My experience of Labour party conference…

Erin 1

Erin McKay

Hello, I am Erin and I’m from Wiltshire. I have a hearing loss and wear two hearing aids. I am currently doing A Level History, Philosophy and English Literature. I attended the Labour Party Conference and I’d like to tell you a bit about my experience.

On Sunday 24 September I got on the train to Brighton. It took a little under four hours to get there. I was on my way to the Labour Party conference where I had 8 meetings lined up to talk about three campaigns that the NDCS are doing. They are Listen Up to improve children’s audiology services, Right to Sign, putting British Sign Language (BSL) in schools as a GCSE and PIP’d Off, about Personal Independence Payments, and the difficulties that deaf people have in getting them. I talked about the Right to Sign campaign as it was the one I helped create with the last Youth Advisory Board.

On the Monday, Brighton was quite rainy and we arrived at the hotel at around 10am to get ready for our first meeting, it was with Sharon Hodgson, the MP for Sunderland West. She is the Shadow Minister for Public Health. She was really nice and we talked about Listen Up, Right to Sign and PIP.

Erin and Sharon

While we were talking with her, the next MP arrived – Alex Cunningham of Stockton. He was also really nice. He gave us some ideas of what to do with the campaigns and who to talk to about different bits. He agreed to ask his local hospital to sign up to the inspections for Listen Up!

Our next meeting was with Liz Twist who is the new MP for Blaydon. We talked about Listen Up! and Right to Sign. Afterwards we met Stephanie Peacock who is also a new MP, for Barnsley. She agreed to ask her local hospital to be part of the inspection process and we also talked about Right to Sign and having Teachers of the Deaf in Schools. We then had a break for lunch and walked around the exhibitions.

After lunch, we saw Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. I managed to get my picture taken with both of them. Our next meeting was with Dawn Butler, the MP who signed a question in parliament. We talked to her about Right to Sign, and she seemed surprised to see that I couldn’t sign. She had already done most of what we wanted to ask her to do, and she was happy to talk about other things to help our campaigns. Next was Helen Goodman who had done a lot of work already with the National Deaf Children’s Society and she was very happy to help us. We talked about Right to Sign, Listen Up and PIP.

Erin labour

Our last meeting was with Tracy Brabin, who was friends with Jo Cox, who I wrote a bit about loneliness for. We also talked about Listen Up and Right to Sign. I had a really good time and would like to do it again.

The best bit of my day was seeing the taxi drivers showing their support for the Uber ban in London by beeping their horns. It went on for about 20 minutes and was really loud! I also liked meeting all the different MPs. Top tips from me for conference are: to share – talk to the MPs and ask questions if you don’t understand something; they are ordinary people.

Right to Sign campaign update: Minister says no

Ian_Noon

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

Earlier this year, the National Deaf Children’s Society Youth Advisory Board, after months of hard work, launched their new Right to Sign campaign, calling for young people to have more opportunities for young people to learn sign language in schools.

They surveyed over 2,000 young people – deaf and hearing – and found that a whopping 92% thought schools should offer British Sign Language (BSL) as a GCSE. They published a report setting out the results in full and the case for action.

And the response from the Government? No.

Yesterday, when asked if the Department for Education in England would encourage exam boards to offer BSL as a GCSE, the Minister, Nick Gibb, said: “At present, there are no plans to introduce any further GCSEs beyond those to which the Government has already committed.”

To our knowledge, this is the first time the Government has ruled out introducing a BSL GCSE since the campaign was launched. It’s a massive disappointment and a real slap in the face for all of the hard work done so far by the Youth Advisory Board.

It’s hard not to feel angry about the response. It’s simply unfair and unjust that BSL, an official language in the UK used by thousands of people, is being treated in a way which implies it has a lower status and importance than other languages already being taught as GCSEs. It could even be seen as discriminatory to deaf people.

We’re not going to be deterred and will keep pressing the Department for Education in England for action – our briefing sets out some of the arguments we’re using. Two members of the Youth Advisory Board will also be asking MPs to support their campaign when they head to party political conferences later this month.

If you want to show your support for our work, please sign the Youth Advisory Board petition. More information about the different ways you can support the campaign can be found on the Buzz website.

 

Growing up in a mainstream school

Emily primary

Emily Meacher (aged 4 years) Policy and Campaigns Support Assistant

Jake’s recent blog got me thinking about my own personal experience at primary school, and how I wasn’t alone in these experiences. And so below are some random reflections of my time at Codicote primary school.

 

I was the only deaf kid in school- children used to say to me ‘why are you death?’ and I would have to try and explain at 6 years old how I am deaf and not actually dead.

I used the deaf card (I started young!) to get out of recorder sessions- I couldn’t bear the noise (can anyone?) and felt elated when I was let off.

