Right to Sign — What happens next?

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

The Department for Education in England recently confirmed that it does not object in principle to the introduction of a GCSE in British Sign Language (BSL). The Department also said that it was open to considering proposals for this GCSE for introduction in the longer term. We think this is a positive step forward. Previously, the Government had refused to consider any new GCSEs.

However, it’s important to note that the process for delivering a GCSE in BSL will not be short or easy.

Any exam body, such as Signature, will need to meet the requirements set by the Department for Education and the exams regulator Ofqual. In addition, the Department for Education has also said that any new GCSE could not be introduced in this Parliament so that schools can have a period of ‘stability’. Assuming there is no early election, this means there can be no new GCSE before 2022.

We are frustrated by the delay and that the Department continue to prioritise ‘stability’ over the need to ensure fairness for deaf young people. At the same time, we want any GCSE to be of the highest standard and we recognise it will take time for it to be ready. It’s important that any new GCSE in BSL has the same credibility as other GCSEs.

We’re calling on the Department to do everything it can to support and expedite progress, so that a new GCSE is ready to go as soon as the next Parliament begins. We want to see evidence they’re taking a ‘can-do’ attitude towards making a BSL GCSE a reality.

We’ve already had lots of questions about how the BSL GCSE will work. Unfortunately, it’s still too early to say how it will work in practice and much will depend on the progress that the Department, Ofqual and exam bodies like Signature make. Watch this space! More information about Signature’s work in this area can be found on their website.

There’s still a long way to go but we could not have got to where we are now without all the hard work by our campaigners and supporters – thank you to all those who’ve supported our Right to Sign campaign. We’ll be keeping a close eye on progress and will keep you updated.

Liam’s vlog – What can you do about the £4 million cuts?

Liam, a past member of our Youth Advisory Board has been vlogging all week for #DeafAwarenessWeek2018.

He’s just done his first signed VLOG (Go Liam!) and it’s all about our Stolen Futures campaign.

 

If you haven’t already – don’t forget to email your MP!

P.S: If you want to hear from him – check out his YouTube channel!

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

Jess-Reeves-cropped

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.

Social Care, Deafness…and the Oscars

Chris Mullen, Social Care Policy Advisor

Chris Mullen, Social Care Policy Advisor

Rachel Shenton’s Oscar-winning film, The Silent Child, highlights the importance of deaf children getting access to language and communication. If a deaf child is deprived of language, deprived of any opportunity to communicate with others, their fundamental human rights are being breached. In the film we see 4 year old Libby taught to flourish when she is taught sign language.

For everyone working in social care, this film is a timely reminder that deafness is not an issue to be forgotten about and brushed under the carpet. Deafness is not a learning disability and, with the right support from parents, education and other services, deaf children can achieve just as well as any other children.

But in reality, children’s social care, and social workers aren’t intervening early enough to prevent deaf children suffering neglect through language deprivation. There are many reasons for this but it’s important to remember that we must not blame parents, the majority of whom have had no experience of deafness and are seeking advice and support to just do their best.

There were once specialist social workers for deaf people working with both deaf children and deaf adults – but an unintended consequence from the separation of children and adult social care services in the mid-2000s meant these teams were no longer viable. Specialist children’s social workers joined general children’s disability teams, and due to pressures on time and resources, support for deaf children drastically reduced. This specialist expertise has now disappeared. Well-meaning professionals, who don’t have the training or the knowledge, are now all too often making dangerous decisions about what is best for deaf children.

I’ve seen some shocking cases. When discussing how a profoundly deaf young person, with significant additional needs, and whose first language was British Sign Language, could be supported in a mainstream children’s home, a senior manager suggested to me they could be ‘taught to lip-read’ and not given any sign language support.
Another social worker told a parent that their child didn’t need any language support as he was “only deaf”. I don’t blame the social workers here – it’s a lack of deaf awareness and a lack of real understanding of the lived experience of a deaf child.
But highlighting these issues isn’t enough. We need action. Research shows that the early years are critical for developing language and communication skills, and if neglected, they have long term consequences. But at the moment, the social care system doesn’t put early intervention services on a statutory footing. What’s more, we are seeing cuts across the country to posts like Teachers of the Deaf who are a key part of an early intervention service.

All of this highlights how deaf children and their social care needs are falling through the cracks. There are various options for how this can be improved. One answer could be to identify and train existing social care professionals as ‘champions’ for deaf children’s social care within their area. Neighbouring local authorities could jointly commission posts and share their resources. Deaf and other sensory charities could also be used more effectively. All of these are viable options for making sure that deaf children don’t get left behind in the social care system, as is sadly so often the case.

So while there are many challenges ahead, I hope that with a clear understanding of the problems, and just a little bit of Oscar glory, we can start to improve social care for deaf children across the UK.

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?

Emma

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.

 

Getting the right advice

Martin-Mclean-cropped

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

When I was a boy what I wanted to be when I was older changed regularly – I wanted to be a teacher, then a weather man and then a journalist and then it was a solicitor. As I grew older and had to seriously consider my options at GCSE followed by A-levels, the doubts crept in – would these jobs be suitable for me? Would the communication barrier be too great? ‘Focus on what you are good at’ I was told and I settled on the biological sciences in the end, following in my parents’ footsteps. Working in laboratory should be ok for a deaf person – there will be opportunities there, I thought to myself.

I was right – there were opportunities. After graduating in Genetics, I worked in a lab for a few months but I soon realised that this type of work was not for me. It was not because I was deaf – I know a few deaf scientists and they love their work. I just felt I had not followed my passions and had settled for the safe option.

It was in 1995 that I took my GCSEs and it was only in that year that disability discrimination laws were introduced. Access to Work, a Government scheme which can cover the costs of communication support in employment, was launched at the same time. I did not know anything about Access to Work or about my rights in employment until much later but I wish I had. I might then have had the courage to follow my passions. This is why I believe good careers advice does matter. Sadly, our research tells us too many young people are not getting this.

Last week, the Government launched a careers strategy which aims to make sure young people receive better careers advice in schools and colleges in England. Refreshingly, for a Government policy document, the needs of young people with disabilities were considered at several points within the strategy. The highlights in relation to deaf young people are:

  • Schools and colleges will be expected to use the Gatsby Benchmarks to improve careers provision. One these benchmarks is ‘addressing the needs of each pupil’ – particularly important for deaf young people.
  • Every school or college will have a Careers Leader who will be expected to prioritise careers support for ‘disadvantaged’ young people including young people with disabilities.
  • 20 Careers Hubs will be set up across England that will be focused on groups of young people ‘most in need of targeted support.’
  • The Careers and Enterprise Company and the Gatsby Foundation will work together to set out good practice in supporting young people with disabilities.

The strategy has the potential to make a difference. Unfortunately, it is not backed by much in the way of extra funding which may limit the ability of the new Careers Hubs and Careers Leaders to reach out to significant numbers of young people. Still, it is better than nothing.

The Careers Strategy only applies to England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own careers policies and we know there are issues in those countries too. Wherever, you live we expect deaf young people to be getting tailored advice.

If you live or work with deaf young people, you too can play your part. Our website has videos aimed at young people thinking about their futures that you can signpost to. We are also looking at how we can further develop our resources around careers so watch this space! If you have any views about what we could produce – let us know in the comment boxes below.

PS – I did leave the laboratory by the way. 15 years, several roles and two more university degrees later, here I am as an Education and Training Policy Advisor for the National Deaf Children’s Society, a job I much enjoy!