SEN / Disabilities Green Paper – rolling blog

Michael Gove with deaf young person. Image courtesy of NDCS (2008)

5.35pm Lots of very interesting ideas in the SEN Green Paper, some of which seem to have been inspired by NDCS’s Hands up for Help! report, which is nice. Though the devil will be in the detail, I think there’s much to welcome and much that will, if done carefully, make a big difference for deaf children. But that’s just my view – what do you think? Inspired or disappointed by the Green Paper? Leave a comment below to have your say.

As a reminder, check out NDCS’s initial analysis of the SEN Green Paper. NDCS will be adding more information to their website about what the SEN Green Paper might mean for deaf children soon, once the dust has settled, so watch this space.

I’m now going to wrap up this rolling blog experiment and have another cup of tea. Thanks for joining us and hope you enjoyed the ride.

5.08pm Praise be, I’ve finally made it to the end of the SEN Green Paper. Phew. There’s going to be a 4 month consultation – longer than usual – which is good. Though you may need it – the consultation asks 59 questions.

5.04pm Perhaps it’s because my brain is turning into mush but I’m not sure I understand the Department’s proposals on a “national banded funding framework”, what it’s meant to do and how it will work in practice. Alarm bells are ringing again though.

4.51pm NDCS has been pushing really hard for regional commissioning of specialist support services for deaf children (it’s one of the recommendations in the NDCS Hands up for help! report) and it’s great to see this get a mention in the SEN Green Paper. Too many local authorities, particularly the tiny ones, are trying to meet the diverse needs of all deaf children in their area. This is nonsense – far better for them to join forces and offer a comprehensive service across borders. This already happens in Berkshire where six local authorities have joined forces – the Berkshire consortium gets a positive mention in the paper. The Green Paper says the Department will explore how to encourage this kind of thing.

4.35pm You had to wait to chapter 5 to get to it, but there’s finally a mention of the important role of specialist support services for deaf children and other children with low incidence needs. Apparently, organisations will be asked to help improve availability of specialist advice to parents and teachers in relation to specific impairments.

There’s also a recognition of the importance of sorting out the funding for these services over the long-term. Something else that NDCS had been banging on about for a while. There will be a separate consultation on this this spring. This is an important one to get right because of the risks involved. Most specialist support services are funded by the local authority – but if schools split from local authority control, it risks draining this funding away from these vital services.

4.27pm Hmm. Alarm bells ringing. The Department will “simplify” statutory guidance around SEN and disability. One person’s ‘simplification’ is a loss of important rights to someone else – so it will be something to watch out for.

4.21pm Something tucked away towards the end (yes, it’s in sight) of the green paper is something quite interesting but which I haven’t seen picked up elsewhere. The Government is proposing to create a new “body” called HealthWatch which will allow disabled young people to feed in views on local health and social care services.

4.15pm Very exciting. NDCS is soon going to be doing a live interview with BBC Radio Berkshire. This is to talk about the Berkshire service for deaf children which gets a mention in the SEN Green Paper. Berkshire is a great example of how small local authorities have sought to work together to meet the needs of all deaf children across the area.

I will look out for a transcript later for those of us with defective ears or who just don’t like radios.

3.43pm I’m now on chapter 4: “Preparing for adulthood.” Having been reading the SEN Green Paper all day, I feel I should be preparing for bed but anyhow. First thing that leaps out is a goal to ensure a well-coordinated transition from chidlren’s to adult health services. Cannot overstate how important this is for audiology services for deaf children. NDCS’s Over to you project has been looking at this. I’ve met a lot of deaf young people who don’t get any preparation for the big transfer up to adult audiology services and can be a very worrying time.

3.29pm NDCS has been banging on about Ofsted inspections for so long that I was beginning to feel almost sorry for Ofsted. The key concern has been that deaf provision is not always inspected by someone with deaf expertise. Well, it seems that by banging on about it since time immemorial, the Department has noticed. The Green Paper says that:

“For mainstream schools that run resourced provision or special units, the Department for Education and Ofsted want to ensure that this provision is appropriately assessed by inspectors with the necessary specialist expertise.”

