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.

Government finally agrees to let disabled people have their say on DSA changes

NDCS - Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

The Government in England last week announced a public consultation on proposed changes to Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) – which provides support to disabled students at university – after spending the best part of the past year resisting any attempts to engage more widely with disabled students.

Those with long memories will remember the campaign victory that Zanna, a member of the NDCS Young People’s Advisory Board, achieved earlier this year, when she took legal action against the Government over its failure to consult with disabled students on changes to DSA.

At the time, the Government agreed it would postpone its changes but didn’t concede that it was ever wrong that it attempted to force these changes through and consult only with selected stakeholders behind closed doors.

Though the legal action never had its day in court, the judge that gave the case permission to proceed commented that she was “not impressed” with the government’s arguments that it had no obligation to consult.

Happily, it now appears as if the Government has seen sense. In a debate last week, the Minister made a passing reference to plans to carry out a public consultation on its proposed changes.

NDCS remains concerns that the proposed changes will mean that deaf students would be more reliant on universities to provide any support they might need. We believe that the changes shouldn’t go ahead until proper safeguards are in place to make sure that no deaf students are abandoned without the support they need. It’s hoped that a public consultation will reveal the scale of these concerns but also hopefully prompt some constructive suggestions on how universities and DSA can better support deaf students.

NDCS remains extremely proud of Zanna, a member of the NDCS Young People’s Advisory Board, who had initiated the legal action. She has sent a strong signal to the Government that no changes that affect disabled people should be made without their involvement. It remains a disappointment that it was necessary for Zanna to take legal action to force the Government to listen.

It’s still obviously not quite the end of the story. When the consultation comes out, we’ll need to send a strong signal to the Government that it must ensure that deaf students aren’t disadvantaged by these changes. But the announcement of a public consultation gives us a chance to make the case. It also shows the difference that using the law to protect services can make.

What are the political parties offering deaf children and young people?

Beccy Forrow Campaigns Officer, National Deaf Children's Society

Beccy Forrow Campaigns Officer, National Deaf Children’s Society

We know that for most parents of deaf children, the support that politicians are promising for deaf children’s services is a top election priority.

We’ve given you our roundup of the manifesto commitments affecting deaf children over the last few weeks but perhaps you’d like to hear from the parties themselves?

With this in mind, check out the debate on See Hear about the parties’ plans for policies affecting the deaf community – it might help you to decide where to put your cross on 7 May!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05q1072/see-hear-series-35-1-election

The debate features:

  • Mark Harper, Conservative, former Minister for Disabled People
  • Kate Green, Labour, Shadow Spokesperson for Disabled People
  • Star Etheridge, UKIP, Disability Spokesperson
  • Steve Webb, Liberal Democrats, former Minister of State for Pensions

Representatives from the Green party, Plaid Cymru, the Scottish National Party, Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, were also asked for their views on some of the issues affecting deaf people.

A few questions were asked that relate directly to deaf children and young people, in particular:

  • What will the parties do about the decline in numbers of Teachers of the Deaf and how will they make sure they are well qualified in BSL? – 18.10 mins
  • Should there be a GCSE in BSL? – 22.48 mins
  • How will the parties ensure deaf children have a good quality of life? – 48.10 mins

Watch the programme and make up your own mind about which party has the best offer for deaf children and young people….

If you want to find out more about what the parties are proposing, you can ask your prospective parliamentary candidates. They need your vote and hopefully will be responsive to any questions you might have! Ask your candidates what they know about deaf children and call on them to protect the services that they rely on in the next Parliament.

The Your Next MP website also has information on the candidates in your area and our website has more information on the election, including a detailed election factsheet.

And….don’t forget to vote on Thursday!