Tower Hamlets Campaign Win! – Overland saved!

Arthur Thomas Campaigns Officer

Arthur Thomas Campaigns Officer

Last night it was with great relief that we heard that Overland Day Nursery would be kept open, along with the other three day nurseries operating in Tower Hamlets.

At the Council Cabinet meeting the Mayor released the following statement:

“I am pleased to announce that after giving careful consideration to the views of users, parents, nursery workers, trade unions and other members of the community, it is our intention to keep all four nurseries open. I would like to thank everybody who took part in our community consultation exercise and reaffirm my commitment as Mayor that I will work with the community to best protect our borough from the impact of government cuts.”

This result came about following a hard fought campaign by the Tower Hamlets Deaf Children’s Society. I first met with parents from the group in October when they raised their concerns about the Your Borough, Your Voice consultation that threatened the only pre-school provision for deaf children within the borough. At this point the group had already established a petition and drafted letters to go to the council.

Blog photoThanks to the tireless efforts of members of the group, such as the Chair Husna Begum, with the support of the NDCS Regional Director for London Nicola Ward, the campaign went from strength to strength including news coverage and garnering support from local MPs and councillors, leading to the announcement last night.

The NDCS Policy and Campaigns team fights to improve services and oppose cuts both nationally and regionally and this success shows that campaigning works and that cuts to vital services are not inevitable. However this campaign mostly highlights the massive impact that Local Groups and the community can have when they come together to combat regional cuts.

You can find your nearest Local Group here or if you feel there is an issue in your area which requires campaigning please contact the NDCS Policy and Campaigns Team.

We at NDCS would like to say a big thank you to those in Tower Hamlets who took part in the campaign and the best of luck in the future.

NDCS Press Release can be found here

Husna’s Story: Why I’m campaigning to save the Overland Day Nursery

Parent Campaigner

Husna Begum, Parent Campaigner

Hello, my name is Husna Begum. I am a mother of a deaf child and I am also the chair for the Tower Hamlets Deaf Children’s Society (THDCS). My son Hamza was born with profound sensi-neurol hearing loss. He underwent surgery for bilateral cochlear implants aged 17 months. Previous to this, he had no access to sound whatsoever. Hamza is now 4 and attends a mainstream school with a Deaf resource Base, and is doing extremely well. His speech is coming along fantastically and so is his range of sign language. It’s when you see your child develop and improve day by day that you feel proud as a parent. You feel as though there is hope after all. I have had fantastic support from the Teachers of the Deaf in Tower Hamlets who have stood by and supported me and my son throughout his early years.

I became Chair for Tower Hamlets Deaf Children’s Society in September 2014. I can honestly say that it has been challenging and exciting at the same time. Since September the THDCS have had a lot going on. We organised our annual deaf picnic, which we held at Mile End Children’ Play park. The children and their families had a great time and we had a very good turnout. We had an entertainer, bake sale and much more. Our picnic event was written about in the East End Life newspaper. I have attended training days organised by the NDCS to make sure I am able to fulfil my role. However becoming Chair has not always been a happy event. We were shocked to learn that Overland day Nursery was under threat of closure/privatization by Tower Hamlets Local Authority. Overland day nursery is a unique nursery. It’s the only one that provides a resource base for the deaf/partially hearing children in the borough. The nursery provides the much needed early intervention to help support and maximise the children’s listening and speech and language development.

Image of Tower Hamlets Deaf Children's Society

Tower Hamlets Deaf Children’s Society Committee (Husna centre) Image courtesy of Tower Hamlets Deaf Children’s Society

Overland day nursery was attended by my son Hamza at the age of 22 months. During his time at the nursery he made a huge improvement in his listening and communication skills. He had picked up on a vast array of sign language and was able to differentiate between different types of sounds. He became a confident little boy and started to use speech. I was overwhelmed with his improvement, a child who never spoke, started to call me mum. As a parent it was the most memorable and beautiful moment. The staff at Overland are an invaluable asset. They are specialised in all things deaf related, British sign Language and knowing how to deal with hearing aids and cochlear implants. They provide support and empower the deaf children with a sense of belonging in the deaf community and integrating them with their hearing peers. The nursery is purposely built to meet the needs of the deaf children. The rooms are soundproofed and have good acoustics. All this is needed to maximise their listening potential. In a deaf child’s life this is a very sensitive time when their brain is ready to learn. If these learning opportunities are missed it will be even harder to learn these skills later on in life. My son had the best start in life and was given the opportunity to access early years support. I know that he can achieve anything. However, this may not be a possibility to others if the nursery is taken away.

