Working to influence the Children and Families Act

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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Deaf question time for education politicians

Back in January, I mentioned that a tremendous trio of deaf students from Heston Community School in west London went to Westminster to interview MPs from each of the main political parties on on their parties’ approach to supporting deaf children to help parents of deaf children decide how to vote in the upcoming general election.

The interviews have now been published by the National Deaf Children’s Society and are available on their website.

There are a few similarities between the different parties. To be expected: no party is ever going to stand on a platform for less support for deaf children and more bullying. But it’s worth reading the interviews to tease out the slight differences in the party’s approaches.

The students – Karen, Kevin and Maynaka – were all excellent ambassadors for NDCS and their school. They even managed to tease out information about what the MPs will do to celebrate if they win the general election. Answers ranged from having a good sleep, having a curry, and playing some Lego!

Am very proud of the students!

An end and a beginning for deaf children in Westminster

Last week, the parliamentary year ended. And then this week, a new one began. Nobody did an Auld Lang Syne, though the Queen did dress up a bit and hit the town.

With the end of the parliamentary year, all parliamentary petitions (known as early day motions) were wrapped up and no more signatures could be added to them. So we did a bit of number crunching to see how many MPs supported one or both of the two early day motions that were tabled in the last year on deaf children and education. These were early day motions 592 and 1607. Both called on the Government to take action to close the gap in attainment between deaf children and their hearing peers, and both pointedly pointed out that deafness is not a learning disability.

And the total number of MPs came to…. 156. Considering there are 645 MPs, this is nearly a quarter of all MPs. Since Ministers or anyone with a small part in running the machinery of Government cannot sign an early day motion, 156 is really quite good. I’m pleased. It’s allowing us to say that one in four MPs support our campaign.

But we won’t be looking back. On Wednesday, the Government set out it’s priorities for the future and its legislative plans for the year ahead via the Queen’s speech. NDCS did a news item on this, setting out the Bills that NDCS is going to be paying close attention to. For example, the proposed Equalities Bill might provide us with an opportunity to put forward changes that will benefit deaf children. This will be a big piece of work for us going forward. The proposed Children, Learning and Skills Bill might also be an opportunity for NDCS as well.

So its out with the old and in with the new…

PS Did you spot anything in the Bill that caught you eye or which might positively impact on deaf children? Let us know any thoughts you might have…

Getting answers to Parliamentary Questions about deaf children in Westminster

It was two days late but we finally got an answer to Tom Levitt’s parliamentary question on deaf children and what is being done to narrow the gap in educational attainment (which I blogged about last week). The reply, which came from Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Minister for SEN) and which constitutes an official statement on the issue, was:

We have been looking at the data on attainment gaps between hearing impaired children and their peers with the National Deaf Children’s Society, in the context of our public service agreement target to narrow attainment gaps between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. Our national strategies advisers are looking with local authorities at the proportions of children who are achieving less than levels expected for their age at Key Stages 2 and 4, and at the actions being taken to reduce those proportions over time. We have commissioned research from the National Children’s Bureau and the Thomas Coram Research Centre to establish why there are such wide variations between authorities on the identification and classification of children with all types of SEN but using deaf/hearing children and autism spectrum disorders as exemplars.

To help narrow outcome gaps between children with SEN and disabilities (including children whose hearing is impaired) and their peers, we committed £18 million in the Children’s Plan to: improve work force knowledge, skills and understanding of SEN and disability through better initial teacher training and continuing professional development; developing better data for schools on how well children are progressing, and guidance for schools on what constitutes good progress; and continue to strengthen the position of SEN coordinators in schools. The Training and Development Agency is currently consulting on proposals for nationally accredited training courses for new SEN coordinators.

We have also committing to funding, from September 2009, additional places on courses leading to approved mandatory qualifications (MQ) for teaching children and young people with sensory impairments. The TDA has been working with interested parties to establish arrangements for making best use of the funding we are making available.

In addition, we have committed £800,000 for a pilot project to raise awareness of British Sign Language and upskill the current specialist work force.

Tom Levitt at the launch of the Close the Gap report On the plus side:

* It’s good to get the Government’s own view on how it thinks it is working to close the gap. There are clearly a few work streams in place which is obviously good news and good to be reminded about. It’s all useful information for our Close the Gap campaign.

* NDCS got a mention. Which is always nice.

On the downside:

* There was a missed opportunity for the Government to set out a clear ambition to close the gap in attainment between deaf children and their hearing peers. This has always been implicit, and it’s always slightly disappointing that it’s never been made fully explicit.

* The answer doesn’t provide any numbers or targets for how it expects the gap to close. We may come back to the Government to press them on this issue.

Anyhow, it’s a useful reply, and one which can refer back to in our correspondence with Government officials. We’ll also be thanking Tom Levitt for raising this issue in Parliament and helping to raise awareness among other MPs of the deaf children and educational attainment.

We’re expecting some more questions to be tabled in Parliament next week on deaf children, which I’ll be blogging about soon.

Emerging from the shadows…

Hi there! I’m Ian Noon, kicking off with my first entry on my all-new all-singing all-dancing blog. I’m the UK campaigns officer for the National Deaf Children’s Society and Deaf Child Worldwide and I’m going to be using this blog to tell you all about the campaign work that we do to change the world for deaf children and young people around the world. As a deaf person, I’ll also be giving some deaf insights on our lobbying work. Who knows, I may even give some occassional insider gossip from the sinister shadows of Government…

I’ll say more about my job and what we get up to later… but I hope you’ll enjoy the blog and please send in any questions or comments you have about our campaigns. But for now, I have some lurking and plotting to do back in my Westminster cave…

Westminster by night