Lovely.

3.20pm NDCS media team seem very busy…

2.59pm A burst of excitement in the office. NDCS Deputy Director of Policy and Campaigns (aka my boss) is quoted in the Guardian article on the SEN Green Paper, warning about the impact of cuts. The quote is:

“Our main concern is that this taking place after many local authorities have made their budget decisions. We have received information about cuts to frontline education services. We are very worried that local authorities are making decisions that will seriously affect their ability to deliver these proposals.”

The Guardian don’t seem to have picked up on my concerns about the scheduling of the Green Paper with the first day of Lent though. Am sure it was just an oversight.

2.47pm I was going to give up tea for Lent. Well, I think the SEN Green Paper has killed that idea. I’m still only on chapter 3 and it’s only vast quantities of sugary tea that’s keeping me going.

2.33pm Parents should have “real choice” over where to send their child to school. The Green Paper recognises this doesn’t always happen now, but is not wholly clear about how it’s going to expand choice on this. Where are all the schools going to come from in a climate of spending cuts? Free schools are mentioned but is it realistic for parents of deaf children to be able to set up their own school if they don’t feel the local authority is providing enough choice? I think the jury is out on how this is going to be achieved.

SEN Green Paper does say though that parents must be able to express a preference for any school they want their child to go to – and local authorities must consider this. Will this help parents who strongly feel their deaf child will benefit from going to a special school for deaf children, outside of their own local authority?

2.15pm Lots of positive blurb about the need for more information and greater transparency on local SEN services in the SEN Green Paper. This is music to my ears. The Department will also legislate to amend current rules on what information local authorities need to provide. The big question for NDCS will be whether local authorities will be required to produce this information or their “local offer” broken down by type of need – so that parents of deaf children can see specifically what’s available for deaf children.

1.38pm The one thing that has caused the biggest intake of breath so far for NDCS was the BBC quote from earlier that I mentioned:

“Ministers will also look at involving state-funded voluntary groups in co-ordinating the support packages families need. This might mean a deaf children’s charity co-ordinating the package of need for a child who has hearing problems, for example.”

“A deaf children’s charity? Who could they possibly mean?” was my initial thought. Needless to say, this was new to me and to NDCS more generally.

Now seems as if the proposal is around involving charities in the assessment process in order to ensure greater independence. Many parents complain that those who pay for help for deaf children (the local authority) should not also be deciding what that help is. The Green Paper also says that charities could also have a role in providing information to parents and advocating for their rights.

All very interesting, and a proposal that comes with a range of challenges and opportunities. Be interested to see what other people think. Should charities, such as those who support deaf children, who shall remain nameless, be taking on a greater role like this?

1.34pm Allfie – the Alliance for Inclusive Education – who are very pro-mainstreaming are taking a strong line on the SEN Green Paper. Their press release runs with “Alliance for Inclusive Education says Govt SEN Green Paper proposals mean business as usual – BUT WORSE!” Possibly the best press release heading ever.

1.31pm Nope, the Sun is still running with the Katie Argie Bhaji story about the fight in a curry shop.

1.23pm I promised earlier I would post NDCS’s official take on the SEN Green Paper here. So here’s our press release for the media guys and a longer piece giving our initial analysis of what the Green Paper means for deaf children. I’m awaiting with interest to see if any of this knocks Katie Price off the front page of the Sun.

12.47am “A rolling blog? Easy!” was my thinking earlier today. But now having spent the morning reading the SEN Green Paper, tweeting about it, helping prepare an official NDCS response whilst also providing a sarcastic side-look here is much harder than I expected. So time for a lunch break. More to follow later.

