Five random reflections on deaf life at primary school

I spent most of last week musing on life at primary school. I do love a good amble down memory lane but I had another reason; I had volunteered to give a presentation to parents of deaf children at a National Deaf Children’s Society family weekend. These are weekends for parents to learn more about various issues facing deaf children and to meet other families with the same kind of experiences.

I was mainstream all the way through the system. I loved primary school; I got my education. It’s fair to say I was probably a bit of a swot. I loved getting gold stars and certificates. My best friend now and back then in primary school is the one and same very person and he doesn’t even wonky ears like me. But primary school did come with its challenges and listening to other deaf adults, I get the impression that I wasn’t alone in these kind of experiences.

So without further ado, I present my top five random reflections of times gone by at primary school:

1) Teachers never remembered to turn the microphone on. Every morning I left my microphone on my teacher’s desk. And nearly every morning I would then have to put my hand up as the lesson started to prompt my teacher. Luckily, I was a cocky confident little boy who was happy to do so. And it didn’t stop there; teachers invariably forgot to turn the microphone off. The range on these microphones back then was quite something. I heard all sorts of staff room conversations that I shouldn’t have been listening to. I felt like James Bond Junior sometimes.

2) The Teacher of the Deaf came to visit weekly to check everything was alright. She was great. But she seemed to have an impeccable knack for coming exactly when lessons were getting most interesting. I would always have to sheepishly leave the classroom at inopportune times and then return to loads of questions from my friends as to where I’d been bunking off to.

3) My speech had a bit of work. A lot of work. I didn’t always enjoy it though I think I knew then it was done with good intentions and “for my own good”. But there were times I felt completely demoralised realising again and again that I wasn’t saying something right. And it’s left a legacy of me hating to do any public speaking,  finding myself worrying more about how I’m saying something, rather than what I’m saying and often ending up having a verbal car crash with my words.

4) Break times were sometimes tough. It could be a struggle to work out what my friends were up to. Being spontaneous was a challenge. As a result, I often ended up trying to ‘arrange’ and ‘control’ the fun myself by putting myself in charge. That way I could know what was going on. Unfortunately, it didn’t endear me to my friends and I ended up getting a reputation for being bossy and bolshy.

5) Finally, teachers invariably made assumptions about what I already knew, based on what everyone else already knew. And, invariably, they were mistaken. The classic example on my part is the Lord’s Prayer. I was at a Church of England school so every morning we all had to recite the Lord’s Prayer. For six years I didn’t have a clue what the words were. In fact, it wasn’t until Cliff Richard did that millennium prayer song, that I finally picked it up. Of course, everyone else picked it up just by listening to everyone else. I was too embarrassed to admit I didn’t know. The moral of the story is that gaps in incidental learning means there is loads that deaf children don’t quite pick up. And it turns out apparently that our Farther arts in Heaven, rather than Devon. Who knew?

It’s difficult to be angry or sad about any of the above. Had I not worked through any of the above challenges, I wouldn’t be where I am today. But part of me hope that things are better now, that deaf children are thriving rather than coping.  And that teachers are reading the guidance produced by (shameless plug alert) the National Deaf Children’s Society. I suspect though that there is more work to raise awareness among teachers of the little idiosyncrasies around supporting deaf children in school.

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Councils failing to come clean on cuts to help for deaf children

I’ve never been to Stoke on Trent. I can count on the one hand the number of people I personally know who’ve ever been to Stoke on Trent. Until recently, the most I knew was that they’re into their pottery. And now, thanks to their swinging cuts to help for deaf children, I know more about Stoke on Trent than I ever expected to at the start of the year.

And the big thing I’ve learnt is that council officials making cuts cannot or will not give straight answers to straight questions. I make an example of Stoke on Trent because I worry that other councils are playing the same games with deaf children’s futures – and it cannot go unchallenged.

We knew that even though the number of Teachers of the Deaf had been cut by half, there was a risk of further redundancies. What stunned me is that they would even think about making further cuts so soon after parents launched a campaign to save the service. Once you’ve been busted, you don’t try and get away with it a second time. But no, they went ahead and cut another post.

Or did they? The council deny it. A flat denial, no less. No redundancies, no cuts, no worries. This is technically right. But it’s also wrong. Confused? I think the council wants you to be.

