Who is celebrating today?

Martin-Mclean-cropped

Martin McLean, Education and Training Policy Advisor (Post-14), National Deaf Children’s Society

Today is A-level results day. This means lots of TV footage of young people opening an envelope and then crying tears of joy as they pull out the sheet of paper that tells them they got the grades they need to get into their chosen university. Certainly for many, today will bring good news but what about deaf young people — how many will be celebrating?

One thing that irritates me about the media’s coverage of A-level results is that it completely ignores the fact there are many young people taking other qualifications than A-levels. Many students are also receiving BTEC and Level 3 diploma results on the same day or a bit earlier but you wouldn’t know it. Were their achievements not worth celebrating too? I think they are.

Sadly, too many deaf young people are not achieving what we call ‘Level 3 qualifications’; these are A-levels, BTECs, diplomas and other qualifications that will enable them to move onto higher education or widen their employment choices. According to Government data in 2017 only 41% of deaf young people in England achieved 2 A-levels or equivalent qualifications by the age of 19. This is a figure we believe is too low (65% of young people without disabilities achieved 2 A-levels or equivalent).

So what were the other 59% doing between the ages of 16 and 19? Most were continuing to work towards Level 2 qualifications (equivalent to GCSE) or below. This is important progress to make in order to be ready to take a Level 3 qualification or to move onto an apprenticeship. In 2017, 74% of deaf young people had achieved the equivalent of 5 GCSEs by the age of 19.

What happens after the age of 19 — do they continue studying or do they go into work? This is where Government data runs out.  We just don’t know and this is why we are commissioning research that will track young people over a period of 5 years, beyond education into employment. Watch this space — we will be releasing more info about this research soon.

If you have achieved your A-levels, BTECs or diploma today then a big congratulations! However, let us spare a thought too for those deaf 18 year olds who are not quite there yet or taking other routes. With the right support to gain the skills they need, some focus and ambition, they too can have bright futures.

Grommet surgery not under threat

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Vicki Kirwin, Development Manager (Audiology & Health)

Recent headlines across the media have suggested that the NHS plan to cut some “ineffective” routine surgeries to save money. One of the treatments supposedly under threat is grommet surgery for children with glue ear.

We are aware that some of our members have raised concerns about the impact of these cuts on deaf children. However, we don’t feel that the headlines are a true reflection of the NHS proposals. We have read the draft consultation proposed by the NHS and it is clear that grommet surgery will still be available to all children who meet the current guidelines. It seems that the proposed changes are a way of making health professionals adhere more closely to these guidelines, rather than an attempt to stop the procedure altogether.

The selection criteria outlined in the proposal are:

  • All children must have had specialist audiology and ENT assessment.
  • Persistent bilateral otitis media with effusion (glue ear) over a period of 3 months.
  • Hearing level in the better ear of 25-30dbHL or worse averaged at 0.5, 1, 2, & 4 kHz
  • Exceptionally, healthcare professionals should consider grommets in children with persistent glue ear in both ears with a hearing loss less than 25- 30dbHL, where the impact of the hearing loss on a child’s developmental, social or educational status is judged to be significant.
  • The guidance is different for children with Down’s Syndrome and Cleft Palate, these children may be offered grommets after a specialist MDT assessment in line with NICE guidance.
  • It is also good practice to ensure glue ear has not resolved once a date of surgery has been agreed, with tympanometry as a minimum.

We feel that these guidelines are appropriate and we are not currently concerned that there will be a negative impact on the selection process. We don’t expect that it will be harder for families to access grommet surgery for their child; if it’s clinically necessary and their choice of intervention. If families have had issues getting the right treatment for their child we do, however, urge them to contact our Helpline.

The NHS consultation will be published soon and we will be responding to the final version. We will also closely monitor how the proposals are implemented locally. If anyone is concerned about the availability of grommet surgery in their local area please contact our Helpline or the Campaigns team at NDCS.Campaigns@ndcs.org.uk.

Jovita’s vlog — Taking Stolen Futures to Parliament

Jovita, one of our Youth Advisory Board members, went to Parliament on 4th July together with the NDCS Roadshow Bus as part of our Stolen Futures event. Take a look at her signed vlog below (this vlog includes subtitles).

The aim of the event was to talk to MPs about budget cuts to services for deaf children and young people. We also wanted to speak to Minister Nadhim Zahawi MP and convince him to have a meeting with us to discuss these spending cuts.

