Are universities going to become more inclusive?

Martin-Mclean-cropped

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

Pretty soon, lots of teenagers will be receiving their A-level and BTEC results and find out if they will go to their preferred choice of university. I can remember how exciting and also nerve-wracking it felt to go to university for the first time. If you are deaf like me I think it can be even more so: will it be easy to follow the lectures? Will I make friends? Is communication going to be a problem?

Some readers of this blog will remember our fight against the changes to Disabled Students Allowances back in 2014 and 2015. Whilst the Government decided to maintain DSA funding for specialist note-takers (people with training specifically in writing notes for deaf students), funding for ordinary manual note-takers was removed for the 2016-17 academic year along with some other forms of less-specialised support such as library support assistants and proof-readers.

One of the Government’s justifications for cutting DSAs was because it wanted universities to develop a more inclusive approach to teaching so that learning is accessible to more students. No objections to that – we have always wanted universities to be more flexible. There have been plenty of deaf students who have expressed their frustration over the years at reasonable adjustments not being made such as Dean Kamitis in his recent Limping Chicken blog.

The Government has published guidance for higher education providers on ‘Inclusive Practice’. The guidance encourages universities to make changes so that their courses are more accessible to students with disabilities. Some universities are leading the way. I recently visited Du Montford University in Leicester and was impressed with their approach:

You have been waiting for it and here is the ‘but’. Does a piece of guidance go far enough? – the Government does not appear to have any stick (e.g. loss of funding) to beat universities with should they decide to ignore this guidance. Also, a couple of practitioners have said to me that they are concerned that some universities see inclusive practice as simply about rolling-out lecture capture technology. See this lecture recording for an explanation of how lecture capturing can benefit disabled students: see this lecture recording – oh wait…..no subtitles! And here lies the issue for many deaf students. Lecture capturing is not going to make a difference and could actually make access worse if more course content and materials move online.

Deaf students are small in number – most university disability advisors might be aware of 2 or 3 deaf students at their institution at most. This means that in general, teaching staff are not in regular contact with deaf students and have little awareness of their needs. This is why the National Deaf Children’s Society has extended our Supporting Achievement resources to higher education. Supporting the Achievement of Deaf Young People in Higher Education aims to provide disability advisors and other higher education staff with the information required to ensure deaf students get the support they need.

I know from experience, having people around who understand the barriers you face and how to communicate with you properly makes a huge difference. For deaf young people starting uni this September, it might help reduce those fresher’s week nerves!

If you are a young person at uni and you hare having difficulties because your course is not fully accessible, you can get in touch with our helpline for further advice and guidance: http://www.ndcs.org.uk/family_support/how_ndcs_can_help/support_and_advice/

This blog is mostly relevant to students from England only as the DSA changes have not taken place in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, the Supporting Achievement resource is aimed at universities across the whole of the UK.

New research shows big impact for deaf toddlers from radio aids

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Ian Noon, (aged 3 years) Head of Policy and Research

One of my earliest, most vivid memories is playing in the lounge while listening to my Mum, who was in the kitchen talking about the dinner she was making/burning. She was only able to do this because she was wearing a microphone and the sound of her speech was coming through clearly and direct to my radio aid, cutting out all background noise.

I used to insist that she wear the microphone all the time – in the car, outdoors, everywhere – and would throw petulant tantrums when she turned it off, even just for a second.

I’ve no doubt that because of all this, I was able to develop good language and communication skills and get a good head start once I arrived at primary school.

So when I joined the National Deaf Children’s Society, many years later, I was amazed to find out that my experience was relatively unusual. A survey by the Consortium for Research into Deaf Education (CRIDE) in 2016 found that 46% of local authorities do not make radio aids available to pre-school deaf children.

This is why I’m really excited by the latest research being published by the National Deaf Children’s Society today. It shows that radio aid technology can have a big impact on hearing and communication for deaf children. In particular, it finds that being able to hear their parents’ voice clearly and directly by using radio aids promotes markedly better parent-child communication.

To me, the research confirms something that many people have known for years. It’s pretty well established by now that the early years are critical in developing language and communication skills, and that the interaction between parents and children is an essential part of this. But we also know that everyday situations like being in a buggy or car can be a noisy minefield for deaf children, making it impossible for them to hear their parents in those critical early years.

Radio aids aren’t for everyone and we still need to look at the individual needs of each deaf child. But it is important that parents have the information they need to make informed choices about whether / when they’d like to try a radio aid for their child. But for these kind of informed choices to mean anything, the other 54% of local authorities need to take action to make sure that they can provide radio aids if parents feel it would benefit them.

Last year, we launched our Right from the Start campaign to make sure that every deaf child got the right support from the earliest possible age. The research published today suggests that one way of meeting this goal for many will be to make sure that there is much wider access to radio aids in the early years. I hope that local authorities will take action to ensure that more deaf children get the chance to benefit from this, like I did.

