Making deaf children matter

Musings and blogs from a deaf campaigner

Posts Tagged ‘reform’

Is this really the right time to push ahead with special educational needs reform?

Posted by Ian Noon on February 18, 2013

Sad parliamentary geeks of the world, rejoice! The long-expected Children and Families Bill has now been published, setting out, amongst other, wide-ranging proposals for reform to the special educational needs framework. This is likely to result in significant changes to how deaf children and their families are supported and educated. If you’re unfamiliar with what the reforms mean, the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) have produced a FAQ for parents of deaf children.

For much of this year, I’m going to be working on the Bill and briefing politicians what it might mean for deaf children and which bits of the Bill they should support, question, clarify or violently throw their Committee chairs against the wall and revolt against. Who knows, I might end up accidentally changing the law again.

In short, it’s going to be a big deal. So before we get into all of that, it’s worth asking a fairly fundamental question: is it sensible to go ahead with these proposals now?

The reason I ask is that the NDCS Stolen Futures campaign has already found that in the two years running up to April 2013, 1 in 3 councils have cut vital services for deaf children. So who is going to be left to implement these reforms?

The reforms are not cost-neutral. That much is clear from the ‘pathfinders’ who have been testing out the reforms. One Teacher of the Deaf working in one of the pathfinder areas told me that the work she had been doing on creating new ‘Education, Health and Care Plans’ involved lengthy meetings with parents and lots of work to co-ordinate with other professionals. This is not to say that the reforms are a bad idea. But it is to question whether they are sustainable in the long-run, without extra investment. However, the Department for Education have been clear that there is no new money on the table.

The big fear is that this reform actually causes so much upheaval that services get worse and deaf children’s education suffers. Parents of deaf children are already a little anxious about what this all means. In a NDCS survey, just 6% of parents of deaf children thought the proposals would mean that deaf children would get better support. 80% of parents who were familiar the reforms said they thought the real aim was to reduce spending. The Department clearly has some work to do to reassure parents.

As the Bill goes through Parliament, NDCS is going to be reinforcing this point: that unless the Department for Education ‘step up’ and intervene where local authorities are making cuts to services, their SEN reforms risk making a bad situation worse.

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What does the big special educational needs shake up mean for deaf children?

Posted by Ian Noon on July 23, 2012

The Department for Education are now full steam ahead with the biggest shake up of the special educational needs framework in England for 30 years. It certainly feels like 30 years since they announced their initial proposals but has actually only been less than 2 years. So what will the shake up mean for deaf children? Will it lead to better services and more choice for parents?

Well, despite a recent ‘Next steps’ update from the Department, some of the details are still somewhat hazy and will only become clear when the Department publishes their new laws in draft in September. Lots of the proposals are also still being tested by pilot pathfinders in 30-odd areas across England. The reforms are mega and it’ s impossible to try and summarise everything in one go. But I’ll have a go. Here’s a selection of 3 key questions and areas of uncertainty.

1) Education, Health and Care Plans

The statements are dead. Long live the Education, Health and Care plans. Yes, the statements – the legal entitlements to support that around 25% of deaf children currently have – is going to be broadened out and replaced with Education, Health and Care plans. The stated intention is to better ensure joined up working and prevent parents from having to give professionals the same information over and over again when their child is being assessed.

But will it do the job? Some key issues include:

* Existing legal protections won’t be lost (i.e. for education). But it’s not yet clear whether the plans will introduce any new legal protections (i.e. for health and social care). If it doesn’t, it kind of begs the question as to what the whole point of changing it is.

* Who will get one? When similar reforms have been done in other parts of the UK, the stated intention has been to reduce the number of children with statements. Will the same happen in England?

* Who’s going to do all these assessments? NDCS’s latest Save Services report, Stolen Futures, has found that 1 in 3 councils have cut education services since April 2011. Half of these cuts involve Teachers of the Deaf. Are the Government’s ambitions being thwarted by the cuts taking place on the ground?

* What will the plan look like? Will it have a proper focus on how deaf children should be doing and what support they need to get there? Or will it be a wiffly-waffly smiley face document of general platitudes? Some of the pathfinders seem to be going down the latter route…

2) Personal budgets

Parents who have a statement/plan will now get the chance to take control over the budget for their child’s services and buy in services from whoever they choose. The right to personal budgets will be an option and councils are expected to provide support to parents to help them navigate the system through what are sometimes known as ‘key workers’. Tricky issues here include:

* What will parents be able to buy with a personal budget?

* Choice for parents is great. But if parents chose not to buy from existing services, how much of a problem will that be?  Will existing council-run services have to wind down? Will personal budgets in effect end up actually reducing choice for other parents?

* The concept of personal budgets assumes a choice of services for parents. Yet does this really apply to educational services for deaf children? Can a parent pop down to Tesco to get a new Teacher of the Deaf?

3) The local offer

Every council will now have to say what’s available in their area for parents of children with special educational needs via a new ‘local offer’. The idea is that it will improve accountability and help parents get the information they need more readily. But…

* Will information be broken down by type of special educational need? The needs of a child with autism will be very different from that of a deaf child so how will councils produce something which is genuinely useful to all parents without cutting down the Amazon?

* Will there be a set format for a local offer? If not, how easy will parents find it to make comparisons between what’s in their own area and in neighbouring councils?

* Do parents really want a local offer? Or do they want a national offer? To be confident that the same basic services for deaf children will be available everywhere? I suspect the latter, but the Department has effectively already ruled this out.

This is barely scratching the surface and there are loads of other unanswered questions. NDCS’s response to the initial proposals sets out some of these other issues. Suffice to say, it would be a shame if the biggest, and badly needed, shake up of special educational needs reform doesn’t improve things for deaf children. So anyone with an interest in deaf education should start paying very close attention to the developing proposals in the coming months to make they do deliver for deaf children. Watch this space very closely.

If you’ve got any views on what the reforms will mean for deaf children, drop a line below – be good to hear from you.

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