12.05pm Single assessment will apply to SEN children from age of 0 to 25. This is good news for

a) children under the age of 2 – currently the SEN framework only applies from age of 2, even though early years support is most vital for deaf children’s futures
b) children at age of 16 – currently the assessment process varies according to whether you are at a college or 6th form or apprenticeships. I don’t understand how it’s currently meant to work and I’m not sure the local authorities do either.

Providing the assessment is done right, and is regularly updated, these single assessments and health, education and care plans could, I think, make a big difference.

12.02pm “Disjointed and confusing assessment processes” for post 16 support for children with SEN. Possibly the understatement of the year.

11.56am “New single-based SEN category for children whose needs exceed what is normally available in schools.” Could this mean that deaf children are more likely to be formally recorded as having a special educational needs if they get help from a visiting Teacher of the Deaf? A lot of people seem to think that all deaf children have statements when in fact it’s only around a quarter.

11.38am Some nice blurb about how those who work with disabled children should have high expectations of them in the paper. Very important. Very frustrating that some people think deaf children can’t do well, with the right support – deafness is not a learning disability after all.

11.34am Some debate going on here about what the Green Paper says about Disability Living Allowance. It implies that an assessment for DLA could be part of the single assessment for the new education, health and social care plans. If the assessment is done in the right way, this could be good news for parents of deaf children. It’s a big if though. Unsure if the paper is suggesting that DLA could be included as part of personal budgets. Hmm…

10.49am Phew. Well, I’ve read the executive summary. Lots of interesting proposals. Very gratifying to see some of them are very similar to those NDCS suggested in their response to an earlier consultation on SEN, particularly around making education, health and social care services work together more. Currently, the statementing process focuses on education when what happens with audiology, social care, speech and language therapy services is just as important.

The new education, health and care plans would be statutory, just like statements are now which is good – many parents like the sense of legal entitlement that a statement gives, especially when there are cuts happening left, right and centre.

9.44am It’s out and it’s big. Over 100 pages long. I may be a while…

9.38am The ATL teaching union have been making the point, likely to be made elsewhere, that overhauling the SEN framework is all very well, but when local authorities are making cuts to their specialist support services, is anything going to change for the better?

Over the past few months, NDCS has been trying to find out what’s happening to funding for help for deaf children, and putting this on our “map” . The current state of play in England is that 12 local authorities are confirmed as making cuts to education services for deaf children, 19 rumoured and 68 where we haven’t yet had enough information.

9.03am Apparently, Radio 4 today did a big splash on special educational needs. I say apparently because my ears don’t work and my colleague was in the shower when it was on. If your ears are fully functional and you’re now fully bathed, you can hear what they said here.

8.55am The Secretary of State for Education will be saying something in Parliament today about special educational needs, I’m told. His written ministerial statement will be the official launch of the green paper. Not sure what time this will be though.

There’s also ministerial statements today on the EU Education Council and Tobacco Control Plans. This could be a bad day for smokers.

8.51am It seems years ago but was in fact only last October when the National Deaf Children’s Society set out their views on what should go in the green paper. I shall have it to hand today. Maybe play a game of bingo with it when the full green paper finally comes out.

8.47am Apparently, the official name of the green paper is: Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability.

I like “aspiration”. Hopefully, this means a focus on higher expectations for deaf children.

8.37am The Guardian also seem to have had a preview. Hmm… Their interesting titbits include:

* Schools required to publish more information about provision for children with special educational needs
* Simplying the SEN framework – from 3 levels to 2.
* Encouraging parents to set up their own special needs “free schools”.
* Reviewing post-16 support.
* Improving early diagnosis.

Well, what do we think about that?

I had a quick look at the Sun newspaper too. Apparently, the moon is closing in on the earth and Jordan Price had a curry. I may need a moment to digest all of this.

8.17am Other interesting titbits from the BBC news article:

* Statements of educational provision to be scrapped in favour of a new education and health care plans.
* An end to endless assessment – just a single assessment from now on.
* Piloting this new approach in 25 areas.
* More mediation where parents and local authorities disagree.
* Personal budgets

The BBC are also asking people to have their say on the plans.