“The support I had growing up… and why we shouldn’t take it for granted”

Jacob Oakes

Jake Oakes, Policy and Campaigns Assistant

We all know that feeling of nervous excitement before our first day at school, a new place or a new job. Over these last few months, I’ve reflected a great deal on my first day at Tilbury Primary School, a total communications unit in a mainstream school in Hull.

My parents often tell me that they noticed an instant overnight change in my confidence and ability to communicate. The ethos of the resource base, ‘that deaf children can achieve anything with the right support’ was key in mine and my deaf class mates’ development.

What I gained from attending Tilbury as a deaf child, was a place where I learned that I was not alone in my deafness, a place where I was encouraged to expand my communication skills. Now I can comfortably place one foot in both the hearing and the deaf world.

Additionally, at Tilbury I received extra support in subjects that I was struggling in. I received speech and language therapy. I was taught how to care for my hearing aids and I also learned about my own identity as a deaf person.

Shortly after arriving at National Deaf Children’s Society, I closely followed colleagues  challenge damaging proposals to close the resource bases in Hull. The base, which Tilbury merged into a few years ago, was under threat of closure.  This meant that future generations of deaf children in Hull,  would not have the same specialist educational support that I had.

It was a real eye-opening moment in which I realised that the support that I received when growing up, the support that enabled me to be the person I am today is not guaranteed for every deaf child. Specialist educational support for deaf children whether that be a resource base, Teachers of the Deaf or technological support cannot be taken for granted.

Due to the incredible work of Alison, Sally, parents and campaigners in Hull, the resource bases at Christopher Pickering and Sirius West will remain open for deaf children and young people in Hull. A fantastic result!

If you want to get involved in campaigns like this and join me with the Policy and Campaigns team at NDCS! Sign up to our Campaigns Network here:

http://www.ndcs.org.uk/help_us/campaigns/campaign_with_us/campaign_network.html

General election 2017: Meeting the social care needs of deaf children

Christopher Kang-Mullen – Social Care Policy Adviser

The social care needs of the elderly has been getting a lot of attention during the election – but it’s important to remember the social care needs of disabled children too.

 

Social care covers a wide range of services which councils provide to support and protect disabled children and children in need to live at home and enable them to develop socially, intellectually and emotionally. This can include important services such as family centres, holiday clubs residential respite placements, child protection services and looking after children who for different reasons are not able to live at home safely.

Many deaf children and young people need additional support for their needs to be met and, whilst many families can do this, other families may need some help to ensure this happens.

Since 2010, there have been significant cuts to council budgets from central government. In March, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children’s year-long investigation into the state of children’s social care. Their No Good Options report found that 89% of directors of children’s social care services are now struggling to meet their statutory duties to meet disabled and vulnerable children.

Even before the cuts started, we knew that deaf children had been struggling to get social care support. This is because of the demise of specialist sensory social workers and teams. As a result, in too many areas, support is too often only being provided by social workers with no real expertise in deafness or an understanding of the short and long term risks that deafness can pose unless the right support is in place.

As budgets shrink, councils will naturally focus their resources on protecting those children who at the greatest risk of abuse and support those who are cannot remain at home. This will inevitably mean that more disabled and vulnerable children will not get the support they need early on but much later when issues have become far worse.

With limited resources, councils must protect those who are in most need. But we believe that councils must also provide a range of ‘preventative’ community and leisure activities that help disabled and vulnerable children and their families feel supported, valued and able to participate and contribute to their communities as other children and families. As the No Good Options report noted, for every one pound we spend on preventative services we spend four pounds on child protection.

The current focus on the funding of adult social care has ignited a clear debate, showing the challenges that must be addressed. We also want to see politicians and parties also address children’s social care funding, recognising what social care means in its widest sense and the need for early preventative support for deaf children and other disabled and vulnerable children. We call on all political parties to make this goal a reality.

If you agree, please ask the candidates in your area what they will do to support the social care needs of deaf and other disabled children. Take a look at our website for more information and election resources.

General election 2017: Uninspected audiology services

Beccy Forrow Policy and Campaigns Officer

Beccy Forrow, Policy and Campaigns Adviser

Would you send your child to a school that hadn’t been inspected by Ofsted? Would you ride in a car that didn’t conform to industry safety standards? Would you eat in a restaurant that refused to take part in food hygiene inspections? All questions I’d answer no to.

But this is what is being allowed to happen with children’s audiology services in England. Only 15% of services have been inspected and achieved a high enough standard to become ‘accredited’. This leaves the majority of services uninspected – with deaf children, young people and their families having no idea whether they are attending a great service or one that is poor quality and unsafe.

Considering that an NHS report in 2014 found that one third of audiology services were failing to meet critical NHS quality standards, with no incentive to improve, it’s unlikely that many will now be providing a better service. This matters because hearing is critical to a child’s development of language and learning. Early diagnosis and support reduces the risk of delays in language, educational, social and emotional development. But this support needs to be consistently of good quality.

