Why kids with disabilities should not miss out on school attendance rewards

When my son finished his first term of primary school he was glad to shrug off his uniform, put on a Christmas jumper and relax. But there was one part of school he wanted to continue playing at – the attendance awards ceremony.

He wore his older brother’s attendance award badge at home, to the playground, to visit friends. He played at being the Head Teacher handing out awards for the children to show their parents. But he didn’t get an award that term. And it turned out he probably wouldn’t get one in the future.

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So, whilst most pupils build up a collection of attendance badges on their bags or jackets, my son would be the kid in the playground being asked not only “Why are you wearing those things in your ears?” but also, “Why do you have different badges to everyone else?”

Finn has regular audiology and speech therapy appointments as a result of his hearing loss, which bring his attendance below 100%. I asked the school whether Finn could get an award if his only absence was for essential medical appointments. I was told that it would not be possible: they could not review the reasons for absence of every child, but they could recognise Finn’s efforts by giving him a special badge instead.

So, whilst most pupils build up a collection of attendance badges on their bags or jackets, my son would be the kid in the playground being asked not only “Why are you wearing those things in your ears?” but also, “Why do you have different badges to everyone else?”

It’s very clear that schools shouldn’t be doing this. It is both unlawful under the Equality Act and it is harmful. A system which excludes disabled kids from getting rewards not only unfairly upsets a child each time it happens, but also risks demotivating disabled kids in the longer term, making them less interested in school, potentially with knock on consequences for how well they do and how they feel about themselves.

After reading up on the Equality Act I challenged the school’s policy for a second time. This time the school agreed to change their approach. It may seem like a small thing: a badge, a certificate and a handshake from the Head. But I’m sure it will make a big impression on my son.

At the end of this, I’m left with a few questions:

  • Why is this happening – is it because schools don’t have the capacity to think through how to apply the Equality Act or is it a conscious decision to prioritise increasing attendance?
  • Can Ofsted ensure that they don’t set up the wrong culture and incentives in the way they inspect attendance figures?
  • Can the Department for Education commit to providing clear and consistent guidance to schools on this? It is not enough to say that it is a matter for schools – without clear guidance schools will continue to discriminate against disabled children. You can see the current guidance on the Government’s website.
  • Ofsted are currently consulting on how they carry out inspections. Can they start to ask schools how they reward attendance without discriminating against disabled children? This could be included in their new inspection framework and in the training inspectors receive on how to assess equality, diversity and inclusion.

When challenging a school, there are three useful points to make: that it’s unlawful, it’s unfair, and should be easy to solve.

By Charlotte Green, a parent of three from London – read a longer version of this article on Special Needs Jungle.

If you’re interested in letting Ofsted know what you think of their proposed new inspection framework and how they treat attendance rewards for children with SEND, then take part in their online consultation now. The deadline for responses is 11:45pm on Tuesday 5 April 2019.

Names in this blog post have been changed to preserve anonymity.

Help us support deaf children and young people

Back in 2014 the Government announced “a landmark moment in improving the lives of children with SEND and their families”. The 2014 Children and Families Act promised reforms that “put children and parents at the heart of the system”

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Steve Haines, Executive Director of Policy and Campaigns, The National Deaf Children’s Society

However, four years on from the reforms, our CEO, Susan Daniels was on Channel 4 sharing the findings from our latest poll of over 1000 parents of deaf children and young people. Only 5% of these parents thought that the system had improved for their children and almost half felt it had got worse.

The next day I joined a roundtable discussion hosted by the Westminster Parliament’s Education Select Committee with six other campaigners for children and young people with special educational need and disabilities. Although we came from different points of view, there was broad ranging consensus that the reforms had failed to deliver on their promise.

Sadly, as the parents of many deaf children and young people know all too well, accessing support is often a lengthy process of assessment, administration and argument and, in the worst cases, having to take cases to court. It all seems a terrible waste of resources that could be providing vital support for deaf children and young people instead.

As our Stolen Futures campaign has shown, funding for local authority services has continued to decline. In our poll of parents, 82 per cent said they did not feel there was enough funding for deaf children’s education in their area. The fact is that reforms without the funding to deliver them doesn’t equal results.

We’ve been campaigning to protect these vital services for deaf children and young people. We know change is possible and, working with local parents, have been successful in many areas in overturning or avoiding local cuts.

But we need the political will to take action. The day after the Select Committee, Susan Daniels, Ian Noon and I met with the Children and Families Minister, Nadhim Zahawi MP. We’d been really pleased when he joined our event outside Parliament earlier in the year, so had high hopes. But despite our best efforts and practical suggestions, we could only come away with assurances, rather than action.

It’s a critical time for services for deaf children and young people. We’re at breaking point. So now, more than ever, we need parents and carers, friends, families, and many others to sign up to our campaigns network and to join our fight for deaf children and young people to be able to access the services they need.