We know from parents of deaf children with inside information that interviews have taken place among the entire team. We know that one Teacher of the Deaf has not been “placed” as a Teacher of the Deaf and has been verbally told as such. So she’s not working with deaf children. But because she hasn’t (yet) been made formally redundant and is still technically a Teacher of the Deaf, the council can say with a straight face there’s been no reductions or cuts. No matter that deaf children in the area will now have one less Teacher of the Deaf supporting them than a week before.

What really offends me is that rather than come clean with local parents of deaf children, explain the situation, work with them, get their views, the council seem intent on making cuts by the back door and providing parents of deaf children with as little information as possible.

It’s outrageous and I’m really glad that local parents of deaf children are challenging the council on this. The council cannot be allowed to get away with it.

Across the rest of England, NDCS has now issued Freedom of Information requests in other areas where councils have not yet come clean about their plans.

Campaign to fight cuts to help for deaf children gets local

Campaigning for deaf children at the moment basically means fighting cuts and saving services. Which is quite demoralising. And it also means a lot of the time, for various reasons, I can’t really talk about what I’m up to. I’m bursting with outrageous information that I’ve got to keep confidential.

Well, today, that changed when I helped the National Deaf Children’s Society launch one of it’s first local campaigns against cuts, in Stoke on Trent in the West Midlands.

Where do I start with Stoke on Trent? The fact that the local authority has effectively halved the number of Teachers of the Deaf in the space of 14 months? Or the local authority’s continued assertion that this isn’t going to have an impact on the service they offer to deaf children, relying on this support? With nothing to back up such an assertion?

Hello? All deaf children in Stoke on Trent are going to get the same level of support with half the number of expert specialist staff? If I were living in Stoke on Trent, I would be writing to the council if they minded if I only paid half my council tax this year – it’s not going to have an impact is it, they can still offer the same service?

Actually far worse than this is the failure by the council to tell parents of deaf children what’s going on. A general consultation on overall funding plans came out last year. But it didn’t say anything specific about proposals to cut the number of Teachers of the Deaf. And the consultation wasn’t directly or proactively aimed at parents of deaf children. Most parents in the area I’ve spoken to had no idea what was going on. Proper and full consultation isn’t just a nice thing to do to keep people involved, it’s a legal requirement. And I would personally say that Stoke on Trent are really open to legal challenge on this.

The fear is that this is happening across the country. There are still a lot of local authorities in which NDCS haven’t yet been told what’s going on.

Luckily, there’s a fantastic group of parents in Stoke on Trent who are geared up to fight the cuts. They got themselves in the local paper today and have been busy making a noise. NDCS has helping them with their campaign to reinstate the posts that have done and prevent any further redundancies. There’s a special section on the NDCS web for their campaign. Fingers crossed, the council will realise that these kinds of cuts WILL have an impact, the lost posts must be reinstated and they can’t get away with making these kind of changes to services for deaf children without telling anyone.

Hands up for help on the telly

The BBC2 programme See Hear featured the National Deaf Children’s Society Hands up for help! campaign this week. It was a great summary of what the campaign is all about and included some good vox-pops, such as one from a deaf young person on why her visiting Teacher of the Deaf is so important. It also included a cute deaf baby if you like to go “awwww!” at such things.

Image courtesy of http://www.bbc.co.uk

One of the Mums was from Hillingdon in London and See Hear went on to interview a man from the council. He basically admitted that the council doesn’t provide better support because it doesn’t have the money. So there you have it. If you’re a deaf child in Hillingdon, you’re probably not getting a fair chance to achieve. And this situation is being repeated all across the UK.

If you’re angry about this, you can contact your councillors using NDCS’s fancy thingybob to demand they, at least, maintain spending on help for deaf children. At a time when lots of councils are making cuts, the situation in places like Hillingdon could get even worse.

Oh, and you can watch the See Hear programme online. Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Making sure there’s enough money for help for deaf children

Well, it’s been a week since I help the National Deaf Children’s Society launch the Hands up for help! campaign report. In that time:

* Over 250 people have contacted their MP in support of the campaign
* It’s been plastered all over BBC London news, reaching millions of viewers
* Over 200 people have joined the Facebook fanpage for the campaign
* Lots of people have also leaving details of their own experiences of help for deaf children on NDCS’s interactive map
* Over 300 people have downloaded the campaign report

Image courtesy of NDCS

The campaign’s key message – that every deaf child deserves a fair chance at school – seems to have hit a chord, among a wide range of people, which is great to see.