Children were curious about how my radio aid worked, so the teacher had the bright idea of sending me out into the playground where everyone watched me. The teacher would say something into the aid but I didn’t understand a word. I felt a bit miffed about being sent out whilst the whole class gawped through the window.

I used to take part in school plays, and didn’t hear or understand any of the songs- I would just move my mouth and pretend to go along with it.

I used to go to my friends’ sleepovers and whilst a lot of the kids were up late chatting in the dark, I would be asleep. I would wake up and see the kids playing with my hearing aids, trying to put them into their ears out of curiosity.

I had a best friend Claire, who I am still best friends with to this day whose mother, told Claire she was worried about her hanging out with me- as her voice had started to get ‘lazy’- and that she was starting to sound like me! Of course, Claire didn’t listen thankfully.

Although there were times when I struggled, overall I received good educational support in school and if it wasn’t for the support there, I don’t think I’d have passed the entrance exam (this has now changed -they no longer have an entrance exam) to get into Mary Hare, secondary school. It was at Mary Hare that I developed my deaf identity.

Since my time working at the National Deaf Children’s Society, it pains me to think that some deaf children out there do not get the same support I had growing up. Some deaf children are coping, rather than thriving. This needs to change – we are working hard to challenge proposals to close resource bases and reduce support – one example being in Manchester. Hazel, our Regional Director for the North West and Sally, our Policy and Campaigns Officer fought hard alongside passionate parents, and in the end we managed to reduce the amount of budget cut to the service. Not only that, but we also managed to save one of the two resource bases under threat. Great news!

If you want to get involved in campaigns like this, then join with me and the Policy and Campaigns team by signing up to our Campaigns Network here: http://www.ndcs.org.uk/help_us/campaigns/campaign_with_us/campaign_network.html

 

What do we know about communication support for deaf people?

Ian_Noon

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

Last week, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) published a monster 142-page document summarising the responses it received to a review on communication support for deaf people. The aim of the review was to try and identify what we know about the supply and demand of professionals (such as interpreters, speech-to-text-reporters, etc.) whose role it is to provide support to deaf people with their communication. We submitted evidence back in 2016 setting out what we knew then about communication support for deaf children and young people.

So what have we learnt from the DWP report? Here are my own top five take-home messages from the report.

  1. Nobody is quite sure how many deaf people there are. For example, we have a very rough ball-park figure on the number of deaf children from the Consortium for Research into Deaf Education – but we know that those figures, whilst the best available, are not 100% reliable.
  2. Nobody really knows how many communication support professionals there are out there either. It’s not something that any government department appears to be measuring.
  3. However, there is a lot of evidence that there the number of communication support professionals isn’t enough. Lots of respondents gave examples of unmet demand among deaf people. For example, there is evidence that too many deaf children are being supported by communication support workers who don’t have an advanced qualification in sign language.
  4. It became clear from reading the report that the term ‘communication support workers’ (CSWs) means different things to different people. We at the National Deaf Children’s Society would use the term to refer to a type of specialist teaching assistant, someone who would provide support to deaf children in the classroom, with signed support as necessary. However, we wouldn’t see them as “interpreters” because CSWs need to be able to do much more than just interpret what the teaching is saying by, for example, supporting deaf children with notes, explaining concepts, and so on. It’s clear though that in other areas, deaf people are being supported by a professional described as a ‘communication support worker’ when really they should be supported by an interpreter. The report points to a need for much more clarity on the role of CSWs and what skills they need in different situations.
  5. Lots of people feel that technology – such as remote sign language interpreters or speech-to-text-reporters – can really help deaf people. However, there was a unanimous view that this cannot be seen as a substitute for ‘real life’ communication support. Indeed, many people were concerned that new technology was being used as an excuse to reduce support inappropriately.

So what happens next? We’re not yet sure. The DWP report is literally just a summary of responses and doesn’t set out any recommendations or actions for the Government.

On our side, we’d be keen to see the Government take action to improve data on deaf children and also to ensure there are more, better-qualified, communication support workers for deaf children and young people. We’d also like to see speech-to-text reporters being more widely used, particularly for older deaf young people, including those at university. We’ll be pressing the Government to set out what action it’ll be taking in response to the report so watch this space.

 

Crossing the Divide

Martin-Mclean-cropped

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

Further education (FE) is getting a lot of attention at the moment and rightly so. The UK has major skills shortages in many sectors and Brexit may mean we are less likely to be able to rely on EU immigration to plug the skills gap. The Education Secretary, Justine Greening, as I type this blog, has just made a speech where she talked about creating ‘an army of skilled young people for British business’. To address skills shortages the Government is creating 15 technical routes and new T-level qualifications in England. Wales is also on the verge of significant post-16 education reform.

