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.

Changing Technology: How we help you keep pace

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Kim Hagen, Technology Research Officer, National Deaf Children’s Society

I recently came across an old survey we ran in 1984. One of its main conclusions was that parents felt they had limited access to easily understood information about technology. Using technology can be quite daunting at the best of times, and it’s especially hard to see its benefits if you don’t have all the relevant information!

We’ve worked hard in the past decades to ensure families have the information they need to make an informed choice on the right technology to support their child. We cover technology in our events for families and parents of deaf children. Our Roadshow bus delivers technology sessions to schools around the UK. We sent out 1,866 copies of our ‘How Technology Can Help’ and ‘How Radio Aids Can Help’ booklets last year. We continue to campaign for better provision of technology to deaf children and young people; last year, we published research on the benefits of using radio aids in the early years at home. And let’s not forget our Blue Peter Technology Loan Service that went live in the mid-1980s. The name has since changed to the Technology Test Drive, but the principle is still the same: a free-of-charge technology loan service offering deaf children and young people, their families and the professionals working with them the opportunity to borrow products and try them out in their own environment.

We have close to 100 different kinds of products on our Technology Test Drive. Technology is constantly evolving and children want to be seen with the latest tech. That’s why we continuously update our stock. And we recently launched the Borrow to Buy scheme in which our members can borrow all the latest Phonak Roger radio aids, soundfield systems and accessories. But remember: despite the changes in technology the fundamental principles of how technology can benefit deaf children don’t change that much. A few examples:

• Amplified headphones can help young children listen to videos on an iPad and develop their vocabulary.
• Alarm clocks with a vibrating pad can help young children learn to tell the time and older children to get up on their own and be more independent.
• Radio aids can help your child make the most out of education and fulfil their true potential.
• Streamers can be a great way for deaf young people to make phone calls on their own, taking control of their lives and embracing responsibilities.
• Direct input leads can be used to listen to music. They look similar to the in-ear headphones a teenager’s peers may have, making them fit in and helping to develop their social identity.

The summer holidays are nearly here. Many of us might even have a break from our everyday hectic lives. Why not take this time as an opportunity to try out technology with your child? Access our Technology Test Drive, put in a request, and… happy testing!

£4 million cuts – deaf children’s services at crisis point

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Jess Reeves, Campaigns Manager, National Deaf Children’s Society

Enough is enough. The Government must step up and support deaf children.

One third of councils in England are cutting a total of £4million from their budgets for deaf children’s education.

This comes at the same time as numbers of Teachers of the Deaf are falling and numbers of deaf children are rising. Research published earlier this year shows a ten percent drop in the number of these highly specialised teachers since 2014 and an 11% rise in the number of deaf children from 2016 to 2017. Over half of the remaining teachers are due to retire in the next 10 to 15 years.

Is it any wonder then that despite the Government’s major reform of the special educational needs system in England, two thirds of deaf children are still failing to achieve the key target of a ‘good’ grade 5 in GCSE English and Maths? We know that deaf children who get the right support in their education can do just as well as their hearing friends. This is why the Government must step in to prevent this mounting crisis. We are calling on them to:

• meet with us to discuss this as a matter of urgency
• ensure central government funding keeps pace with the rise in demand for support for deaf children’s education
• take action to train up the next generation of Teachers of the Deaf.

You can help
Contact your MP today and ask them to email Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi encouraging him to meet us to discuss this.

Find out more
To see what we know about education services for deaf children in your area please visit our online interactive map.
Interested in the research and data mentioned above? Check out the data page on our website.

Seven things we’ve learnt from the latest CRIDE report

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

Last week, the Consortium for Research into Deaf Education (CRIDE) published the latest results for England from its annual survey of education services for deaf children. Though it has its limitations, it’s one of the best sources of data out there on deaf children and the report managed to attract a fair bit of media coverage (including in the Huffington Post and the Guardian). In this blog, I set out my own personal take on seven key findings from the report

1. There are more deaf children

Or, at least, there are more deaf children that local authorities know about. There are now at least 45,631 deaf children in England, a reported 11% increase over the previous year. It’s difficult to be sure whether this is because there are genuinely more deaf children and/or whether local authorities are getting better at identifying those that live in their area.

2. There are fewer Teachers of the Deaf

In 2017, we saw a 2% decline in the number of qualified Teachers of the Deaf in England. Since 2011, we’ve seen a whopping 14% decline. These figures don’t take into account the number of trainee Teachers of the Deaf or Teachers of the Deaf in special schools – but it’s still clear there has been a significant long-term decline. Despite this, government action to address this has not been forthcoming.

3. There’s a looming retirement crunch

Over half of all visiting Teachers of the Deaf are over the age of 50, meaning they’re likely to retire in the next ten to fifteen years. Combined with the long-term decline in numbers of Teachers of the Deaf, this could have a disastrous effect on deaf children, unless urgent action is taken by the Government.

4. Deaf children continue to be a diverse bunch

We know, for example, that 7% of deaf children have at least one cochlear implant, 14% use English as an additional spoken language at home while 22% have an additional special educational need. There can be a huge variety of need within deaf children which has important implications for Teacher of the Deaf training.