Thanks to Jovita and our other supporters on the day we have now been successful! Nadhim Zahawi has agreed to meet with us to discuss education services for deaf children — well done to all our campaigners! We will keep you updated about the outcome of the meeting.

 

Right to Sign – update on BSL GCSE campaign

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research, National Deaf Children’s Society

There’s been another breakthrough in the Right to Sign campaign, and it’s all thanks to two of our amazing campaigners.

Back in June, we explained that the Department for Education in England had done a U-turn and would now allow a GCSE in British Sign Language (BSL). However, they also said that there could not be any new GCSEs in this Parliament. In theory, this meant that there could be no BSL GCSE before 2022.

Daniel Jillings, a 12 year old deaf young person, decided to take legal action, with support from his Mum, Ann Jillings. His solicitors, Irwin Mitchell, argued that a blanket policy of no new GCSEs was discriminatory, especially to young people like him for whom any new GCSE in BSL would come too late if it couldn’t be introduced before 2022.

In response, the Department has conceded that it will make an exception for a BSL GCSE and that it can now be introduced before 2022. This is great news, and we would like to pay tribute to Daniel and Ann for sticking to their guns and challenging the Department on this.

In terms of what happens next, any exam body, such as Signature, will still need to meet the requirements set by the Department for Education and the exams regulator Ofqual. It’s important that any GCSE is of the highest standard and has the same credibility as other GCSEs. We’re calling on the Department to do everything it can to support and expedite progress, so that a new GCSE is ready to go as soon as possible so that young people like Daniel can benefit from it. We want to see evidence they’re taking a ‘can-do’ attitude towards making a BSL GCSE a reality.

Much will now depend on the progress that the Department, Ofqual and exam bodies like Signature make and it’s still too early to say how any new BSL GCSE will work in practice. However, the Department’s announcement is a big step forward and we can now be more optimistic that change will come sooner rather than later.

More information about Signature’s work in this area can be found on their website. Keep an eye on our campaigns blog as well for more updates.

The trouble with frameworks

Martin-Mclean-cropped

Martin McLean, Education and Training Policy Advisor (Post-14), National Deaf Children’s Society

Last week the BSL interpreter’s union, NUBSLI, released a hard-hitting report criticising the Government use of national frameworks for public services buying in BSL interpreting support.

What is meant by a framework? (One of these terms loved by policy-makers but which probably means little to most ordinary people). In this situation, it is basically a set of conditions or rules that have to be followed by public bodies when buying in services. Governments like them because it allows them to control costs and quality.

So what is the problem? NUBSLI claims that the national frameworks for interpreting services being used by the NHS, courts, police and social services are damaging because it leads to contracts being awarded to a limited number of agencies. The agencies will gain contracts on the basis of delivering the required ‘quality’ for the lowest price. NUBSLI reports that there are a number of problems with this, including:

  • Having services provided by one large agency reduces choice for deaf people. They may not be able to use their preferred interpreter and cannot change the agency provided.

 

  • There is a downwards pressure on interpreter fees and their terms and conditions which threatens to make their work unsustainable.

 

  • Inexperienced interpreters are being used for very critical situations such as court cases or child protection meetings.

In 2016 the Government introduced a Quality Assurance Framework (QAF) for support funded through Disabled Student Allowances for students from England. It was not mentioned within NUBSLI’s report but there are some similarities. The QAF requires providers of support to pay to sign up to a register and agree to a number of terms and conditions. BSL interpreters have raised concerns about the QAF too because the administrative requirements of the framework discourage freelancers from registering.

We like quality assurance but our concern is that the way this system is set up can reduce choice for students. When I took my Masters degree in 2013 I was able to provide a list of preferred interpreters to my university’s Disability Advisor. This could no longer happen under the QAF. The fear is that more experienced interpreters (and other types of support workers) who will have a strong client base will decline to work in higher education due to unfavourable terms and conditions.

Are we therefore campaigning on this issue? Whilst some reservations have been expressed with civil servants, we have not been vocal about the QAF. This is because we lack evidence from deaf students themselves that they are receiving poor quality support. It is crucial for us to have evidence of a problem if we are going to be taken seriously by the Government.

If you are a higher education student not happy with the support you are getting through Disabled Student Allowances, please let us know by contacting our helpline. The same goes for anyone receiving support through the frameworks mentioned in NUBSLI’s report. Don’t suffer in silence – your case studies are really valuable for our work!

