Making deaf children matter

Musings and blogs from a deaf campaigner

Posts Tagged ‘special educational needs’

Working to influence the Children and Families Act

Posted by Ian Noon on March 18, 2014

This blog first appeared in the National Deaf Children’s Society campaigns blog

Last Thursday was a big day – Her Majesty decided to give her “royal assent” to the Children and Families Bill, thus turning it into the ‘Children’s and Families Act’.

This Act sets out a whole new range of laws on special educational needs. A National Deaf Children’s Society FAQ for parents has more information but it’s been described as the biggest shake up of the special educational needs (SEN) system in 30 years and will have big implications for how deaf children are supported. So no pressure on us here at the National Deaf Children’s Society…

We’ve been working to influence these reforms right from the very start. It’s been a long hard slog. There have been many meetings, countless consultations and plenty of parliamentary debates – all to make sure that the needs of deaf children were considered.

Before all of that though, we needed to find out what parents of deaf children thought. We ran a series of focus groups and surveys and then wrote up what parents thought of the proposals. Politicians and civil servants were then reminded repeatedly about what our members want. It really helped bring our arguments to life. 

So what’s been achieved along the way? Some key achievements include:

1)    A review is now taking place into whether Ofsted should have a greater role in inspecting local SEN provision.

2)    It will be harder for local authorities to end support to a young person just because they’ve turned 19. Now local authorities must consider if they’ve achieved the outcomes set for them and not just “have regard to age”.

3)    At one point, parents would be required to undergo mediation with the local authority if they wanted to take any issues to a Tribunal. Now they must consider mediation, but now have the option to say no.

4)    Not every disabled child has ‘SEN’ but many will still need support. This created a risk that some children would fall through the net. The Special Educational Consortium (SEC) and Every Disabled Child Matters (EDCM) pushed hard for more strategic support from local authorities for both disabled and SEN children.

5)    Recognition of the essential role of Teachers of the Deaf has been kept – for example, the Act requires that Teachers of the Deaf be involved in any statutory assessments of deaf children.

Key to our success has been the way the sector has worked together. The National Deaf Children’s Society has worked closely with our counterparts at RNIB and Sense to raise common issues in relation to children with sensory impairment, as well as with EDCM and SEC.

Not everything has gone our way. Some of the above changes have been hard fought right to the end. Other times, it’s felt like we’ve been banging our heads against brick walls…

And there’s still plenty of work to be done. Whilst the Act provides the overall framework, a lot of the practical requirements will be set out in guidance, called the SEN Code of Practice. We’re expecting this to be published this spring and Westminster will again get the chance to debate this. Also, it’s great that Ofsted are reviewing the SEN inspection framework but we will need to monitor it closely to make sure they take action after this review.

And, of course, all of these changes have to be implemented. Our biggest concern remains that these changes are going to be made in a context of massive spending cuts, as we know from the Stolen Futures campaign. There is the potential for massive upheaval for services for deaf children. The National Deaf Children’s Society’s team of Regional Directors will now be working to influence implementation in each of the 152 local authorities in England and to challenge any cuts where they arise.

Overall, the Bill becoming an Act is a big milestone. It feels like a good moment to pause and reflect on how far we’ve come… and then start to get ready for the next phase of this big SEN shake up. 

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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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Traded services (or how to cut deaf children’s services by stealth)

Posted by Ian Noon on January 27, 2012

A new menace is sweeping specialist support services for deaf children across England and the protagonists claim they’re doing so with the Government’s approval. It goes by many names. But most people refer to it as “traded services”.

Definitions vary. But when I refer to traded services, I refer to it as the practice whereby local authorities stop providing specialist support services for children with special educational needs free of charge, and instead start “selling” or “trading” their services to schools who must now buy them back in. Warwickshire council, for example, charges up to £85 for an hour of Teacher of the Deaf time and up to £285 for a day with a specialist Teaching Assistant.

Why is this a problem for deaf children?

