies on poor performing schools, regardless of the views of the local community – if this article is anything to go by.

The Government’s main defence is that they have a massive programme of reform underway with the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Green Paper. But many of the proposals will only benefit the quarter of deaf children that have a statement. The proposals come with a lot of risks that haven’t yet been properly assessed or mitigated. Throughout it treats children with special educational needs as a homogeneous group; there’s little in it that is directly focused on the unique needs of deaf children. But most importantly, if so many councils are making cuts, what’s going to be left by the time the Green Paper is implemented?

The article I mentioned earlier includes this quote from a Department for Education spokesperson:

“We can’t just stand by and do nothing when schools are sub-standard year after year.”

It’s a shame they seem content to stand by and do nothing for deaf children when their services are being slashed.


Saving services for deaf children launch – rolling blog

Image courtesy of NDCS

6.03pm Am going to wrap up today’s blog. Very pleased that NDCS’s Save Services for Deaf Children campaign has made a splash today, with even MPs tweeting about it. We’re expecting some more media coverage over the next few days which will hopefully spread the word about the injustice of councils cutting budgets for some of the most disadvantaged children in society, when this funding has already been protected by central Government.

There’s loads you can do to support the campaign if you want to:

1) Visit the map, find out what’s happening in your area and share any intelligence you might have.

2) Contact your MP and ask him/her to help save services for deaf children.

3) If cuts are being made in your area, read our guide on how you can take action to fight these cuts at a local level.

The scale of the cuts, and the way in which they’ve been made, in many areas really is just outrageous. So I’m hoping this campaign will force local and central decision-makers to think again.

4.22pm The NDCS Save Services for Deaf Children map shows you what’s happening across the country, but if you want to see a list of which councils are making cuts, you might be interested in taking a look at the NDCS press release that went out today.

3.19pm CYP Now are the latest to cover today’s campaign launch in their online article. It includes a strong response from a Department for Education’s spokesperson:

“Local authorities have a statutory duty to identify children’s special educational needs (SEN) and provide the services to meet them – no ifs and buts.

“We’ve protected schools’ cash levels nationally and made sure local authorities can maintain specialised SEN provision – the best possible settlement considering the dire public finances. We expect local authorities target resources at the most vulnerable children, who need the most support, including deaf and hearing impaired children.”

No word on what action they will take though. NDCS wrote to the Secretary of State for Education earlier today asking him to intervene.

2.41pm “Vital services being cut, meh, happening everywhere, what can you do, what time is Britain’s Got Talent on?” is something I imagine a few people may be saying in response to NDCS’s Save Services for Deaf Children campaign.

Well, yes, these are difficult economic times, etc. But there are 3 things to take into account here.

1) The Government has already protected money for specialist support services for deaf children. The schools budget was kept at flat real per pupil in the last Comprehensive Spending Review. And what’s more, the Schools Budget is ring-fenced so you’re not allowed to spent it on other things, like Kit-Kats. So local authorities shouldn’t have any less money for these services. Other children are seeing their education funding protected, so why is it, in 28 local authorities, deaf children are facing cuts?

2) There are lots of things councils could do to save money. For example, NDCS is keen to see more councils join forces on services for deaf children. This would achieve economies of scale, whilst also helping to ensure a more comprehensive service can be delivered. Most local authorities seem to be rushing rather quickly to make front-line cuts before considering whether they can make savings this way.

3) For heaven’s sake, deaf children are already among the most disadvantaged children in society today. The last time I looked, there was still a massive attainment gap between deaf children and other children, even though deafness is not a learning disability. They need more support, not less. So why are deaf children’s services being targeted for cuts?

1.59pm Already quite a few parents have been leaving comments on the map to share intelligence about what they know about any cuts or changes to services for deaf children in their area. Given the reluctance by many local authorities to be open about their funding plans, NDCS is relying on parents to help them identify where cuts are being made.

Comments can be left anonymously and the locations don’t appear as exact on the map (so don’t bother trying to go and visit anyone). As an aside, a relocation of one of the parent comments went amiss the other day and a parent accidentally ended up being located in the middle of the North Sea before being placed correctly in Glasgow. NDCS – campaigning to save services for deaf children, but also saving parents in distress in the North Sea.

Interested in how NDCS created the map? More information here >

12.44pm With NDCS, it never rains but… As well as launching our new interactive map and our guide to parents for saving services, NDCS is also launching today a new campaign action for supporters. NDCS is asking all supporters to contact their MP to highlight these cuts being made to vital services. NDCS’s website makes it quick and easy and, through some voodoo wizadry that I don’t understand, it can also insert extra information for your MP about what’s happening in your own area.