THDCS have been attending meetings and protests to help stop the proposal from going ahead.

As part of our ongoing campaign I have started a petition, I hope you will show your support for this vital service and sign.

Thank you.

Mother successfully challenges daughter’s educational support cuts

Tasneem is the mother of Aisha who is currently in 6th year of a mainstream high school in Scotland. Tasneem recently overturned the decision to have her daughter’s teacher of the deaf (ToD) hours of support cut and shares her experience to inspire other parents.

I was so happy when Aisha obtained three A’s and a B in her 5th year exams and was in no doubt that the 5 hours a week support she received from her ToD contributed to her success. So you can imagine my shock when Aisha told me she had not seen her ToD when she began 6th year. A phone call from the school then confirmed that Aisha would now be receiving support once a fortnight.

“How am I going to cope?” pic Aisha

I was shocked by this and couldn’t understand how Aisha could go from requiring 5 hours of support a week to only once a fortnight. Aisha was used to the support she was receiving so this was a big difference for her. Her initial reaction was to panic. She asked me questions like, “how am I going to cope?”, “who will explain things to me?” She was also upset because she was attached to her ToD, who also supports her wee sister, so she saw her as a friend.

“I began feeling nervous about challenging the decision…”

I am not a confrontational person but I realised I had to do something for my daughter’s sake. I immediately attempted to set up a meeting with the school and the head of support services, which proved far more difficult than I had imagined. Despite speaking to the ToD on the phone, I had to arrange the meeting with the head through the school. This delayed progress and meant I was continually chasing up the school. I found this lack of communication between the school and the support services was a real barrier for me. Once the school had eventually set up the meeting, I began feeling nervous about challenging the decision. I didn’t know what information I would need which lead to me question whether I was doing the right thing. Maybe I was overreacting? What if the support services were right, surely they should know what is best for Aisha? But I knew that my daughter would not be getting the support she needed so I started asking myself, what are my rights and what should I expect from the school and support services?

“I knew I had someone on my side”

Thankfully the National Deaf Children’s Society really helped me with this, explaining my rights under various laws including the Additional Support for Learning Act and Equalities Act. They also provided me with a comprehensive list of what support Aisha should receive and accompanied me to the meeting, so I knew I had someone on my side.

At the meeting the ToD explained that once a fortnight support had been decided upon in line with the Matrix guidelines they used, and that they are now regarded as a consultancy agency, not peripatetic. With the help of the National Deaf Children’s Society I argued that this was unfair as a mainstream teacher cannot provide one-to-one service in a class of 30. It also puts pressure on the deaf child to seek out class teachers during break/lunch time to ask questions which is totally inconvenient. This also requires confidence from the child to go out their way to ask these questions. The ToD asked me what level of support I would be happy with and I suggested 3 hours a week. I argued that Aisha had done so well in her exams due to the support she was receiving. I stuck to my guns and after a lot of passing the buck between the support services and the school, I was eventually successful in overturning the decision.

“I would also urge parents to take advantage of the support offered by the National Deaf Children’s Society…”

Given my experience I would urge parents to challenge decisions that affect their deaf children. Some parents may not be aware of exactly how much support their child is getting in school and some may not be aware of cuts in this support. I personally know parents who have not been told about cuts. My advice for parents is to find out who their child’s ToD is and what their role is. I was even unclear on this. I would also urge parents to take advantage of the support offered by the National Deaf Children’s Society and within their child’s school. It made a big difference to have someone from the National Deaf Children’s Society and pastoral care within the school actually attend the meetings with me. Especially because you know you are being supported by someone who knows what your child is entitled to. I think parents need to be made more aware that the National Deaf Children’s Society can accompany them to meetings of this nature and can provide information and advice on their rights.

Click here to find out more about children’s educational rights in Scotland.

19 things I’ve learnt from working at NDCS

Jonathan Barnes - NDCS, articles we’ve been reading this week

Jonathan Barnes, Campaigns Assistant

This is my final week at NDCS. I’m leaving to move to the US and lots of exciting new opportunities there. I thought this would be a good opportunity to reflect back on my time working for the best deaf children’s charity out there!

