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.

FE is under review

Martin McLean, Education and Training Policy Advisor (post-14)

Martin McLean, Education and Training Policy Advisor (post-14)

The further education (FE) sector often complains about being overlooked with education in schools and universities getting far more attention. However, for deaf young people it matters. Around two thirds of them attend FE colleges in comparison with around one third of hearing young people aged 16. FE provides deaf young people with the opportunity to obtain vocational qualifications and personal maturity.

The sector is in trouble with many FE colleges complaining of a funding crisis following large government cuts to the adult education budget and funding changes for students aged 16-19. The Government has set up a number of area reviews in England to look at FE and 6th form college provision with the aim of ‘restructuring’ the further education sector. They are likely to lead to college mergers in order to bring about greater efficiency. Currently being reviewed are the following areas – Birmingham and Solihull, Sheffield City, Greater Manchester, Tees Valley, Solent Valley, Sussex Coast and West Yorkshire.

Are the reviews relevant to deaf students? They could be. Provision for students with disabilities should be considered under each review. We know that there is a great variation in the amount of specialist support available for deaf students between different colleges. If a college with good support for deaf students is taken over by another college then that support could be at risk. On the other hand, the reviews could be an opportunity to achieve more consistent provision within an area – fewer colleges could mean less variation in the support that is available.

NDCS would like the review steering groups to consider the role of regional provision. This is when a service is used by more than one college rather than each college having its own separate service for deaf students. This could be a more efficient system and ensure that specialist knowledge is available to more students.

NDCS will be sending information to each of the review steering groups. Let’s hope their members take notice and that the reviews can be an opportunity rather than a threat.

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.

Should English always be the key to progress?

Martin McLean Project Manager I-Sign

Martin McLean – Education and Training Policy Advisor (Post-14)

Three quarters of employers believe action is required to improve English and Maths skills with poor literacy and numeracy amongst employees having a negative impact on business according to reports. The last government took note. They introduced requirements for young people in England aged 16 to 18 who failed to achieve grade C in English and Maths to continue studying these subjects. This includes those on apprenticeships – advanced apprenticeships now require apprentices to pass Level 2 (equivalent to C grade GCSE) Maths and English in order to complete their qualification. Under the new majority Conservative government these requirements are not expected to change.

So far, so good many of you may be thinking. Nobody can deny that Maths and English are important skills that can provide a strong foundation to build on. However, are the new arrangements good for everyone? I came across a case recently where a young deaf apprentice was told he would not be able to progress to Year 2 of an advanced apprenticeship without passing Level 2 English. The student who uses British Sign Language (BSL) as his main language is doing very well at all other taught parts of his apprenticeship including a BTEC and Maths. His employer is very happy with his work.

The apprentice who is currently struggling to complete Level 1 English is worried he will now not be able to progress to Level 3 standard in engineering on the grounds of his written English not being good enough. He does however, have fluency in a recognised language of this country – BSL. NDCS believes that it is unfair for the government to lay down English requirements with no exemptions. The result of this is that some deaf students could be barred from achieving Level 3 qualifications within sectors of employment where a high level of written English is not strictly necessary. NDCS had successfully argued against English and Maths GCSEs being compulsory to start an apprenticeship in a government consultation a few years ago. However, the issue has come to the fore again.

Those taking vocational qualifications such as NVQs and BTECs in Further Education can face similar issues. It is not compulsory to pass English and Maths in order to achieve a qualification. However, I have heard of several examples of deaf students being prevented from progressing to Level 3 by colleges on the grounds of poor literacy. For those fluent in BSL it can be argued that their BSL skills compensate for weaker English skills.

Is it right that a student’s level of English should be the passport to progression to Level 3 and beyond? It is true that courses at Level 3 and above require greater independent study and the ability to read a range of resources. However, entry to courses should be considered on a case to case basis rather than automatically rejecting students based on English GCSE results. If a deaf student has proven that they are capable of completing vocational qualifications at Level 2, it only seems right they should be allowed to progress to Level 3. With the right support they can go a long way.

What are your views? Submit a comment below – we would love to read your opinions on this issue.

For further information about apprenticeships:

Information for parents

Information for deaf young people