So what next? The report makes four recommendations for action and NDCS is going to be lobbying MPs, Ministers, Peers, councillors, local authority decision makers, anyone who will listen, to get them to take action.

The first recommendation is probably the most important. It says:

The Government must ensure adequate funding for specialist support services so all deaf children have a fair chance at school, no matter where they live.

The context behind this isn’t hard to see. We know that massive spending cuts on the way. In the past, local authority budgets have been hit hard. And with deafness being a low incidence, “invisible” disability, budgets for specialist support services have often been seen as an easy target. Anecdotally, there is evidence of vacancies for Teachers of the Deaf being frozen and of loads of local authorities exploring the scope for cuts through SEN “reviews”.

So now NDCS is going to have to make sure deafness isn’t “invisible” in discussions around budget cuts across England.

Have you come across any cuts to services for deaf children where you live? If so, leave a comment below or email NDCS at campaigns@ndcs.org.uk.

I’ll blog about the campaign report’s other recommendations over the next few weeks.

New NDCS campaign, Hands up for help!, launches

Exciting day as the National Deaf Children’s Society officially launches the new Hands up for help! campaign. It’s all go, and everything I’ve been working on for the past few months is now out there.

To see it all, just pop along to the Hands up for help! webpage on the NDCS website. Here you can download the campaign report, find out what deaf young people had to say about the help they get at school and see an online interactive map showing how the help a deaf child gets depends on where they live, not what they need.

And now the hard work begins. Once the launch is out of the way, NDCS will be looking to get the Government to do something, to make sure every deaf child gets a fair chance at school. To do that, we needs lots of people to spread the word and contact their MPs about the campaign. So please support the campaign by contacting your MP. As always, our website makes it easy to do this and you don’t need to know who your MP is. And we won’t make you feel guilty if you don’t.

You can also show your support for the campaign by downloading a special NDCS Twibbon on Twitter and/or “liking” the fanpage on Facebook.

I’ll be doing some blogs about the campaign and what the report found in coming weeks. But in the meantime, let us know your thoughts on the campaign.

UPDATE: London’s Evening Standard have done an article on the campaign. It also has a comments box if you want to leave your comments/thoughts/experiences.

Are deaf children getting the help they need at school?

The National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) is launching a new campaign later this week, and I’ve been busy getting everything ready for the big kick off. The campaign is on a subject close to my heart: making sure that deaf children get the help they need at school.

Image courtesy of NDCS

For most deaf children, Teachers of the Deaf play a critical role in providing this help. These are teachers who’ve studied a little longer to become experts on how deaf children learn at school. Not all Teachers of the Deaf are perfect, as in all professions. But I think most do a good job, or the best they can. I have some fond memories of my Teachers of the Deaf as a child. They came and saw me every week, made sure I was being assertive over my radio aids and checked up on my mainstream teachers. They had nothing but the highest expecations for me, and pushed me hard. They also made my parents believe that I could do just as well as any other child. Best of all, their visits always coincided with RE lessons.

Academic research backs this up too. Specialist teachers make more of a difference than any other kind of help in the classroom, including teaching assistants. Teachers of the Deaf are also a key factor behind high achievement in deaf pupils.

So why are there so few Teachers of the Deaf? The campaign, called Hands up for Help! , will reveal evidence showing that deaf children across England have unfair access to help from Teachers of the Deaf. In the South East of England, for example, each visiting Teacher of the Deaf is working with over 50 deaf children. Unless they have some sort of time travelling device down in the Kent countryside, I find it very hard to believe that each visiting Teacher of the Deaf can really do everything necessary to make sure every deaf child is getting the help they need. A NDCS interactive map of specialist support services reveals some of the variations in the help that deaf children get. It also shows how deaf children are under achieving on a significant scale across England. It makes for pretty depressing reading. You can leave your own good or bad memories/experiences on the map too.

The new Government bandies the term ‘fairness’ around a lot. Well, a failure to provide deaf children with the help they need seems to be pretty unfair to me. So I’m looking forward to seeing their response to the campaign.

Come back later in the week for more details of the campaign launch.