1)    Readers of this blog love listicles! Two of our most popular blog posts are this one and this one. So I thought I’d try and replicate that. If you want to have a go, send your ideas to campaigns@ndcs.org.uk

2)    Lots of facts on deafness – here’s 11 to get you started

3)    We have some great parent campaigners

1

4) The Policy and Campaigns Team rocks at winning internal competitions – from best at fancy dress, to best Christmas decorations and quiz winners, we are undoubtedly the best team!

Trophy

5)   By working together, we can make a difference – I’m particularly proud of getting a commitment from Birmingham Council to protect services for deaf children in 2014/15. We have to keep working to make sure they keep their commitment.

6)    Eating bacon every Friday morning (known in the office, unimaginatively, as Bacon Friday) isn’t particularly healthy…but it is tasty!2

7)    Having Regional Directors in every region of England makes NDCS much more able to challenge cuts at a local level with better knowledge of the area.

8)     I’m a pioneer

9)    No language is as fun to learn as BSL…Layout 1

10)   …And no language is more fun to sing in than sign language!

11)    Parents sharing their stories makes a difference. Last year, thousands of parents shared their story with their MPs to help us secure a debate in parliament.

r_seaman@hotmail.com

12)   Softball. NDCS staff play in the second largest softball league in the UK, the London Charity Softball League. We even reached the final a couple of years ago!Softball

13)   Freedom of Information requests are a great way of finding out what is happening across the country to services for deaf children.

14)   NDCS works internationally – not just in the UK!NDCS Campaigns Blog - DCW Ecuador Exchange

15)   Some great deaf awareness tips from working around deaf staffsuperkids-template (2)

16)   International Lumberjack Day exists.8

17)   NDCS works with thousands of families each year, addressing all levels of deafness

18)   80% of children have experienced glue ear by the age of 10. That’s four in every five children.Jonathan aged two

19)   The staff and volunteers at NDCS all work really hard to make the world that little bit better for deaf children – please continue to support them!

What does the reshuffle mean for deaf children?

Jonathan Barnes

Jonathan Barnes, Campaigns Assistant

With Jeremy Hunt remaining as Health Secretary, the headline-grabbing Cabinet move announced yesterday for deaf children was in Education. Michael Gove, the Secretary of State, was replaced by Nicky Morgan. The big question is what this might mean for deaf children?

We are unaware of any personal connection that Morgan has to deafness, whereas Gove had a deaf adoptive sister growing up and a mother who was a Teacher of the Deaf. This meant that Gove always had some interest and familiarity in the issue of childhood deafness. Morgan has previously asked questions of ministers on deaf issues, but otherwise there is a question mark over her familiarity with deafness.

Michael Gove at an NDCS event in 2008

Michael Gove at an NDCS parliamentary event in 2008

What can we expect from the Department for Education moving forward? There will be a continued focus on SEN reform. There are positive intentions here, but will it lead to better outcomes for deaf children? We are concerned it won’t unless there is a proper focus on accountability within the system.

We can’t ignore also the impact of cuts. Through our Stolen Futures campaign, we have interacted frequently with local government. Too often, cuts to services are happening at a local level. The Department for Education have said that they have protected the budget, but it’s clear that this hasn’t been backed up by action.

Over the past few years, we have seen a trend of improving attainment for deaf children and young people. With 43% of deaf children achieving five good GCSEs compared to 70% of children with no identified special education needs, there is still a lot that needs to be done. Action is still needed from the government. Let’s hope Nicky Morgan can deliver.

Emily’s Story: How different things may have been

Emily Meacher, Campaigns Support Assistant

Emily Meacher, Campaigns Support Assistant

“Go outside to the end of the playground and try and listen to what I am saying; to show everyone how it works!”

I reluctantly head outside, and turn the radio aid on, and my class teacher starts talking into the microphone.  Of course, I can’t hear her as the radio aid doesn’t do anything at all for me, let alone lip-read because the teacher is too far in the distance. The whole class peer out of the window staring at me in fascination of how the radio aid works. And this is the earliest memory I have of being at primary school.

I was only 7 years old, and of course was too young to express my embarrassment. I was the only deaf child in the school, and at the time I felt I was happy, and whenever people said ‘you were the only deaf child in school?!’ I was happy to say yes, and that it was pretty plain sailing for me.

