Apparently, there’s a big general election coming up on the 7th May. One of the factors that voters may be taking into account is the coalition government’s record over the past five years. But in terms of support for deaf children, what do we know about what’s changed?
With this in mind, our next few blogs will explore a few key areas in relation to deaf children. Starting with education:
1. Have deaf children achieved better outcomes?
Yes and no. Because the Government has changed the way that they calculate their GCSE figures on how many deaf children achieve 5 GCSEs (including English and Maths) at grades A* to C (or “5 good GCSEs”), it’s difficult to make like for like comparisons over the past five years.
Back in 2010, 36% of deaf children achieved 5 good GCSEs. In 2014, the same figure was 36.3% under the government’s new methodology. So, on that basis, deaf children aren’t doing that much better. However, if the 2014 figures had been calculated using the same methodology as in previous years, the figure would have been 40%.
Between 2007 and 2010, the GCSE figures (also under the old methodology), the number of deaf children achieving 5 good GCSEs rose from 27% to 36%.
A key NDCS campaign is to close the gap in attainment between deaf and other children. The figures suggest a slight narrowing of the gap from 46% to around 42-44% since 2010. NDCS would hope to be seeing a much faster narrowing of the gap than that shown over the past five years.
NDCS’s website features more analysis of the government attainment figures
2. Have deaf children been getting the support they need?
The Government protected school funding for the whole of the five years and in 2014/15, the Government increased what’s known as the ‘high needs’ budget for those who need more support. They have also sent a clear signal to local authorities that they expect them to protect funding for the most vulnerable learners.
A less known detail is that the Government allowed funding for services for deaf children and other children with special educational needs to be kept by the local authority. The alternative – where schools were giving a slice of the pie and then expected to buy back support – could have led to the fragmentation of services so this was an important policy decision.
Disappointingly though, in our view, the Government has not done enough to ensure that local authorities do indeed protect funding for vulnerable learners. We know from the NDCS Stolen Futures campaign, that funding hasn’t been protected at a local level, or at least in relation to deaf children. We’ve had to campaign hard to prevent cuts to vital services for deaf children across the country.
There has also been a decline in the number of Teachers of the Deaf. Figures from the Consortium for Research into Deaf Education suggest a 3% decline in Teachers of the Deaf last year, with the number of qualified Teachers of the Deaf falling below 1,000 in England last year for the first time. This is despite the fact that that the number of deaf children has not gone down and that there is a still a significant number who are not achieving good outcomes.
3. Has the support that deaf children been receiving been good enough?
A big priority for the Government over the past five years has been to reform the special educational needs (SEN) framework, which outlines how deaf and other children should be supported to achieve their potential. This culminated in the Children and Families Act 2014 and new statutory guidance, the SEN and Disability Code of Practice. Key changes include:
- A new requirement to publish a Local Offer, setting out what support will be available locally
- More rights for young people over the age of 16, with a new joined up 0 to 25 system
- New explicit principles around ‘co-production’ and involvement of parents and young people
More information about these changes can be found in the NDCS SEN reform FAQ.
These changes came into force in September 2014. The Government have been among the first to admit that it will be some time before these changes start to be felt in day to day practice and NDCS has yet to see a fall in demand for support from parents of deaf children to help them resolve issues concerning their child’s education.
There are a range of views over whether these changes were a good idea or not. NDCS was disappointed that the key question of how the Government would ensure that local authorities would actually follow these new laws was left until rather late in the day. Ofsted have now been invited to consider how local areas will be scrutinised for the quality of their provision but there is still considerable uncertainty over how Ofsted will do this and whether they will really look in detail into the quality of services of deaf children. A consultation is expected after the election.
One final area where the Government has taken action is around acoustics in schools. Prior to 2010, following a big NDCS campaign, the previous Government committed to a number of steps to improve the quality of acoustics in schools. These largely fell by the wayside when the new Government came into power and there were fears that acoustics regulations would be scrapped in a “bonfire of regulations”. Fortunately, the Government decided to keep them, sending a signal that schools should ensure they have the best possible listening environments. NDCS would still like the Government to go further, in introducing mandatory acoustic testing of new schools and ensuring that early year settings also have good acoustics too.
Trying to do justice to five years of education policy in a single blog is a challenge and the above does not attempt to cover everything or to touch on wider education changes that impact on all children, such as on curriculum and exams. We hope it provides some food for thought though. Let us know what you think about our summary evaluation by leaving a comment below.