Lobbying Conservatives on deaf children: day 3

Last day at the party conferences! The travelling circus is coming to an end for NDCS tomorrow morning when we return to London. And hibernate for a month to catch up on our sleep.

Mark HarperBut not before another busy day of meetings between our deaf young supporter, Louis Kissaun, and a range of Conservative MPs and candidates standing for election. Of which a surprising number have a deaf father or grandfather (three, at the last count). One of the highlights for Louis was meeting Mark Harper MP, who is the Conservative Shadow Disability Minister. Mark really took the time to engage with Louis and ask lots of questions. Gratifyingly for us, we had very little need to lobby Mark on our concerns on acoustics and access to examinations for disabled people – he already set out his position, nearly identical to ours, before we’d even said anything. Lovely, I thought.

Richard BenyonLouis also met the MP for his school, Mary Hare school for the deaf. Richard Benyon MP was also very clued up on the needs of deaf children, realising that noisy classrooms will be exhausting and frustrating for deaf children, forcing them to concentrate twice as hard as everyone else. Another supporter signed up in Westminster.

The only downsides of the day were my failure to a) find an opportunity to ask what the Conservative’s think of Access to Work. Alas. Something to take up on our return to London… And b) take decent photos. I don’t think I’ll be giving up the day job.

It’s been a tough two weeks for Louis. But he has really excelled in representing other deaf children and young people, posing for lots of photos and being extremely patient with everyone. Apparently, he hasn’t ruled out a career in politics. So, watch this space…

Advertisements

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…

Lobbying Conservatives on deaf children: day 1

The NDCS campaigns team has arrived up north to Manchester for the Conservative party conference – and I already have a mission for the rest of the conference: to find out what the Conservatives plans are on Access to Work, and what they think of the fact that disabled young people doing voluntary work or unpaid internships cannot claim Access to Work.

I got asked to raise this via my Twitter, so I duly went to a fringe meeting with Theresa May, the Conservatives Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and asked a question about Access to Work. And got no reply. To be fair, the moderator also took around 9 other questions at the same time so it may just have been overlooked. But still… I will now be stalking Shadow Ministers until I get an answer!

And we’ll also be introducing our guest deaf young person, TV star, Louis Kissaun to Conservative MPs and candidates from tomorrrow. As always, you can get the latest via the c4dc twitter account, and from this blog.

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…

Prep for the party conferences 2009

Image courtesy of www.schooley.net
Image courtesy of http://www.schooley.net

I’m getting quite excited – the travelling circus will soon be coming back to town. Yes, the party political conferences are upon us once again. Did it ever really leave? It doesn’t feel that long ago from last year when I was feeling dead proud of Laura Bolter for showing firsthand to MPs that deafness shouldn’t hold anyone back and also being overly excited by a freebie Slinky, courtesy of NASUWT.

As always, a lot of work has gone into preparing for the conferences. Sadly, it’s not just a merry jaunt around the UK to talk politics over cocktails. Some of the key elements of our preparation have included:

1) Arranging meets. The real value for a small charity like NDCS is the opportunity to get to meet lots of MPs in a relatively short space of time. So for the past month, my colleagues have been busy writing letters and chasing MPs on the phone. Whilst I’m wary of naming any at the risk of jinx-ing it, we are set to meet some of the big beasts. And this year, we’re also meeting some of the would-be MPs, otherwise known as Prospective Parliamentary Candidates. The aim is to make sure that the next generation of MPs are familiar with our work when they take up residence in the halls of power.

2) Getting our ‘asks’ right. One of the early lessons I learnt as a campaigner was to always have something to ask a MP to do. So we’ve been thinking how to tailor our wish list of actions for MPs to do to support us as appropriate. For most MPs, we’ll be focusing on our Sounds good? campaign and encouraging MPs to support the call for mandatory acoustic testing. But we’ll have different asks for MPs who are interested in, for example, health and social care issues.

3) Planning which fringe meetings to go to. These are not actually a chance to discuss the most stylish haircut length over the forehead but, in essence, seminars on a range of topics, normally set up by a charity or organisation to promote their cause (or themselves). Normally, a senior MP will come along to speak so it’s always interesting to see what he/she has to say. And normally there is also a questions and answer session at the end, giving charities like NDCS an opportunity to flag up an issue.

4) Working out which stalls to visit. This is the bit where the conferences feel more like a student fair. Lots of charities and organisations will have a little area in the exhibition centre to promote their cause/themselves. It’s a good opportunity to network and make new friends. Many give away freebies, which I may have got a bit carried away with last year

And that’s our prep to stalk MPs 2009 in a nutshell. The Liberal Democrats are first up and we’ll be heading to Bournemouth to see them next Monday. You can follow the latest here at this blog, and also via Twitter.