Why NDCS thinks the new guidance on special educational needs won’t work

Brian Gale, Director of Policy and Campaigns

Brian Gale, Director of Policy and Campaigns

Today, MPs will be considering whether to approve new guidance (known as the SEND Code of Practice) on how children with special educational needs and disabilities are supported. NDCS is taking the difficult decision to recommend that the Code be withdrawn and redrafted.

This isn’t because we don’t share the Government’s objectives or that we hugely disagree with what the new Code contains. Our big concern is what is absent.

The Code fails to set out robust quality assurance arrangements that are necessary to promote service improvements and give parents and other members of the public the information that will enable them to hold their Council to account for the quality of support provided for children. Because of this critical omission we’re not convinced there will be any change for the better.

Parents of deaf children regularly bring to us problems about getting the support their children need to make educational progress. When we look into the problem we find that the main cause is a failing by education services to implement existing laws and guidance

We believe that this is due to the lack of accountability and quality assurance arrangements. In other words, it is possible for local authorities to get away with poor provision without proper checks or anyone calling them to account.

Unless this deficiency is rectified, any potential benefit from the recent legislation on special educational needs will not be realised. England will simply be following in the footsteps of Scotland where significant and similar changes were introduced 10 years ago. Despite these changes, research commissioned by NDCS revealed that parents and professionals don’t think there has been a significant change in the quality of service. This was also confirmed by the Scottish Government’s Doran Review.

We have therefore asked the government to make two important additions to help ensure the reforms have a chance of success:

1)   The Government needs to set out measures of success and ensure data on provision and outcomes for children with special educational needs or disability is published by local authority area. This will help parents know whether their local authority is doing a good or bad job.

2)   Ofsted should inspect quality of local authority services and their performance, helping children and young people with SEND achieve good outcomes. Parents rely on Ofsted inspections to know how well their local school is performing. It is equally important for parents of children with SEND to have an independent assessment of how well local authorities and health services are meeting their children’s needs.

Each year the Government allocates over £5 billion to meet the needs of children and young people with high levels of SEND and we know that even with this, local authorities are struggling to meet needs. Some have to raid other pots of money to make ends meet. This combined with significant changes and raised expectations, means that there must be far greater emphasis on quality assurance and accountability.

It would be a shame to see all of these changes being made at a lot of expense but with little prospect of any real improvement. It’s not too late for the Government to take heed and put in place accountability and quality assurance arrangements that promote the improvement of services and outcomes for every pound that is spent.

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?

Around the world with NDCS: campaigning for education internationally

NDCS Campaigns Blog - Suzanne Lagan, Deaf Child Worldwide

Suzanne Lagan, International Publications and Communications Coordinator, Deaf Child Worldwide.

Last time Deaf Child Worldwide (DCW) blogged we told you all about our work in Ecuador. This time we’d like to share with you how we’re campaigning to tackle the barriers that prevent young people in developing countries from going to school.

DCW and education
Despite the Millennium Development Goal of achieving universal primary education by 2015, there are still 57 million primary-aged children out of school, 19 million of whom have disabilities.

Many barriers exclude children with disabilities from education; you can read more about these here.

NDCS - MDG 2, education

So, DCW recently joined the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), a multilateral partnership of nearly 60 developing countries, donor governments, international organizations, private sector, teachers, and civil society groups dedicated to ensuring all children receive a good quality education so that they can fulfil their potential.

The big win
GPE recently held an international conference in Brussels where it called on donors to financially reaffirm their commitment to achieving this goal. Their call to action was hugely successful:

  • Participants pledged more than US$28.5 billion new funding by 2018
  • The UK’s Department for International Development pledged up to £300 million to the GPE over the next four years, with Lynne Featherstone commenting “the UK is the biggest supporter of primary and lower secondary education in the developing world and our renewed commitment to the Global Partnership will help millions of children get the education they need.
  • Seven Calls to Action were agreed by delegates, including a commitment to “concrete targeted actions from actors at all levels… to turn inclusion [of children with disabilities] into a reality”.

NDCS is proud that DCW is part of such an exciting partnership and, if you would like to help us to create a world without barriers for deaf children, join our Campaigns Network today!

BBC Subtitle Fail

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

Jonathan Barnes, Campaigns Assistant

Buzzfeed and Metro have printed about the latest in a long line of subtitle errors, after the BBC mistakenly used the word ‘rape’ instead of rain during its weather forecast earlier this week. This wasn’t some sick joke, but a technological error.

The articles cover a number of similar past mistakes. Whilst sometimes these typos can be amusing, there is a serious issue too: deaf people rely on subtitling technology to receive information.

