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

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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New education laws to improve education for deaf children


Originally uploaded to Flickr by Joep R.

Yesterday, Parliament shut up shop. MPs were booted out. Maybe even chucked into the River Thames. But before they all went back to their constituencies, last week they were busy trying to pass lots of laws before Parliament dissolved. And two new bits of law were created which are worth getting a little bit excited about.

These are the Children, Schools and Families Act and the Equality Act. The former introduces a new right of appeal for parents of deaf children if their local authority refuses to update their statement for special educational needs support needed at school. And the latter makes a major changes to disability discrimination law by saying that disabled children now have the right to specialist equipment like radio aid microphones. Previously, this was only guaranteed to disabled children if it was included in their statement of support. A rather strange get-out clause for schools has now been closed.

Why are they important? Government figures from last year suggest that deaf children are 42% less likely to do as well in their GCSEs as other children. It’s an obvious point but unless deaf children are getting the support they need, we won’t close the gap in attainment. I think the Government deserves some plaudits for getting these new laws on the book.

The bad news is that the proposed new law on pupil and parent guarantees didn’t make it in the end. The week before Parliament is dissolved is known as the “wash-up” period where MPs take all their dirty coffee cups to the kitchen and where the Government and the opposition party also have to agree what laws will pass in the short time left. The guarantees didn’t get cross-party support so they fell by the wayside. I thought it was a shame. The guarantees wouldn’t have changed the world overnight for deaf children. But they could have been an important means to an end; of setting out new entitlements that would, again, have helped make sure that deaf children get the support they need.

Still, a nice little bookend to the last parliamentary session. More information about the new laws is on the NDCS website.

What do you think? Will the new laws make a difference? What else needs to be done to close the gap? As always, good to hear your thoughts.

Final Lamb inquiry report on SEN now out

Brian Lamb finally published his report last week on how the Government can increase parental confidence in the special educational needs (SEN) system, and just before Christmas too. After three interim reports, the Lamb reports were beginning to feel a bit like a gift that keeps on giving.

The final report makes for very interesting reading. It contains not 1, not 2, but 51 recommendations on actions needed to improve the SEN system. NDCS has given a very warm welcome to the report which addresses a range of issues from our Must do better! report on educational underachievement of deaf children and our Close the Gap campaign.

Some of the recommendations had already been published and are being acted upon already by the Government. For example, recommendations on making Ofsted inspectors more inclusive and stronger rights of appeal for parents in the statementing process are being taken forward by the Children, Schools and Families Bill. This piece of legislation is due to get its first debate in Parliament in January, and NDCS will be calling for it to get through Parliament quickly, before the general election.

Other recommendations are new and a welcome surprise to boot. Currently, schools don’t have to take ‘reasonable adjustments’ if a deaf child needs auxiliary aids (like, for example, a microphone or amplification system). It’s often provided as a part of a statement, but this isn’t much consolation to the many deaf children who don’t have a statement. So the Lamb inquiry proposes that disability discrimination laws be improved so that schools do have to make reasonable adjustments in this area. NDCS is going to be writing to the Government to stress how important this is.

Another surprise was a recommendation for a new national and independent helpline on SEN. Given the volume of calls NDCS’s free helpline gets, there would seem to be a clear need for this.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families is going to be publishing it’s formal response to all of the recommendations in January, but already they’ve issued a fairly warm response. I’ll be checking to make sure the warm words lead to warm actions.

What do you think of the report and its proposals for improving the SEN system? Is it good news for deaf children? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

New rights for parents of deaf children

The Lamb inquiry into parental confidence in the special educational needs system pumped out two more interim reports on Monday. The first one was on the quality of statements of support for children with special educational needs. And it contained a recommendation that left some of my colleagues flabbergasted – a new right for parents to appeal if the statement for their child is not updated or modified to reflect changing need.

Lots of parents have told NDCS that statements seem to be set in stone once they are drafted. So a child moving to secondary school might still have the same statement they had when they had as a very young child. There are apparently examples of statements for older children saying that a child is not yet toilet trained. Children don’t stay the same forever, so why should statements? NDCS stressed this point in our formal submission to the Lamb inquiry.

Currently, statements should be annually reviewed and a parent can ask for an interim review. But the local authority doesn’t have to change the content of the statement unless the parent demands a re-assessment, a long and painful process for many parents to contemplate.

So the recommendation, which has already been accepted by the Government, is big news, which is likely to make a big difference. Another recommendation that guidance should be produced for local authorities on how to draft statements will also helpfully shake things up. Part of me still wonders whether more needs to be done to monitor and check the quality of statements but maybe that will come in the final Lamb inquiry report, due out in the autumn.

And I haven’t even started on the second interim report which had also offers the promise of more big changes for deaf children and Ofsted. Come back soon for more info on this…

What will the Conservatives do for disabled children?

While I was off in Scotland last week looking for the Loch Ness monster, David Cameron was busy setting out the Conservative party’s stall on policy towards disabled children.

It made for very interesting reading. Some interesting points jumped out at me:

1) Instead of subjecting parents to repetitive assessments by different professionals, a ‘crack team’ of professionals should visit families at the same time to assess what support is needed – in terms of social care, benefits, etc. The idea is that a one stop shop will reduce the bureacratic experience faced by many parents.

2) Decisions about what education support a disabled child should be given should be based on their needs. Yet too many parents feel that the local authority cares more about how much it’s going to cost them. At the moment, the same people who do the assessments are the same people who pay for it. In response, David Cameron has pledged to look into making assessments independent of decisions about funding.

3) The Conservatives seem to want to end the trend towards closing special schools ending – to ensure that disabled children aren’t put into mainstream provision where this is inappropriate and to give parents more choice.

The above chime with much of what NDCS is calling for as part of our Close the Gap campaign – and so is something to be welcomed. Personally, I’d like to hear more about the Conservatives will be closing the gap in attainment between deaf children and their hearing peers. Will there be more specialist support funded, for example?

We’ll be keeping an eye out for more policy announcements from the Conservatives to see what they might mean for deaf children. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on the above?