11.45am One of the reasons NDCS wanted to publish its interactive map of cuts to deaf children’s services was that so parents could see if their local services were under threat… and take action if so. In many areas, councils are not coming clean with parents of deaf children. In 45 cases, NDCS had to issue Freedom of Information requests to force the council to reveal their plans. One parent of a deaf child in Stoke on Trent only found out about reductions when her child mentioned he hadn’t seen his Teacher of the Deaf for a while. If I were a cynical man, I’d say that councils are trying to make cuts by the back door and hoping that parents of deaf children won’t notice, or by the time parents do, it will be too late. There are still a sizeable number of local authorities who haven’t given us enough information. It’s just outrageous.

Where cuts are being made or services are still at risk, NDCS has produced a guide for parents on how they can campaign to save services for deaf children locally. NDCS is also continuing to directly support local parent campaigns in a number of areas including Stoke on Trent, Cumbria and Wiltshire, to name but a few.

11.24am Guardian journalist Cathy Heffernan has done a great comment piece on why Teachers of the Deaf are so important and the “gut-wrenching” cuts – well worth a read.

11am As well as our cuts map, NDCS has an image which shows where education services for deaf children are being cut or are at risk.

9.47am Lots of radio interviews happening, including Sky News radio and BBC London Breakfast. I will see if I can root out some transcripts. NDCS is also working hard to secure local press coverage in some of the areas where swingeing cuts are being made.

8.55am Here’s the NDCS news story on the campaign relaunch for Save Services for Deaf Children. Very pleased to see it’s already been covered in the Guardian.

8.26am The focus of today is going to be the “map” that I talked about earlier. On this, NDCS has put everything we know about what each local authority is up to on funding for education services in 2011/12. And it makes for grim reading – 28 local authorities have told us they are making cuts. That’s nearly 1 in 5 local authorities that are targeting deaf children’s services for cuts. On top of this, a further 24 have yet to confirm whether or not they’re making cuts.

The map also shows the feedback we’ve had from parents about their services and any cuts that have already happened. The map is a great place for parents of deaf children to go and find out what’s happening in their area, and share with NDCS any new information or their views on what’s going on.

8.10am Yes, the rolling blog is back for today’s relaunch by the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) of the Save Services for Deaf Children campaign. The aim of the campaign? To remind key decision-makers that deaf children are already among the most disadvantaged children in society today, and should not be forced to bear the brunt of public spending cuts.

Sadly, NDCS has uncovered lots of evidence that swingeing cuts are being made to education services that deaf children rely on. NDCS is publishing what they’ve learnt so far today – via a new fancy interactive online map.

NDCS is also seeking to spread the word far and wide that we need help from parents and other NDCS supporters to save these services, and hopefully NDCS will be in the papers, on the radio, everywhere. This blog will obviously be the place to be though.

I’ll do my best to do regular updates throughout the day. I’ll also do my best to avoid typos but apologies in advance for any incoherence.

Any questions or comments, leave them below and will try and respond asap.

What will the Conservatives do for disabled children?

While I was off in Scotland last week looking for the Loch Ness monster, David Cameron was busy setting out the Conservative party’s stall on policy towards disabled children.

It made for very interesting reading. Some interesting points jumped out at me:

1) Instead of subjecting parents to repetitive assessments by different professionals, a ‘crack team’ of professionals should visit families at the same time to assess what support is needed – in terms of social care, benefits, etc. The idea is that a one stop shop will reduce the bureacratic experience faced by many parents.

2) Decisions about what education support a disabled child should be given should be based on their needs. Yet too many parents feel that the local authority cares more about how much it’s going to cost them. At the moment, the same people who do the assessments are the same people who pay for it. In response, David Cameron has pledged to look into making assessments independent of decisions about funding.

3) The Conservatives seem to want to end the trend towards closing special schools ending – to ensure that disabled children aren’t put into mainstream provision where this is inappropriate and to give parents more choice.

The above chime with much of what NDCS is calling for as part of our Close the Gap campaign – and so is something to be welcomed. Personally, I’d like to hear more about the Conservatives will be closing the gap in attainment between deaf children and their hearing peers. Will there be more specialist support funded, for example?

We’ll be keeping an eye out for more policy announcements from the Conservatives to see what they might mean for deaf children. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on the above?