Radio aids in the early years – your rights

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

We published research last year which shows that radio aids – which provide deaf children with additional amplification – can have a big impact in their early years development. In particular, they can make it easier for children to hear their parents and others more clearly when, for example, in the buggy or in a car. Despite these clear benefits, many local authorities do not make radio aids available to parents of pre-school deaf children to use at home.

We’re calling on local authorities to work with health bodies to review their policy on this issue and to ensure that parents are given the opportunity to try a radio aid with their children aged 0-4 , both at home as well as in early years settings to see if it works well for them.

Quality standards on the use of personal radio aids state that every deaf child should be considered for a radio aid at first hearing aid fitting.  However, families tell us that this does not always happen.  So what should parents do if the local authority says no? Here’s a brief summary of your options in challenging this:

First, you should ask for information on why your child has been turned down for a radio aid. In some cases, there may be good reasons why a radio aid is not the right option at this time. It’s also possible that a Teacher of the Deaf may have concerns about loss or damage to equipment. Having an open discussion may help to find possible solutions to any issues.

If the answer is still no, you can challenge this decision in two different ways.

  • If your child already has an Education, Health and Care plan (England), a statement of special educational needs (Wales and Northern Ireland) or a co-ordinated support plan (Scotland), you can also ask for a review of the plan/statement so that a radio aid can be added to it. You also have the right to request an assessment for a plan or statement if your child does not already have one. Our website has more information about your rights under laws for children with special or additional needs.
  • You can also make a formal complaint to the local authority on the grounds of disability discrimination. In particular, if you live in England, Scotland and Wales, local authorities and education settings are required, under the Equality Act 2010, to provide ‘auxiliary aids’ (which includes radio aids) as a reasonable adjustment to disabled people. They are also required to take steps under the Public Sector Equality Duty to proactively remove any disadvantage that disabled children may experience. Given the importance of good language and communication in the early years, we think it should be seen as unreasonable to deny a family with a deaf child a radio aid unless there are good reasons why not. Our website has more information about the Equality Act and how it can be used in education.
  • If the local authority still says no, you can appeal to a special Tribunal that hears cases about potential disability discrimination and/or a failure to follow laws relating to special or additional needs. There are time limits, so it is important to get more advice or information as soon as this happens.

For more information and advice, you can contact our Helpline. You can also borrow a radio aid through our Technology Test Drive.

If you have already made a complaint to your local authority or are still experiencing challenges, please do get in touch. We’re looking for families who, with lots of support from us, might be interested in taking legal action on radio aids in the early years – you can find more information about this in our short video.

Westminster Hall debate on deaf children’s services

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

Deaf children were at the heart of Parliament today when MPs debated the crisis facing deaf children’s services across England. There was lots of passion and commitment in the debate and a wide range of different points were raised, including:

• the pressures that local authority budgets are under – with over a third planning to make cuts to specialist education services for deaf children this year. Whilst government funding may be at a record high, the reality on the ground is clear that it’s not enough
• the need for more flexibility in how SEND funding can be used. Local authorities don’t have the same flexibility they used to have to move funding from schools where needed to respond to growing pressures
• the dramatic decline we’ve seen in numbers of Teachers of the Deaf over recent years, and the need for urgent action to address this. Many MPs spoke of the important role that Teachers of the Deaf play, particularly in the early years.
• importance of meeting the needs of deaf children who use sign language, and the need for the Government to support the development of a new GCSE in British Sign Language
• the need for high expectations for every deaf child, and the scandal that too many deaf children are not achieving their potential, because they’re not getting the right support.

The most powerful moments in the debate came when MPs talked about the experiences of families from their own areas. Peter Aldous MP praised Ann Jillings for her campaign work, whilst noting that she shouldn’t have to fight in the first place for her son Daniel to get the help he needs. Another MP, Darren Jones, talked about Ella, a bright confident deaf young person whose needs were often being overlooked because she seems to be “doing well”. And Emma Lewell-Buck MP spoke sadly about a young person who feels “left out” and “depressed and frustrated” because his school is not providing the support he needs.

We were hoping for positive words and action from the Minister, Nadhim Zahawi. But, while he indicated that funding was being kept “under review”, there was little else for us to go on. Frustratingly, there was a run-through of all the different bits of funding that the Government has in this area. All of this missing the point that a) it’s not enough and b) often this funding is not aimed at front-line staff who support deaf children. For example, there’s still no money out there focused on making sure we have more Teachers of the Deaf coming through the system.

So, the Stolen Futures campaign goes on, and we’ll keep on raising these issues with the Government until they take action.

We’d like to thank all MPs who spoke in today’s debate, especially Jim Fitzpatrick MP who led the debate and continues to champion the needs of deaf children. We’d also like to thank all the deaf young people and families who got in touch with their MP to share their experiences. This debate wouldn’t have been half as powerful without your stories.

PS: You can read the full transcript here.

Who is celebrating today?

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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.

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.