8.10am BBC news have an article on the SEN Green Paper and they seem to have already had a preview. Clearly, their persuasive skills are superior to ours. Anyhow, it includes a very interesting quote:

“Ministers will also look at involving state-funded voluntary groups in co-ordinating the support packages families need. This might mean a deaf children’s charity co-ordinating the package of need for a child who has hearing problems, for example.”

Crikey. This is going to be one of those days.

8.04am Before we go any further, I should probably point out that this is a personal blog and any views expressed in this blog on the green paper are mine alone. So if I say or do anything naughty, please don’t blame NDCS. Blame my parents. Or society. Or Canada.

NDCS will be doing an official response later in the day which I’ll post here.

7.43am Just for one day, I’m going to be experimenting with a rolling blog, prompted by today’s unveiling of the Special Educational Needs (SEN) and Disabilities Green Paper. On the plus side, I’ll be able to report on the latest throughout the day. On the downside, my inability to spot a typo is evidently going to manifest itself.

We’re expecting it to come out sometime this morning. Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education and Sarah Teather, Minister for SEN, will be launching it. The paper applies to children in England only. It was first announced last spring but the deadline for it has been pushed back several times. I’ve been told it’s been discussed at Cabinet level and the Prime Minister himself has taken an interest in it. I suppose it’s worth taking your time to get it right, though that excuse never always worked with my teachers when I was at school.

It promises a mega overhaul of the special educational needs framework. NDCS has been trying hard to get a sneak copy but our persuasive ways are clearly lacking. But we have a good idea what’s going to be included though. My bold predictions include:

* Individual budgets – letting parents decide what help their deaf child gets and from where
* Greater transparency and information to parents
* Tightening up the definition of special educational needs
* Regional commissioning – making local authorities work together to make sure they can meet the needs of all deaf children

But those are just punts. What are your guesses? Leave your comments below to have your say.

Of course, all of this takes place in the context of some fairly savage cuts across England so a question mark hangs over whether this is deliverable. We’ll see. Watch this space.

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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.

Are we making deaf children matter in the general election?

Image courtesy of NDCS

Well, the National Deaf Children’s Society’s campaign to make deaf children matter at the general election has been live now for nearly 2 weeks. So how many candidates have signed the NDCS election pledge for deaf children so far?

A whopping 440. All this has come about because nearly 692 NDCS supporters have sent out 2023 emails to candidates between them. A really good start.

Notable signatories include Michael Gove, the shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families for the Conservatives and David Cameron’s right-hand man. Michael’s sister is deaf so it’s great that he’s bringing his own personal experience of deafness to the election campaign.

Sadiq Khan, Minister for Transport, is the first Cabinet Minister to sign the pledge. As he was my own MP in the last Parliament, I’m quite relieved I’ve managed to get my own local candidates on board.

And Norman Lamb, Shadow Secretary of State for Health for the Liberal Democrats has also lent his support, along with Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green party and many other Green candidates.

What’s been great about reading the comments from candidates who’ve signed the pledge is realising just how many have their own personal connection with deafness. Stephen Lloyd, Lib Dem candidate for Eastbourne, is hearing impaired himself. Others have a long history of working with children with special educational needs, like Pat Glass, Labour candidate for North West Durham. Many others are just keen to make sure that deafness isn’t an invisible disability in the next Parliament.

The full list of candidates who’ve signed the pledge can be found here, if you want to see who else is on it.

All of this is a great start, but there are still loads more candidates to sign up. Around 3000 more if my back of the envelope calculation is anything to go by. So it’s important that NDCS supporters keep writing in to their own local candidates. If you’ve already emailed, why not email again to remind them? After all, if you can’t stalk you own local candidates during an election period, when can you stalk them?

If you want to email your candidates, just pop along to this website. Only takes around 3 minutes. I did mine while I was waiting for the kettle to boil.

