Making deaf children matter

Musings and blogs from a deaf campaigner

Posts Tagged ‘Stolen Futures’

Debating deaf children’s futures

Posted by Ian Noon on October 13, 2013

After 18 months of campaigning and 50,000+ petition signatures, MPs have agreed that concerns over cuts to funding to support for deaf children are so serious that Parliament should debate them.

Deafness is invariably described as the invisible disability. The needs of deaf children too often get overlooked. Well, not on Thursday. This isn’t going to be a debate in some poky committee room – it will be on the floor of the House of Commons. The needs of deaf children will take centre-stage and the Government will be forced to explain what exactly they are doing to make sure deaf children get the help they need. And the whole world can judge whether this is good enough. This is a big deal, ladies and gentlemen.

The debate is going to be an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the fact that help for deaf children is being cut across the country. The Government say they have protected funding for vulnerable learners yet this protection isn’t being carried through at a local level. 29% of local authorities are cutting services and another 25% are at risk, according to analysis from the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS).

You might take the Government’s point that this is a matter for local communities. But there’s only so much fire-fighting that parents can do without getting exhausted or neglecting their core job – being Mums and Dads to their deaf child. It’s time for the Government to take action to stop the fires starting in the first place.

There are different ways the Government can do this. It could intervene directly in some of the worse cases and name and shame council bosses that don’t protect funding for vulnerable learners. The Government seems quite happy to tell councils what to do about rubbish collections and council magazines after all.

It could also introduce stronger checks over councils. It could make Ofsted inspect specialist services for deaf children. It’s easy for councils to cut services if they don’t think there are going to be any serious consequences.

The debate is also going to be an opportunity to say that, well actually, before even all of these cuts, in many places the support deaf children were getting wasn’t good enough. Over two thirds of deaf children fail to get 5 good GCSEs. It’s an opportunity to debate openly the fact that:

  • Too many families aren’t getting enough support after their deaf child is born. Where they want to learn sign language, families sometimes have to pay thousands of pounds just to learn to communicate with their own child.
  • Too many deaf children don’t get the specialist support they need in the classroom. They have to learn in poky noisy classrooms without extra help and support.
  • Too many deaf young people don’t get the help they need to prepare for adulthood and independence.

My biggest fear is that the Government will, come Thursday’s debate, do as they’ve done before and just bat away concerns. They’ll point to tiny pots of money given for small projects – not unappreciated but not enough. They’ll point to new laws on special educational needs even though this doesn’t address the fundamental issues deaf children face.

This is why a big turnout from MPs is needed. The more MPs that turn up and say something must be done, the more likely the Government will actually do something substantial. So MPs need to know this debate is important. MPs need to hear from families and deaf people of the individual stories and challenges that deaf children face. MPs need to challenge the Government to do more, much more.

And hopefully then Thursday’s debate will be the start of a lasting change that makes a big difference to deaf children.

To ask your MP to come along on Thursday, you can email him / her via the NDCS website. For more information about the debate, you can also check out NDCS’s Stolen Futures campaign pages. You can email your MP via the

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Stolen Futures campaign video and why the Government needs to step up

Posted by Ian Noon on February 11, 2013

Image courtesy of NDCS

Well, today was very exciting. The new campaign video for the National Deaf Children’s Society Stolen Futures campaign was released. It features actor Jim Carter (him off Downton Abbey, not the ex-peacenik-President) and my heroine Dame Evelyn Glennie (her banging the drums at the Olympics). And Jim then appeared on Lorraine this morning to tell everyone about the petition. Don’t tell anyone but I’ve always had a secret crush on Lorraine. It’s that husky Scottish voice. Rrrr.

Anyhow, the video is great. Please do watch and see for yourself. But it has a serious side. Vital services for deaf children are still being cut across the UK. Deaf children’s futures are still being stolen. And the Department for Education are still buck passing. The National Deaf Children’s Society still needs 100,000 signatures to force the Department to take responsibility.

“It’s a matter for local authorities,” the Department say.

“We’ve protected funding for vulnerable learners,” they protest.

“Go and have a go at the council bosses, light some firecrackers down the council building,” they haven’t quite said but it lies near the surface.

By April 2013, one in three local authorities will have cut the vital services that deaf children rely on. Is the Department for Education seriously expecting parents from across all those areas or charitable organisations like the National Deaf Children’s Society to be able to hold them all to account? For real?

