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.

General Election 2017. Deaf young people matter.

Martin-Mclean-cropped

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

Less than half of young people aged 18-24 are expected to vote on June 8th. Personally, I think this is a tragedy as it means that politicians may be less focused on trying to win young people over because this will not be the key to winning elections. It can be argued that policies on housing, benefits or higher education, for example, might be different if more young people voted.

We at the National Deaf Children’s Society want to make sure that the needs of young people are high on the agenda. We have some key asks for each of the parties to help ensure deaf young people have bright futures. For this year’s general election they are:

    1. Ensure deaf young people receive access to specialist careers advice. Imagine as a deaf young person thinking about what you want to do in the future but you did not know you had rights under the Equality Act or that there was funding for communication support and technology in the workplace (Access to Work). Sadly, this is the reality for many deaf young people and we believe it influences their subject choices at school and college. We want all deaf young people to have access to specialist careers advice so that they are better informed to make choices about their futures.
    2.  Revamp the Access to Work employment support scheme. As a user of the Access to Work I can say I probably could not do my job without it – it pays for the communication support I need to access meetings and training. However, when applying for the first time you will need to very clear about what support and how much of it you need. We don’t believe the application process is friendly for young people and would like to see specialist advice from dedicated champions when they apply for the first time, as well as support that it is flexible and tailored to their needs.
    3. Make it easier for deaf young people to complete apprenticeships. The main political parties are keen on apprenticeships. So are we. High-quality apprenticeships can be a good way of ensuring deaf young people gain vital work experience alongside achieving qualifications. We believe the funding system for additional support on apprenticeships is currently unsatisfactory and needs to be improved and simplified.

Help us put the needs of deaf young people on the agenda by asking the parliamentary candidates for your area what they would do on the above issues if elected to parliament. Also, if you know any deaf young people over 18, encourage them to register to vote- they do matter!

Mother successfully challenges daughter’s educational support cuts

Tasneem is the mother of Aisha who is currently in 6th year of a mainstream high school in Scotland. Tasneem recently overturned the decision to have her daughter’s teacher of the deaf (ToD) hours of support cut and shares her experience to inspire other parents.

I was so happy when Aisha obtained three A’s and a B in her 5th year exams and was in no doubt that the 5 hours a week support she received from her ToD contributed to her success. So you can imagine my shock when Aisha told me she had not seen her ToD when she began 6th year. A phone call from the school then confirmed that Aisha would now be receiving support once a fortnight.

“How am I going to cope?” pic Aisha

I was shocked by this and couldn’t understand how Aisha could go from requiring 5 hours of support a week to only once a fortnight. Aisha was used to the support she was receiving so this was a big difference for her. Her initial reaction was to panic. She asked me questions like, “how am I going to cope?”, “who will explain things to me?” She was also upset because she was attached to her ToD, who also supports her wee sister, so she saw her as a friend.

“I began feeling nervous about challenging the decision…”

I am not a confrontational person but I realised I had to do something for my daughter’s sake. I immediately attempted to set up a meeting with the school and the head of support services, which proved far more difficult than I had imagined. Despite speaking to the ToD on the phone, I had to arrange the meeting with the head through the school. This delayed progress and meant I was continually chasing up the school. I found this lack of communication between the school and the support services was a real barrier for me. Once the school had eventually set up the meeting, I began feeling nervous about challenging the decision. I didn’t know what information I would need which lead to me question whether I was doing the right thing. Maybe I was overreacting? What if the support services were right, surely they should know what is best for Aisha? But I knew that my daughter would not be getting the support she needed so I started asking myself, what are my rights and what should I expect from the school and support services?

“I knew I had someone on my side”

Thankfully the National Deaf Children’s Society really helped me with this, explaining my rights under various laws including the Additional Support for Learning Act and Equalities Act. They also provided me with a comprehensive list of what support Aisha should receive and accompanied me to the meeting, so I knew I had someone on my side.

At the meeting the ToD explained that once a fortnight support had been decided upon in line with the Matrix guidelines they used, and that they are now regarded as a consultancy agency, not peripatetic. With the help of the National Deaf Children’s Society I argued that this was unfair as a mainstream teacher cannot provide one-to-one service in a class of 30. It also puts pressure on the deaf child to seek out class teachers during break/lunch time to ask questions which is totally inconvenient. This also requires confidence from the child to go out their way to ask these questions. The ToD asked me what level of support I would be happy with and I suggested 3 hours a week. I argued that Aisha had done so well in her exams due to the support she was receiving. I stuck to my guns and after a lot of passing the buck between the support services and the school, I was eventually successful in overturning the decision.

“I would also urge parents to take advantage of the support offered by the National Deaf Children’s Society…”

Given my experience I would urge parents to challenge decisions that affect their deaf children. Some parents may not be aware of exactly how much support their child is getting in school and some may not be aware of cuts in this support. I personally know parents who have not been told about cuts. My advice for parents is to find out who their child’s ToD is and what their role is. I was even unclear on this. I would also urge parents to take advantage of the support offered by the National Deaf Children’s Society and within their child’s school. It made a big difference to have someone from the National Deaf Children’s Society and pastoral care within the school actually attend the meetings with me. Especially because you know you are being supported by someone who knows what your child is entitled to. I think parents need to be made more aware that the National Deaf Children’s Society can accompany them to meetings of this nature and can provide information and advice on their rights.

Click here to find out more about children’s educational rights in Scotland.

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

First month’s campaigning at NDCS

Alex Chitty, Campaigns Assistant at NDCS - Stolen Futures

Alex Chitty, Campaigns Assistant

Having just celebrated one month of working for NDCS, it seems like the perfect time to share what my first few weeks have entailed.

A bit about my team
Joining NDCS, an organisation at the forefront of campaigning for deaf children and young people has been a fantastic experience. The team has been hugely welcoming and it has been great getting out and about meeting regional staff and learning more about the excellent campaigning that takes place. Much of this campaigning is driven by dedicated parents of deaf children and young people and has had some brilliant results.

What have I been up to?
A large part of my role is to support local campaigners – and the Stolen Futures campaign more widely at large – so that together we ensure that there is adequate funding for public services for deaf children and their families. So far this has included:

  • Reviewing the Ofsted statements of mainstream schools in several regions of England to see what specific provisions are being made deaf children and children with special educational needs (SEN)
  • Preparing and sending Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to Local Authorities and Clinical Commissioning Groups asking for clarification on their budgets for deaf children and young people’s education, social care, and speech and language therapy
  • Highlighting opportunities for parents to participate in council-run consultations and surveys on SEN reform
  • Attending training on the 2010 Equality Act to find out how this piece of legislation can be used to protect and advocate for the rights of children with disabilities and/or SEN

What’s next?
Later this month we will be receiving responses to the FOI requests and from these we will be determining if any cuts to services have taken place or are scheduled to occur. We will then decide what campaigning steps we can take to reverse or stop these changes, so please do keep an eye on our cuts map for updates on your area.

Very excitingly, on 22nd March 2014, I will also be providing some training on ‘How to build effective relationships with local decision-makers and organisations’ at a Yorkshire and the Humber Networking Day.

How you can campaign
If you think campaigning sounds fun and would like to help us create a world without barriers for all deaf children, then why not join our Campaigns Network and lend your voice to our national and local lobbying? It’s a great way for you to find out more about what we are campaigning on and to get involved in some quick and easy actions! Or if you have an issue which you’d like help campaigning on, please do not hesitate to get in touch: campaigns@ndcs.org.uk