5. We still have an incomplete picture on post-16

It’s clear that local authorities continue to struggle in identifying deaf young people post-16, despite the introduction of a new 0 to 25 special educational needs framework in 2014 in England. For example, local authorities told us that 1,356 deaf young people left school in 2016. This is far less than we’d expect, based on what we know about the number of secondary aged pupils.

6. We know a bit more about the use of sign language in education

We already knew, from previous CRIDE surveys, that around 10% of all deaf children used sign language in education in some form. For the first time, instead of asking about all children, CRIDE asked about those who are severely or profoundly deaf. This revealed that, of this group, 29% use sign language in education, of which 8% use British Sign Language. It’s important to note that this doesn’t tell us about how much sign language is being used outside of school.

7. Government statistics on deaf children are still flawed

We know from CRIDE that there are over 45,000 deaf children across England. However, if we were to look at government figures, we’d be missing a large chunk of this group, around 42% of all deaf children. We’re calling on the Government to get better at collecting data on all deaf children.

There are still more stats yet to come – expect reports on deaf children in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in the next month.

Shouldn’t all young deaf children and their families have the right to a Radio Aid?

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Emma Fraser- Teacher of the Deaf

Everyday life can be busy and noisy with family gatherings, trips out to playgrounds and activity centres and frequent journeys in the car and the buggy. Having two children myself I know how loud we all can be particularly when my six siblings and their children come round. In fact recent research indicates that young children can spend up to 25% of their day in noisy environments. So knowing what we know about how important it is for young children to hear spoken language in order to develop good communication and language and how babies have to learn how to be good listeners, why can’t all deaf pre-school children be considered for a radio aid at the same time as they are fitted for a hearing aid? 

We think every family should have the right to try a radio aid, from an early age, so they can see if it would work well for them. Our research shows that it can have big benefits. If you would like to try one, you can talk to your audiologist and Teacher of the Deaf about radio aids. As soon as your child has hearing aids or a cochlear implant, discuss options with your Teacher of the Deaf about trying out a radio aid at home. It may take some getting used to and you don’t need to use it all the time, but when you think about the times your child is in a noisy place or behind you in the car, it will be then that your child could really benefit from hearing your voice clearly.

So here are some things you may want to consider when using a radio aid with a baby or toddler.

  • Think about the best time to use the radio aid for you and your child, it may be in the car, when you are sharing a book with a sibling, or playing with your child at toddler group. Take a look at this short video to see how a family used a radio aid to help communication.
  • All the family can use the radio aid, so pass it around when another family member is interacting with your child
  • Radio aids use up battery power so you will need to change the batteries in your child’s hearing aids more frequently
  • Place the microphone carefully. About 15cm from your mouth is best and avoid wearing anything that will knock against it as the sound will travel straight into your child’s ears.
  • Don’t forget to use the mute button, there are some conversations your child doesn’t need to hear.

Unfortunately, radio aids are not always available for use in the home or for pre-school deaf children. We’re campaigning for them to be more widely available – local authorities will need to ensure that services have the resources to fund, maintain and monitor the equipment.

Remember the best communication happens in a quiet environment, when you are close to you child, they can see your face and you are sharing experiences, but when this isn’t possible consider trying a radio aid. If you’d like more information about radio aids, take a look at our website.

 

General election 2017- Scotland

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Lois Drake, Policy and Campaigns Officer, National Deaf Children’s Society

On 18 April 2017, the Prime Minister, Theresa May announced a snap election would take place on 8 June 2017. What will your new MPs in Scotland do to ensure deaf children and young people and their families in your area get the support they need?

There has been positive progress lately in Scotland for deaf young people and their families. The British Sign Language (Scotland) Act 2015 (BSL Act) was passed which marked an historic moment for deaf people across the country.

The implementation of the new laws is now underway with the draft BSL National Plan open for consultation. However work must continue by closing any existing gaps in support that exist for all deaf children and young people and their families.

Some key facts prospective MPs in Scotland should be aware of:-

  • We estimate there are as many as 3850 deaf children in Scotland today and we believe that, with the right support, they can do anything other children can do;
  • Deafness is not a learning disability, but deaf learners consistently do worse than their hearing peers at school;
  • Teachers of the Deaf are vital for many deaf children but there is regional variation in staffing levels and services are being squeezed with half are due to retire within the next 10 to 15 years;
  • The latest Scottish Government data shows that last year 11.8% of deaf learners left school with no qualifications (compared with 2.6% of all pupils) and 38.7% obtained Highers or Advanced Highers (compared with 59.3% of all pupils). This gap in achievement at school goes on to affect deaf young people’s life chances, with 24.7% going onto university compared with 41.3% of those with no additional support needs;
  • The British Sign Language (Scotland) Act 2015, Getting It Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) and a strong focus on educational attainment all have the potential to drive positive outcomes for deaf children and their families;
  • While this progress should be celebrated, there is still much work to be done to ensure that every deaf child in Scotland gets the support they need from birth – with standards of support variable across Scotland, we need MPs who will champion deaf children in their area!
  • The early years are a critical time for deaf children to develop the language and communication skills they need for life, as outlined in our recent report Getting It Right From the Start;

Will your MP be an advocate for deaf children in your area?

Tell them to email us at campaigns.scotland@ndcs.org.uk to request a briefing.

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.