1) Because deafness is relatively uncommon, most schools will rarely come across a deaf child. How will they know what to buy?
2) How are they going to pay for it? If budgets are split between all schools, regardless of whether they’ve got a deaf child, then the schools where there are actually deaf children present are not going to have enough money to buy the help that deaf children need.
3) It produces a whole set of distorted incentives. Schools are incentivised to save money for buying support “on the cheap”, like a general teaching assistant, rather than a specialist teaching assistant. Councils are incentivised to spend more time “marketing” their services rather than actually giving deaf children the help they need.

In Warwickshire, these problems are particularly acute because of (in my view) the incredibly cack-handed way in which the service has made the shift to traded services. A sub-group of deaf children have now been shifted over to “traded services.” 3 reasons to be angry with the council are:

1) Schools haven’t been given ANY extra cash to help pay for the help they are now expected to purchase for deaf children. The council repeatedly refused to answer questions on this issue and the council only admitted there was a funding cut when forced to through a Freedom of Information request.
2) Headteachers were told about the move to traded services for some deaf children over the summer break. When the school was closed. Many may only have got the letter once school term started.
3) Parents weren’t initially told. Many parents only found out when they discovered their child was no longer getting any help from a Teacher of the Deaf. The council has been remarkedly reluctant to meet with parents.

Warwickshire’s attitude has been incredibly cavalier. These deaf children are now the responsibility of the schools, they say. It’s a pretty shocking state of affairs when a council can just wipe their hands of a group of deaf children that they had until recently been supporting.

Parents are rightly upset and outraged. They’re petitioning the council to think again. And on Saturday, there will be a campaign day of action in Stratford-upon-Avon. The National Deaf Children’s Society is supporting their campaign to reverse the move to traded services. The help that deaf children receive should be determined by what they need, end of. Not by what their school is able or willing to buy back. And any cuts should be openly and honestly (or not at all). Not through reckless changes to funding systems or by stealth.

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

Posted by Ian Noon on December 16, 2011

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.

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SEN / Disabilities Green Paper – rolling blog

Posted by Ian Noon on March 9, 2011

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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Good news on academies and help for deaf children

Posted by Ian Noon on February 10, 2011

Clearly this blog is very influential and being read by people at the heart of Government. Because within a fortnight of my blog about academies and deaf children, the Government took action to respond to concerns on this. Bucks Fizz all round!

The risk was that deaf children in academies wouldn’t get the help they need because of the way that the silly funding arrangements work. And that specialist support services for deaf children would lose funding.

Clearly, the Government has been listening to these concerns because yesterday they wrote to all local authorities to announce that they would be tweaking the funding arrangements so that specialist support services for children with special educational needs would not lose funding. It’s a short term, one-year, solution, pending a review of academy funding, but still a very welcome one. Here’s the NDCS story on it. A good day for deaf children.

If any Government Ministers are reading this, I also think every deaf person should be given a free I-Phone. Ahem.

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Government failing deaf children in academies?

Posted by Ian Noon on January 31, 2011

I mused a long while ago in this blog whether academies are bad news for deaf children. The way the Government is going, the answer seems to be a pretty resounding yes.

I’m not anti-academies. If it delivered a good education, I wouldn’t care if deaf children were being educated in McDonalds. What worries me is that the funding system is set up in a way that risks deaf children in academies not getting the help they need.

Charlie Swinbourne’s recent article in the Guardian explains, but in a nutshell, imagine, if you will, a pie. The local authority normally looks after the pie and gives it out according to whoever needs it most. Now allow a group of schools that decide to become independent from councils and become academies, to take a chunk of the pie and split it evenly amongst themselves.

If everyone’s need for the pie was the same, there would be no problem. But when it comes to support for deaf children, the need isn’t the same. Most academies won’t have any deaf children and so will have no need for any pie. This bit of the pie gets wasted. But the academies that do have some deaf children are only getting a tiny piece of the pie. It won’t be enough.

Worse, the more academies taking a piece of the pie, the less that is left for the local authority to give out to deaf children in other schools. At some point, the service will become unsustainable.

