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

The National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) has been busy playing political bingo today on our last day at the Conservative party conference, trying to track down our top targets. And I don’t think we’re doing too badly. The team has now spoken to the entire Conservative front bench team on education and two of the top targets on health, as well as a few other key MPs. Very happy indeed.

It’s not been easy though finding them all though. But our young ambassador, Megan (who has her own blog), has come up with a bright suggestion to make it easier to spot out top targets in the future. Basically, all MPs should be required to wear hats. The more important the MP, the bigger the hat they should have to wear. And the Prime Minister should have a hat that can be seen from miles away. Simple.

Megan meets Chris Skidmore MP

Megan has been a powerhouse and has done an amazing job in explaining to MPs the challenges the deaf young people face. It’s also been good for MPs to meet someone who has a mild/moderate hearing loss. I think sometimes there is a perception that children with mild/moderate deafness have lesser needs than those with severe/profound deafness. I think there’s also a tendency to equate deafness = sign language users. Megan has done a great job of showing that a) deaf young people with a mild/moderate hearing loss are still “deaf ” and still need help and b) if this is help is given, deaf young people can do absolutely anything.

But enough of me, what did Megan think of today? Here’s her report from the day.

How have the meetings gone today? How did you feel when speaking to the MPs?
The meetings were interesting, and although some were more serious, others had a light-hearted air about them. I quite enjoy speaking to MPs; I would liken it to dialogue with any other person – except, perhaps, that there is more emphasis on conveying a particular idea – and I did not feel any particular unease throughout.

What did you speak to the MPs about?
I discussed my own experiences with the education system, primarily focusing on special educational needs and Teachers of the Deaf.

And what did the MPs say to you? Did they seem interested to learn about your experiences? Ask any questions?
The MPs had a variety of responses, ranging from “mhmm, yes, yes” accompanied by a series of nods, to actively discussing issues they were aware of in their own constituencies. One MP even used me as an example in one of his fringe meetings!

What else have you been up to today?
I attended some nice fringe meetings, one of which was about the coalition government and another on education. I also was stood, coincidently, in the path of the Camerons, so I was asked to stand to the side and had a brilliant view of them as they walked by.

You said yesterday conference was a bit like a school playground? Have your views changed? Do you have any views on how the conference could be different?
I believe the conference is still very much like a school playground; everyone speaking to each other before moving onto the next person and people networking left right and centre. I believe the conference, despite being somewhat hectic, is quite efficient. Although, I still say everyone should wear identification hats.

What’s been the best thing about being here at conference?
I think the best aspect of the conference is the learning environment it provides, people gather together to discuss issues, promote their own interests and in the process may become more knowledgeable on others’ issues.

And the worse?
The breakfast-in-a-bag, is certainly the least… enthusing part of the conference.

What advice do you have for any deaf young person coming to party conference in the future?
I would advise that you should be firm in your experiences, and enthusiastic. For one to enjoy the conference to it’s uppermost. It may be useful to have some interest in politics, or at least a vague general knowledge, to benefit from the diverse topics discussed within the conference.

Finally, any plans to work in politics or campaigns in the future?!
I find politics incredibly interesting and hope to embark on such a career in my future. I also enjoy campaigns, however I think I shall read law first.

A big relief to hear that we haven’t put Megan off from working in campaigns and politics. If she can handle two days with the Conservatives, then I can well imagine that in around ten years time I’ll be coming to conference to lobby Megan the newly-elected MP.

And that’s about it from Birmingham and the party conferences. Back to civilisation when full analysis to follow. Once everyone has had a proper night’s sleep for the first time in three weeks!

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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.

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.

Campaigning for deaf children at the Lib Dem party conference: day 2

On my 2nd and last day at the Liberal Democrat party conference, I managed not to get swept away by the Nick Clegg crowd. But I did make the mistake of going to a fringe meeting of the British Youth Council, where suited and booted amongst a group of Lib Dem young people, I felt around twenty years older than I actually am. Oh dear.

But yesterday was mostly spent meeting more MPs, Lords and Ladies to tell them about the National Deaf Children’s Society Hands up for help! campaign. Happily, everyone was keen to support. For each MP we met, we also provided detailed briefing notes about what NDCS’s survey of local authorities revealed about help for deaf children in their own area, which went down well. I picked up a keen desire to understand more about how the funding arrangements for help for deaf children work, and the implications of deafness being a relatively less common disability. We received lots of offers to write to local authorities and government ministers, and to raise questions within Parliament.

Sadly, I hadn’t managed to track down two of our key targets by the time I left, though my boss was still stalking them on the conference’s last evening. Very disappointing.

What has been interesting about this conference has been finding out how becoming a government coalition partner has changed the way many Lib Dem MPs work. When in opposition, there would be a group of three or four people acting as “shadow” ministers. But now instead, we have some Liberal Democrats who are Ministers and others who are acting as “spokespeople” within the party, providing a conduit from which specific backbenchers can express their views or concerns on specific issues. It rather changes the dynamics of how I might lobby various people.

Overall, it’s a been a full-on but enjoyable few days in Liverpool. Now the travelling circus moves on to Manchester for the Labour party conference weekend where my colleagues will be picking up the baton of campaigning for deaf children. Look forward to finding out how they got on.

Campaigning for deaf children at Lib Dem party conference: day 1

I knew this Liberal Democrat conference was going to be different when, within 30 minutes of arrival, I was threatened by a collosal tidal wave of humanity moving towards me, threatening to snuff me out as I ambled through the conference centre. I urgently dodged out of the way into a corner and saw that the cause of this tidal wave of people was made up of a huge bunch of journalists, photographers and lobbyers following the man of the moment and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg.

This is my first Liberal Democrat conference with the party in power and the number of people attending is apparently up by around 40%. But in the National Deaf Children’s Society defence, we’ve been coming here every year, asking MPs and other key decision-makers to support NDCS’s campaigns.

My first day up in Liverpool featured some very positive meetings with leading Liberal Democrat figures on education, Dan Rogerson MP and Baroness Walmsley. Both very interested in the Hands up for help! campaign and keen to offer advice and support. Dan, who is MP in North Cornwall, is particularly keen to hear more from Cornish families with deaf children and to work to improve services in Cornwall.

Today was also spent going to fringe meetings trying to track down our top ‘targets’ – Sarah Teather MP, now Education Minister with responsibility for special educational needs, and Paul Burstow MP, Health Minister with responsibility for audiology services. Both are proving hard to track down so tomorrow, I will be refining my stalking skills.

Today was also spent stealing chocolate freebies. Some Credit Crunch Chocolate anyone?

NDCS heads to party conferences to lobby for deaf children

The travelling circus – AKA the party political conferences – are back. Off I go to Liverpool on Sunday for the Liberal Democrat party conference, lobbying MP and peers on deaf children on the National Deaf Children’s Society’s behalf.

Last year was a great success and Louis, deaf young person, did a great job of helping us win our acoustics campaign. This year, I’ll be mostly talking about the Hands up for help! campaign report and trying to get lots of support for this. I’m also planning to show MPs what parents of deaf children have been saying about services for deaf children in the different regions of the country. So if you’ve got anything you want to say about your own area, have your say on NDCS’s online interactive map and an MP might end up reading it.

And then after Liverpool, I will be handing over to my colleagues to do all the lobbying for the other two conferences. For the Conservative party conference, NDCS will be joined by Megan, a young deaf person, who is an absolute superstar, and who has her own blog. Looking forward to reading about how she enjoys meetings lots of MPs.

I’ll be blogging the latest from here, where I can, and NDCS will also be tweeting merrily away as @NDCS_UK on Twitter. Bring it on!

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…