It’s the Department for Education’s money. It’s their responsibility. They need to sort it.

Hence, the petition to get them to intervene. It’s building momentum. Over 28,500 so far. Share the video with everyone you know to help them see why this is so important. Get them to sign the petition. And then get them to share the video with everyone they know. And that way we can get the Department for Education to finally step up.

Deaf children deserve better than all this buck passing.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Stop what you’re doing, sign a petition and help stop cuts to deaf children’s services

Posted by Ian Noon on July 26, 2012

My colleague Jenny caught me talking to myself the other day. I simply reminded her about the importance of internal communications in our office. And in the best spirit of internal communication, I am going to interview myself in this blog. I think I’m sitting comfortably, so here we go.

Hello! Do you have 5 minutes to sign a petition? 

God, not another pointless pontificating petition for socialist eco-warrior peaceniks to sign…

No, no, no – this is a petition to help save services for deaf children. 1 in 4 councils are cutting vital services for deaf children like Teachers of the Deaf, communication support workers, audiologists, social workers, speech and language therapists. NDCS’s Stolen Futures report sets out the full scale of cuts across England.

Yeah, yeah, all very sad, boo hoo, but cuts are taking place everywhere, innit?

Yeah, but are things really so bad that we have to start cutting help for deaf children, some of the most vulnerable children in society. To force deaf children to sit in classrooms missing what’s being said and falling further and further behind because their Teacher of the Deaf isn’t able to come in anymore? Is that how we think we should treat deaf children?

Er, yes, that’s bad but…

Hang on dear, there’s more. Imagine you’re a Mum who’s just found out that your child is deaf. You know nothing about deafness. 9 out of 10 parents don’t. You need someone to explain what deafness is, how you can teach your child to develop language and communication, and help you navigate all the other services out there. You need someone to give you hope.

Yeah, OK, it’s pretty immoral and something needs to be done, but a petition, yeah? Hardly going to change the world…

But if this petition gets 100,000 signatures, Parliament will hold a debate on the petition.

A debate? Snooze… I thought we were trying to stop the cuts? How is a debate going to change things?

A debate is still a big deal. Very few petitions hit the 100,000 mark so those that do get noticed. Government Ministers will have to explain themselves in front of everyone and answer some tough searching questions about what’s happening to deaf kids. Even if nothing happens immediately, it’s going to put them under huge amounts of pressure to do something. Plus, it will send a really strong signal that people care about deaf children. That people think the Government and councils should have some basic decency and not abandon deaf children.

But what’s the point of asking Westminster to do anything? The local councils are the bad guys right? Why can’t you just keep fighting them locally like you’ve been doing already? Take them to court and flog ’em? 

True, dat. It is the councils making cuts. But the Government holds the big purse strings. And they have real powers of direction over councils. There’s 152 councils in England. As much as they would like to and as much as they can try to, organisations like NDCS can’t fight the local cuts everywhere. Central Government can, should and needs to intervene.

100,000 signatures though? Impossible. Do you want me to raise the Titanic while I’m at it? 

Impossible? It’s said that everyone in the world is connected through six people. Around 500 people read my last blog last week. You all have friends, right? You also have colleagues, social groups that you’re involved in? If you sign it, then get 10 people to sign the petition and then they too get 10 people to sign it, we’re half way there already.

And I suppose when you get to  halfway other people will start to notice and say to themselves, actually yeah, this is a pretty appalling way to treat some of the most vulnerable children in society.

Absolutely. Aren’t you a clever clogs. And think what a signal it would send if the needs of deaf children reach the top of the agenda. Councils and Government would seriously think twice about ever doing anything to mess with people who care about deaf children and other disabled children.

Alright then, I’ll sign the bloody thing. Er, and how do I do that? 

Easy. Go to this website. Add your details. Click send. Then wait for an email to confirm you’re not some lunatic spambot and click on the link in the email. And you’re done. Then email everyone you know and get them all fired up. Sorted.

I’ll do my best. I’m still just 1 person though. Can I really make a difference?

Yes. If enough people take small steps to stand up to an injustice, big things can happen.

Deaf children are some of the most vulnerable children in society. If we don’t stand up for their rights and stop the cuts, then who will?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »