19 things I’ve learnt from working at NDCS

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

Jonathan Barnes, Campaigns Assistant

This is my final week at NDCS. I’m leaving to move to the US and lots of exciting new opportunities there. I thought this would be a good opportunity to reflect back on my time working for the best deaf children’s charity out there!

1)    Readers of this blog love listicles! Two of our most popular blog posts are this one and this one. So I thought I’d try and replicate that. If you want to have a go, send your ideas to campaigns@ndcs.org.uk

2)    Lots of facts on deafness – here’s 11 to get you started

3)    We have some great parent campaigners

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4) The Policy and Campaigns Team rocks at winning internal competitions – from best at fancy dress, to best Christmas decorations and quiz winners, we are undoubtedly the best team!

Trophy

5)   By working together, we can make a difference – I’m particularly proud of getting a commitment from Birmingham Council to protect services for deaf children in 2014/15. We have to keep working to make sure they keep their commitment.

6)    Eating bacon every Friday morning (known in the office, unimaginatively, as Bacon Friday) isn’t particularly healthy…but it is tasty!2

7)    Having Regional Directors in every region of England makes NDCS much more able to challenge cuts at a local level with better knowledge of the area.

8)     I’m a pioneer

9)    No language is as fun to learn as BSL…Layout 1

10)   …And no language is more fun to sing in than sign language!

11)    Parents sharing their stories makes a difference. Last year, thousands of parents shared their story with their MPs to help us secure a debate in parliament.

r_seaman@hotmail.com

12)   Softball. NDCS staff play in the second largest softball league in the UK, the London Charity Softball League. We even reached the final a couple of years ago!Softball

13)   Freedom of Information requests are a great way of finding out what is happening across the country to services for deaf children.

14)   NDCS works internationally – not just in the UK!NDCS Campaigns Blog - DCW Ecuador Exchange

15)   Some great deaf awareness tips from working around deaf staffsuperkids-template (2)

16)   International Lumberjack Day exists.8

17)   NDCS works with thousands of families each year, addressing all levels of deafness

18)   80% of children have experienced glue ear by the age of 10. That’s four in every five children.Jonathan aged two

19)   The staff and volunteers at NDCS all work really hard to make the world that little bit better for deaf children – please continue to support them!

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.

What does the reshuffle mean for deaf children?

Jonathan Barnes

Jonathan Barnes, Campaigns Assistant

With Jeremy Hunt remaining as Health Secretary, the headline-grabbing Cabinet move announced yesterday for deaf children was in Education. Michael Gove, the Secretary of State, was replaced by Nicky Morgan. The big question is what this might mean for deaf children?

We are unaware of any personal connection that Morgan has to deafness, whereas Gove had a deaf adoptive sister growing up and a mother who was a Teacher of the Deaf. This meant that Gove always had some interest and familiarity in the issue of childhood deafness. Morgan has previously asked questions of ministers on deaf issues, but otherwise there is a question mark over her familiarity with deafness.

Michael Gove at an NDCS event in 2008

Michael Gove at an NDCS parliamentary event in 2008

What can we expect from the Department for Education moving forward? There will be a continued focus on SEN reform. There are positive intentions here, but will it lead to better outcomes for deaf children? We are concerned it won’t unless there is a proper focus on accountability within the system.

We can’t ignore also the impact of cuts. Through our Stolen Futures campaign, we have interacted frequently with local government. Too often, cuts to services are happening at a local level. The Department for Education have said that they have protected the budget, but it’s clear that this hasn’t been backed up by action.

Over the past few years, we have seen a trend of improving attainment for deaf children and young people. With 43% of deaf children achieving five good GCSEs compared to 70% of children with no identified special education needs, there is still a lot that needs to be done. Action is still needed from the government. Let’s hope Nicky Morgan can deliver.

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?

8 Top tips for campaigning using social media

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

Jonathan Barnes, Campaigns Assistant

We thought that we’d share some of our top tips for campaigning on social media as we often get asked about this by parents wanting to campaign. We find that the two most useful websites for spreading the campaigning message are Twitter and Facebook, so most of these tips are focusing on those two sites, but many apply to others too.

1)    Social media is about two-way conversations – ask questions and answer others when they ask you.

2)    Using images with status updates doubles the level of engagement.

3)    Update regularly. This doesn’t have to be every day, though it is better if it is. I’d say make sure you update at least once a week to avoid your presence becoming stale and uninteresting.

4)    Use hashtags (which look like this: #basketball) to find other people talking about the same subject, or to share your message with people interested in similar things, in this instance basketball.BBall

5)    The shorter the status, the more popular it will be. Brevity is appreciated in pretty much all walks of life, and online it’s no different! About 100 characters is an optimum length for tweets, which isn’t very much. In fact, it’s about the length of point (1). The optimum length for facebook posts is even shorter – about 40 characters.

6)    Speed is really important, especially on Twitter. In August 2013 there was a record 143,199 tweets per second, caused by people in Japan watching the film Castle in the Sky. A lot of content is generated very quickly, as anybody tweeting along to BBC Question Time (#bbcqt) can testify, so it is important to keep up to speed with it. People will engage with you if you are useful to them. One way to be useful is to be relevant: it isn’t much use to be sharing an article on social media that everyone read three weeks ago.Lobsters

7)    Be yourself. One of the fantastic things about social media is that everybody can find their own little niche. Are you a fan of knitting mid-sixteenth century Sicilian lobsters? Then you’ll be able to find somebody else online with a similar interest! Find them, engage with them, and amazing things can happen. Similarly, it is an informal, relaxed and humorous place – embrace it!

8)    Tweet your MP. Twitter gives you direct access to decision-makers – MPs, councillors, health services. Tweeting them directly can engage them in conversation and you can keep the pressure on them!

5 articles the Campaigns Team has been reading this week

NDCS, Sam Aldridge

Sam Aldridge, Campaigns Assistant

This week’s articles were compiled by Sam Aldridge, Campaigns Assistant at the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS).

Every week we’ll be compiling a short list of articles that we’ve noticed in the news and want to share with you. Some of them will be about campaigning and others will be about changes to policy, or relevant policy areas, which may be of interest.

1)   Lobbying Bill: keep calm and carry on campaigning, Liz Hutchins, Guardian Voluntary Sector

The Lobbying Act is a hard pill for charities to swallow. Liz Hutchins explains why it is essential that the sector gets behind the fight to repeal the bill.

2)  David Cameron’s house ‘fracked’ by protestors, Miranda Prynne, The Telegraph

Greenpeace protestors turn the Prime Minister’s country home into a ‘fracking site’ in protest at new pro-drilling laws, the environmental group reveals.

3)   GCSE and A-Level subject range set to be cut back, Sean Coughlan, BBC News

Exam reforms in England will see tougher qualifications for some GCSE and A-level subjects, while others could be scrapped, a watchdog has said.

4)   Now’s the time to make our ask of the political parties, Elizabeth Balgobin, Third Sector

With the general election approaching, charities must state loudly and clearly what they need to do their work, writes columnist Elizabeth Balgobin.

5)   NHS risks ‘chaotic failure’ if parties do not come up with plan to save itCharlie CooperThe Independent

All three political parties must publicly acknowledge the financial crisis faced by the NHS and put solutions at the heart of their 2015 General Election manifestos, health chiefs have said.

Have you seen any articles this week that you liked? Post the link to them in the comments section below and we’ll check them out!

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.