FE colleges will play a major role in delivering the new qualifications and with FE colleges being the destination for the majority of deaf young people at 16, investment in the new technical routes will be no bad thing if they lead to clearer pathways to employment.

Recently, a small piece of research was carried out for us by a group of civil servants and corporate sector employees on the transition deaf young people make from FE into employment and the support they receive to do this in FE. We asked them to look at this issue because there is so little data out there on the outcomes of deaf young people who attend FE colleges – are they finding jobs after leaving college and how well prepared are they for entering the job market? We suspected that the support available to them to find work might be quite poor. Sadly, the research confirmed that this is probably the case. The main findings of the group’s research were:

  • 59% of parents of deaf young people stated their child’s college did not help them find any work experience or placement opportunities
  • 39% of parents stated their child had not received any careers support or guidance at college
  • Young people who had received college-supported work experience were more likely to have gone onto employment or further study

Some parents reported negative experiences with their child making the transition to work:

“It was disappointing that on his first visit to the Job Centre, in an effort to find employment, they put him on ESA (Employment Support Allowance) without the necessity to attend support sessions. In other words, he was written off as being unemployable”

“We didn’t know what help was available. Recruitment companies didn’t seem to be interested in helping my daughter get a job and I put this down to her being deaf.”

This type of experiences provide a strong case for deaf young people having access to tailored careers advice at school and college. It is not just about access to careers advice that their hearing course-mates receive. Do young people know that they can benefit from Access to Work? Do they understand their rights under the Equality Act? Are they aware of the organisations that might be able to provide further support when they leave education? We believe schools and colleges have a role in making sure deaf young people receive this type of information.

deaf young person looking for work

It is expected that work experience will be a compulsory part of a T-level – this is welcome and we need to make sure deaf young people receive the support they need on these placements.

FE and skills reform has cross-party support and I believe that better investment in FE will benefit many deaf young people. However, before they embark on any technical routes, we need to fight for deaf young people to have better access to decent careers advice so that they can make properly informed decisions about the career opportunities available to them and understand support that is available in the workplace.

I’m deaf myself and remember leaving education to find work being very daunting. I am sure it is the same many deaf young people finishing education today. Through working together with the FE and skills sector NDCS hopes to make the divide between education and work a lot narrower.

Wales: Mind the Gap!

Debbie Green, Policy & Campaigns Officer Wales

Debbie Thomas Policy and Campaigns Officer Wales

Every year, a pile of statistics finds its way into my inbox. I’ve never been a fan of stats and spreadsheets, but nevertheless, I am always grateful to receive these ones on the attainment of deaf pupils in Wales.

Just a few years ago, there was no published data on the number of deaf pupils in Wales – let alone information on their attainment.

Such data is a key part of the picture when looking at how well our deaf learners are supported in Wales and NDCS Cymru campaigned for the data to be available.

We know that deaf pupils face challenges, but with appropriate support they can achieve on a par with their hearing peers. Unfortunately, the stats show significant attainment gaps between deaf learners and their peers. Last year, deaf pupils were 30.2% less likely to achieve A*-C GCSE grades in the 3 “core subjects” (English/Welsh, Maths and Science.)

Whilst this paints an upsetting picture, it is important to consider what it actually means. It certainly isn’t an indictment of our Teachers of the Deaf! We know we’re lucky to have many dedicated and talented Teachers of the Deaf working across Wales. But we also know that these professionals are often working beyond capacity with sky-high caseloads. We know that we desperately need to ensure new professionals are trained up for the next generation, especially since many of our current Teachers of the Deaf are nearing retirement.

But we also need to look beyond the Teacher of the Deaf. We need to find ways of addressing the numerous barriers and challenges that deaf pupils can face – barriers that deaf young people themselves tell us about. To name but a few these include the need for; greater deaf awareness among educational staff generally, improved classroom acoustics and more support workers with BSL skills.

The attainment statistics upset me, but they also keep me passionate about my work – campaigning to make a difference for deaf young people in Wales.

NDCS Cymru has been campaigning hard on behalf of deaf learners. Although there is still much to be done, some good changes are happening.

Even as positive steps are taken, it will be essential that we keep accessing this attainment data to monitor the attainment gap and ensure it closes. Essentially, we need to mind the gap. That’s why NDCS Cymru is calling on the Welsh Government to make sure this valuable information is not lost as it reviews the way in which attainment data is collated across Wales. It may sound like a boring topic, but it is vitally important!

So, when it comes to this year’s attainment data, let’s not read it and weep. Let’s read it and:

  1. be grateful for the fact that we have it;
  2. recognise the work of fabulous professionals who work hard to support our deaf learners;
  3. keep campaigning to ensure all deaf children can have the support they need.

General election 2017- Scotland

Lois-Drake-2-cropped

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.