Campaign victory on Ofsted SEND inspections

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research, National Deaf Children’s Society

Two of the most important things the Government can do to ensure deaf children get the support they need are to ensure: 1) there’s enough funding in the system and 2) local authorities and schools are properly held to account for the support they provide.

Yesterday, the Education Secretary gave a speech which recognised concerns about the first and promised action on the second.

Back in 2016, Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission began inspections of support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Under this new inspection framework, each local area would be inspected once over a five-year period.

This inevitably raised the question over what would happen after 2021 when the five year period was over and each area had been inspected. How would we know if those areas hadn’t got worse? What ‘incentive’ was there for local authority managers to make sure these services didn’t get deprioritised?

The good news is that the Education Secretary seems to have recognised these concerns and has confirmed he will ask Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission “to design a programme of further local area SEND inspections to follow the current round.” What’s more, he also asked Ofsted to consider further follow-up inspections for those areas where provision has been found to be poor.

The inspections aren’t perfect. On our side, we’d like to see much more focus on education support for deaf children. In fact we’ve been asking the Department and Ofsted to consider introducing new additional ad-hoc inspections of specific SEND services, including those for deaf children, to run alongside the existing local area inspections. But the inspections are still a vast improvement on the zero accountability that we had before. And the fact the inspections are likely to continue beyond 2021 is good news and a campaign victory.

Elsewhere, the Minister recognised that SEND budgets are under pressure and that he was “listening”. There was also an explicit recognition that one of the pressures on the SEND budgets is a shift of children moving from mainstream to specialist provision.

It’s important that deaf children are able to go to special schools if it’s right for them. At the same time, they should be able to get the support they need in mainstream schools too – and in reality, most deaf children will attend their local mainstream school. As the Minister said: “SEND pupils are not someone else’s problem. Every school is a school for pupils with SEND.”

To address this, we’re calling on the Government to look at the ring-fence on the schools budget. Currently, the ring-fence means that local authorities are unable to move funding from the schools budget to the high needs block (which covers SEND funding) in response to the growing funding pressures that the Minister highlighted.

We’re also calling on the Minister to take a closer look at the specialist SEND workforce. In relation to deaf children, Teachers of the Deaf play a key role in ensuring mainstream schools know what to do to support deaf children. It stands to reason that a 14% reduction in the numbers of Teachers of the Deaf over the last 7 years will impact on the quality of support they can provide to schools. Urgent action is needed to address this staffing crisis, and the Department can start by introducing a bursary scheme to fund the training costs to become a Teacher of the Deaf.

The Minister stated that SEND is a huge priority for his Department and that we need “High ambitions, high expectations for every child”. His speech and announcement on Ofsted are both welcome news – but there’s still more to be done.

Right to Sign — What happens next?

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research, National Deaf Children’s Society

The Department for Education in England recently confirmed that it does not object in principle to the introduction of a GCSE in British Sign Language (BSL). The Department also said that it was open to considering proposals for this GCSE for introduction in the longer term. We think this is a positive step forward. Previously, the Government had refused to consider any new GCSEs.

However, it’s important to note that the process for delivering a GCSE in BSL will not be short or easy.

Any exam body, such as Signature, will need to meet the requirements set by the Department for Education and the exams regulator Ofqual. In addition, the Department for Education has also said that any new GCSE could not be introduced in this Parliament so that schools can have a period of ‘stability’. Assuming there is no early election, this means there can be no new GCSE before 2022.

We are frustrated by the delay and that the Department continue to prioritise ‘stability’ over the need to ensure fairness for deaf young people. At the same time, we want any GCSE to be of the highest standard and we recognise it will take time for it to be ready. It’s important that any new GCSE in BSL has the same credibility as other GCSEs.

We’re calling on the Department to do everything it can to support and expedite progress, so that a new GCSE is ready to go as soon as the next Parliament begins. We want to see evidence they’re taking a ‘can-do’ attitude towards making a BSL GCSE a reality.

We’ve already had lots of questions about how the BSL GCSE will work. Unfortunately, it’s still too early to say how it will work in practice and much will depend on the progress that the Department, Ofqual and exam bodies like Signature make. Watch this space! More information about Signature’s work in this area can be found on their website.

There’s still a long way to go but we could not have got to where we are now without all the hard work by our campaigners and supporters – thank you to all those who’ve supported our Right to Sign campaign. We’ll be keeping a close eye on progress and will keep you updated.