But then as I got older, and started to make deaf friends, I realised that I just ‘put up with it.’ And that wasn’t good enough. I was too young to stand up for myself and say, ‘I want a Communication Support Worker’ or to say ‘I don’t understand.’

Often in class I was too shy to put up my hand, in case I misunderstood the teacher’s question. This had happened many times, and so it made me not want to shoot my hand up because I worried I would say the wrong thing. It wasn’t just in the classroom that I struggled at times; I often found school plays so boring, as when it came to singing, I just moved my mouth up and down to make it look like I was singing!

It wasn’t all that bad though, I met my best friend in year 5 who I am still best friends with to this day, and she helped me a lot. Thanks to her, I made lots of other friends. She helped bridge the gap between me and hearing children in school.

Emily

Emily, aged three

I went to Mary Hare School when I was 11, and that was the first time I realised I wasn’t the only deaf kid. And I felt I really belonged, as it felt so nice being able to communicate with everyone the way I knew how.  I have friends for life, and it made me the person I am today.

I worked at Roding School for two years as a Teaching Assistant (TA), which is a pretty amazing school. It is a mainstream primary school with 40 deaf children. I worked in a class with four deaf children, and they had a great Communication Support Worker in class. Their job is to empower deaf children, to give them a voice, to give them a deaf ‘identity’, to teach them to be assertive, to put their hand up and to say if they don’t understand. And I had to admit I felt a bit envious for them, as I didn’t have that.

I had a lot of support in primary school yes, thanks to the Teacher of the Deaf and TA but couldn’t help wonder how different things may have been if I had the confidence to speak up.

So if your deaf child starts in primary school, do find out what support they can receive, and tell them that they have a choice and don’t always assume they are doing ok if they don’t say anything.

I have just started working as a Campaigns Support Assistant for NDCS in the Policy and Campaigns Team, and I am really excited to get stuck in. I want to be a part of making a change in deaf children’s lives. The NDCS Campaigns Team do an amazing job for deaf children, and with your help, a small difference can go a long way.

Winners and losers in the Special Education Needs Funding Lottery

Brian Gale, Director of Policy and Campaigns

Brian Gale, Director of Policy and Campaigns

The government gives local authorities (councils) in England over £5 billion each year to help fund the education of children and young people with high levels of special educational needs (SEN).

Each local authority receives a portion of this amount according to what they have spent on SEN in the past.  The levels of this historic spend per child and young person vary considerably between local authorities. This raises questions about whether the level of grant to each council truly reflects levels of need and is a fair and equitable distribution. Therefore the level of education support a disabled child may get to be able to learn and make good progress at school could depend on where they live.

Today is the deadline for research organisations to submit an expression of interest to the government to undertake research to look into this issue.

The Department for Education says that the main aims of the research are:

  • “To gather, collate, analyse and report on information about the incidence and costs of educational provision for pupils and students with SEN.
  • To inform the development of funding policy intended to improve the way in which pupils and students with SEN are funded through funding formulae applied to early years, schools and post-16 provision.
  • To recommend a formulaic approach to funding local authorities for high cost SEN provision, rather than one based on historic spending levels”.

Looking to move to greater equity in the distribution of funding for children with special educational needs is highly commendable.

However, finding a formula that truly reflects the distribution of need, and that parents of children with SEN understand and have confidence in is going to be extremely problematic. If there was an easy answer the government would have been using it by now.

More importantly, any moves to redistribute the existing grant to local authorities is likely to result in considerable gains in support for children with SEN in one area but significant losses for children with SEN living in another.

This will be particularly worrying for parents of children with SEN in areas receiving high levels of funding, such as London or Middlesbrough, compared with others. There is not the evidence to suggest that their children are receiving excess support or that their children are overachieving. No doubt parents of children with SEN in areas that receive lower levels of grants would be pleased with any increase in support. But few of them would welcome such changes if this was at the expense of children with disabilities elsewhere. Bringing support for children with SEN up or down to a common level of inadequacy would not be popular.

It is unlikely that a redistribution of the existing pot would contribute to an overall improvement in outcomes for children with SEN that the government hopes for in its SEN reforms.

The solution, which no doubt would be unpopular with the Treasury, would be to ensure sufficient funding so that children with disabilities do not lose out on the support they desperately need to fulfil their potential. But will this happen?