Weather

With live programmes, such as the weather forecast, we know it is difficult and errors occur. Nobody really thought that the weatherman was talking about rape at Glastonbury, after all. But more can and should be done when it comes to programmes that are filmed well in advance. Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research at NDCS, has blogged more about this on Limping Chicken.

This is a frequent problem and one that creates yet another barrier for deaf people. Ofcom has started to look into this, but broadcasters must take responsibility for ensuring their work accessible to all.

3 changes to DSA that affect deaf young people

Freya Riddel

Freya Riddel, Education and Training Policy Advisor

The Government is proposing changes to the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) in England. This has been a valuable tool in enabling more students with disabilities to attend University and reach high academic attainment. The DSA has given deaf students the flexibility to purchase a support package personalised to their needs, so that they could effectively access and engage with the content and teaching of their course.

1) Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) will no longer fund non-specialist, non-medical help. This would include a laptop and manual note-taker. Instead, instead a greater responsibility will be placed on the universities themselves to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ under the Equality Act. Universities will not receive any extra funding to fulfil these responsibilities.

2) Support for deaf students is not guaranteed. Relying on the Equality Act means that there is no guarantee that the University will provide the necessary support, and this support is likely to be inconsistent across different universities.

3) If the university refuses to provide support arguing that it is not ‘reasonable’, or the support is inadequate, there is no guidance as to how an individual could challenge this decision.

We have written more about these changes and our concerns on our website.

NDCS is calling on the government to drop these proposals until it carries out a full public consultation and impact assessment so that it can demonstrate that deaf and other disabled students will not be unfairly disadvantaged as a result. Help us campaign by joining our Campaigns Network today.

We would also like to hear of any experiences from deaf students currently receiving DSA – how important is it for you? What do you use it for? Let us know in the comments section below, or email campaigns@ndcs.org.uk

How can Local Government deliver for Deaf Children?

Reema Patel

Reema Patel, NDCS Trustee and newly-elected Barnet Councillor

As we take in the results of the local elections, campaign groups including deaf children, young people and parents will be considering how best to engage with local politicians and local political parties. We know that, despite deafness not being a learning disability, the attainment gap between deaf and children with no identified Special Educational Needs (SEN) is large – with a 28% difference in those who achieve 5 GCSEs between A*-C including English and Maths – and whilst over time this gap is narrowing, closing the gap remains one of the key priorities for local areas, schools and health providers.

There are, however, challenges. Local politicians may feel disempowered in an education system that has recently favoured greater independence for schools in the way they run and deliver services, and in a system where the impact of proposed changes to the SEN system have been less than clear. Whilst councillors may have every best intention to make an impact, it may not always be clear to them how best to do so.

So what are the most important steps that campaign groups, parents and children can take to close the gap between deaf children and non-deaf children?

1)    Reassure local politicians that there is something they can do

Local politicians should begin by gathering more information to find out exactly what the issues are in their area. What does the gap look like in their local area? What support already exists out there? In what areas is our local authority failing deaf children, and can we look at best practice elsewhere to improve the way we allocate our resources? How do we find the money to plug the gap? What powers do local authorities have to deal with these challenges?

2)    Provide evidence and solutions

As a campaigner myself, I know full well that it is often when local campaign groups are quick enough to take the initiative, to do research themselves and put forward concrete recommendations that the most effective kind of influencing happens. Parents getting in touch with local representatives, identifying problems that they have encountered first hand, sharing their story, and offering concrete solutions makes it very difficult for the representatives to say no.

3)    Stay ahead of the game

This week, we have a batch of brand new councillors who have never been local politicians before in a system that has changed a lot in recent years. For example, SEN reform – to be implemented later this year – presents great challenges as well as opportunities for local authorities and campaigners alike. Local authorities will be able to consider granting children personal budgets to meet their needs – balancing this with the need to allocate resources fairly in a world of dwindling resources, and they will also need to think about ways to make the most impact with less resource available. With a system such as this, a vocal, active parent-led campaign group could be very effective in securing improved outcomes and increased support for deaf children – and may well make a difference. Joining with other parents, as you can through the NDCS Campaigns Network, will amplify your voice going forward.

What local authorities can best do to support deaf children will vary depending on the needs of the child(ren) involved, the local area itself and what is already available in the local area – all in a rapidly changing local government and public sector landscape. Because of this, good local politicians will understand that part of their job is to make listening and responding to interested groups easier as well as building influence with stakeholders outside of local authorities in the health and schools sector, instead of adopting a ‘top-down’ approach and presumption of what is best for children without engagement.

It is a partnership with deaf children, their parents and advocates that will in the long-term enable local politicians to most effectively narrow and then close the attainment gap.