Earlier this year we created an audiology map so that parents could check if their local service had reached a high enough standard to be accredited. However, of 134 services, 40 have so far refused to take part in the inspection scheme at all. Many others have registered for the scheme but not moved closer to an inspection visit over the course of the last few years.

We’re calling on the next Government to make it compulsory for all children’s audiology services in England to take part in the inspections so that parents can be confident that they are fit for purpose. As the inspections cost money and can be time consuming to prepare for, it’s vital that the Government levels the playing field by making the inspections mandatory for all services. Audiology services for deaf children won’t get better on their own.

If any general election candidates come to your door, be sure to ask them about the quality of children’s audiology services. We’ve got some other questions you might like to ask them on our election web page.

General Election 2017. Deaf young people matter.

Martin-Mclean-cropped

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

Less than half of young people aged 18-24 are expected to vote on June 8th. Personally, I think this is a tragedy as it means that politicians may be less focused on trying to win young people over because this will not be the key to winning elections. It can be argued that policies on housing, benefits or higher education, for example, might be different if more young people voted.

We at the National Deaf Children’s Society want to make sure that the needs of young people are high on the agenda. We have some key asks for each of the parties to help ensure deaf young people have bright futures. For this year’s general election they are:

    1. Ensure deaf young people receive access to specialist careers advice. Imagine as a deaf young person thinking about what you want to do in the future but you did not know you had rights under the Equality Act or that there was funding for communication support and technology in the workplace (Access to Work). Sadly, this is the reality for many deaf young people and we believe it influences their subject choices at school and college. We want all deaf young people to have access to specialist careers advice so that they are better informed to make choices about their futures.
    2.  Revamp the Access to Work employment support scheme. As a user of the Access to Work I can say I probably could not do my job without it – it pays for the communication support I need to access meetings and training. However, when applying for the first time you will need to very clear about what support and how much of it you need. We don’t believe the application process is friendly for young people and would like to see specialist advice from dedicated champions when they apply for the first time, as well as support that it is flexible and tailored to their needs.
    3. Make it easier for deaf young people to complete apprenticeships. The main political parties are keen on apprenticeships. So are we. High-quality apprenticeships can be a good way of ensuring deaf young people gain vital work experience alongside achieving qualifications. We believe the funding system for additional support on apprenticeships is currently unsatisfactory and needs to be improved and simplified.

Help us put the needs of deaf young people on the agenda by asking the parliamentary candidates for your area what they would do on the above issues if elected to parliament. Also, if you know any deaf young people over 18, encourage them to register to vote- they do matter!

Election 2017: Education funding and deaf children

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Brian Gale, Director, Policy and Campaigns

One of the big election hot potatoes is around education funding, with many parents concerned about possible cuts to the money schools get.

But it’s not just schools that are experiencing challenges – services for deaf children and other children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are also under pressure.

It’s true that the Government have protected, and provided some additional SEND funding. But it’s also clear in many areas that this isn’t enough. Too many local authorities have, or are planning to, cut the vital services upon which deaf children rely.

There are various reasons why the government’s ‘protection’ isn’t enough.

  • It doesn’t take into account inflation or increases in wages and pension contributions, so will still constitute a cut for many local authorities in real terms.
  • It also fails to take into account the fact that the number of children and young people with SEND are rising across the board, including deaf children.
  • More children are being placed in special or residential schools, which will be more expensive to the local authority. There’s been a 19% increase in special school places in the last 5 years.
  • New legal duties and policies means that services are expected to do more to ensure more childcare is available for young children and to support deaf young people over 16. Whilst there are positive intentions behind these changes, the extra funding provided has not been enough to meet their ambitions.

To fund the shortfall during the past 3 years, over 75% of local authorities have had to take more than £300million from school budgets to try to meet their legal obligations to children with SEND. Even that has not been sufficient to stop some children with SEND experiencing cuts to the support they receive.

More worrying is a proposal by the Government to stop local authorities using school budgets to meet the needs of an increasing number of disabled children requiring support. This could leave families facing the prospect of cuts to the support their disabled children receive.

We’ve been monitoring and challenging reductions to spending on deaf children’s education across England for the last seven years as part of our Stolen Futures campaign. Many of the parents we work with will be seeking reassurance that the next Government will do more to protect these vital services.

One way the Government could do this is by putting specialist education support services for children and young people with SEND, such as Teachers of the Deaf, onto a statutory footing. This would mean that local authorities would in future have a legal duty to ensure sufficient specialist support is provided. We think that putting these services on a statutory footing will protect them from funding cuts and help make sure that deaf children get the support they need to get a good education.

Do you agree? If so, ask the people standing for election in your area what they will do to protect services for deaf children if they get elected. Will they commit to support a new legal duty on local authorities to provide specialist education services for children and young people with SEND?

Find out more about our election work on our website.