Have you had any interesting comments from your candidates? If so, please let us know and leave a comment below.

Deaf question time for education politicians

Back in January, I mentioned that a tremendous trio of deaf students from Heston Community School in west London went to Westminster to interview MPs from each of the main political parties on on their parties’ approach to supporting deaf children to help parents of deaf children decide how to vote in the upcoming general election.

The interviews have now been published by the National Deaf Children’s Society and are available on their website.

There are a few similarities between the different parties. To be expected: no party is ever going to stand on a platform for less support for deaf children and more bullying. But it’s worth reading the interviews to tease out the slight differences in the party’s approaches.

The students – Karen, Kevin and Maynaka – were all excellent ambassadors for NDCS and their school. They even managed to tease out information about what the MPs will do to celebrate if they win the general election. Answers ranged from having a good sleep, having a curry, and playing some Lego!

Am very proud of the students!

Deaf students interrogate party leads on education

It’s hard to read a newspaper these days without being reminded that this year there will be a UK general election, probably in May, and until then, I’m going to need to be very careful not to trip over any political dividing lines.

I’m with Winston Churchill when he said that “Democracy is the worse form of Government, except for all the others”. The general election is a big opportunity to hold politicians to account and tell them what our priorities are. And if you’re a parent of a deaf child or deaf yourself, chances are you're going to want to know what will be done to improve deaf children's life chances.

So with that in mind, the National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS) has recruited three young deaf students from Heston Community School in west London and given them a big mission: to come up with a list of questions on what they think are key issues for deaf children and young people, and to then take these questions to the key decision-makers in Westminster to get answers on what each party promises to do for deaf children.

Well, the students passed the mission with flying colours. Their questions ranged from funding of specialist equipment for deaf children, bullying, accessible transport and cinema subtitles. They also slipped in a question on how the MPs would celebrate if they won the general election. And over the past two weeks, they've been travelling over to Westminster to interview Diana Johnson (Labour Government Minister responsible for special educational needs), Michael Gove (Conservative Shadow Secretary of State for Children, School and Families) and David Laws (Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Children, School and Families).

The fruits of their hard work will be appearing on the NDCS website and in the magazine in March, and you'll be able to see what each party is promising to do and see if that influences your vote. The students were also filmed in action by a TV crew, so hopefully we'll be seeing them on TV as well.

All very exciting and NDCS is very proud of the students.

Lobbying Conservatives on deaf children: day 2

If I’ve learnt one lesson today, it is not to travel to Manchester without a very good umbrella.

It’s been a wet day at the Conservative party conference. But also another good opportunity for MPs, Lords and prospective parliamentary candidates to hear from a deaf young person that deaf children can achieve anything – providing that Government takes action to break down the barriers holding them back. Once again Louis Kissaun has been spreading the word about why good acoustics are so important, and the impact that poor acoustics had on his English grades. And some of the key figures he’s been meeting include:

Michael GoveMichael Gove, the Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, and someone who’s been very supportive of NDCS in the past. In fact, he told Louis how much he admired NDCS and our campaign work. We won’t let it go to our head. Well, maybe a little bit.

Baroness VermaBaroness Verma, who is the Conservative lead on education in the House of Lords. She told Louis how she had a child with a unilateral hearing loss. She also expressed Tory support for the amendment on acoustics currently in the House of Lords. Gratifyingly, she already seemed familiar about our acoustics campaign.

Timothy LoughtonTim Loughton, Shadow Children’s Minister, who is the Conservative lead on safeguarding and social care, and was given a quick update on our concerns that deaf children are falling through the net when it comes to social care services.

We also took some time out to meet some bright young stars standing for election next year, including Priti Patel and Nick Boles, both of which had lots of questions about our work and lots of useful advice and suggestions for our campaign.

Overall, another positive day of campaigning for deaf children. Tomorrrow though, is our last day at the conferences and we still have a bit more stalking to do…