Not all local authorities deliver a good service to deaf children. If they did, there wouldn’t be such a wide attainment gap. But without any changes to the funding arrangements, things aren’t going to improve and the pie isn’t going to taste any better.

What really hacks me off is that none of this is new. The National Deaf Children’s Society has been raising these concerns for ages. And the Government promised – in the Houses of Parliament, no less – that they would sort it. A year on, we are still no closer to a solution. And yet the Government is still expanding and accelerating its programme for more academies through it’s new Education Bill.

The message the Government is giving? Deaf children are an afterthought and it’s OK to leave them in limbo. Is this fair?

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What does the Comprehensive Spending Review mean for deaf children?

Posted by Ian Noon on October 22, 2010

Image courtesy of NDCS

It’s been two days since the Government announced it’s future spending plans and how it was going to slash the deficit, and I’m still not sure what I think. I suppose if you’ve been told that it’s going to be Armageddon and the end of the world, you’re just kind of dazed and relieved that you’re still standing and that the kettle is still working. In short, the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) was bad. Very bad. But not as bad as we thought it might be. At least we don’t think so. And not just yet. But definitely still bad.

For example, on education, we were told to expect budget cuts of 10 to 20%. Instead, it seems to be around 5% and the part of the budget spent on schools is effectively being frozen, rather than cut (though this means less money for things like social care and youth services). This means that the overall funding for things like specialist support services for deaf children should remain static. Putting to one side the fact that deaf children in England are already 42% less likely to do as well in their GCSEs as other children and the huge variations in the help deaf children receive, this is quite a relief.

But it’s still bad. And the reason for that is because it will be local authorities who decide what to do with the pot of money for schools. And there are no guarantees they will protect funding for deaf children. Some local authorities have already started to cut services for deaf children, and all will be under pressure to move the money around. And even if the pot of money is static, there are figures suggesting that the number of deaf children are rising. In a system which is already unfair, this can only lead to more variations in the help that deaf children get.

The National Deaf Children’s Society has launched an urgent new campaign action for supporters to email their councillors and ask them to protect funding for services for deaf children. Within 24 hours, it’s already had a massive response from people concerned about this. Please do support the action and spread the word if you can.

I’m still digesting other parts of the CSR, but one thing to watch out for is Disability Living Allowance for children. The benefit hasn’t been cut. But there are signals the Government wants to tighten up the assessment process. And there is also a proposal to cut the mobility component of the benefit for those who are in residential placements (as if people in residential placements are vegetables who never go out). This could have damaging implications for parents of deaf children who attend residential special schools. NDCS is seeking urgent clarification on that one.

What were your thoughts on the CSR? Leave a comment below or email me at campaigns@ndcs.org.uk.

PS NDCS’s full immediate response to the CSR can be found here.

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Who will make deaf children matter in the general election?

Posted by Ian Noon on May 5, 2010

All the newspapers seem to be busy publicly endorsing political parties, so I guess it’s only fair and proper that this blog, as an equally important media outlet, advises you on who you should vote for tomorrow.

This blog therefore endorses the following party for the general election 2010….

Only joking! I would probably get carted off to jail or, worse, forbidden from ever going near the chocolate digestives at work ever again. Charities need to be politically impartial under the law, after all. In any event, I’m quite old-fashioned about voting and think everyone should decide individually and privately who they want to vote for, without nudges and winks from others.

Image courtesy of NDCS

However, if you are interested in what the parties say about deaf children, disability and special educational needs, then the National Deaf Children’s Society website has a very short summary of what the three main UK party manifestos have to say on this, which may help guide you.

You can also read the transcripts from the interviews that education spokespersons from each party did with deaf young people back in January.

Finally, you can also see whether the politicians in your area have promised to support deaf children if they are elected, by signing the National Deaf Children’s Society election pledge for deaf children.

The election promises to be very close and the next Government is likely to be making some difficult decisions on public spending cuts to come, so every vote will make a difference.

Happy voting!

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