Broken promises in education?

NDCS - Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Today is the first anniversary of the Children and Families Act 2014. This made lots of big changes to the education system with the Government promising that the changes would result in children with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities getting better support.

But you may want to hold on before getting any birthday candles out…. when we asked parents of deaf children recently if they had noticed any improvements to the support that their child receives over the past year, we were pretty shocked that only 6% said they had.

This is one of many worrying stats in a new campaign report called One year on, being published today by the National Deaf Children’s Society. The report includes the results from our survey of parents of deaf children, as well as views from deaf young people and our analysis of the quality of information that local authorities are providing through their ‘Local Offers’ (one of the big changes made last year).

Some other shocking stats from the report include:

  • Only one in ten parents of deaf children were confident that their local authority is successfully implementing the changes.
  • Only 16% of families had seen the Local Offer for where they live.
  • Of those that had seen their Local Offer, 24% said it was easy to find the information they were looking for and 28% reported that the Local Offer gave them information about support for deaf children in their area.
  • Only 7% of parents said their child had been afforded a direct opportunity to help develop the Local Offer and give their views on it.

    Email your MP button about the broken promise in education

    Email your MP about these broken promises in education

  • When we looked the information provided within Local Offers, we found that in 41 Local Offers, it was hard to find information about special schools and resource provisions in the area. 93 local authorities didn’t provide information about specialist provision outside of their own area.
  • Where deaf children were undergoing an assessment for an Education, Health and Care plan (which are replacing statements of SEN), 29% did not feel that the local authority took steps to minimise disruption to their family during the assessment process and 58% had to repeat the same information about their child to different people – both things that families were told would change under the new system.

Overall, our analysis suggests that many local authorities are not doing a great job in implementing these changes and that some may in fact be acting unlawfully. For example, by law, the Local Offer must include information on special schools in the area and nearby, yet our analysis suggests that many are failing to do so.

You could argue that these are just teething troubles and that more time is needed for these changes to bed in. But it’s worth remembering that many of the above changes were piloted for over 2 years in advance of September 2014. Press releases from the Department for Education at the time trumpeted how many local authorities reported being ready for the changes. And the Department for Education has funded a wide range of bodies (including the National Deaf Children’s Society) to support local authorities in implementing these changes.

The National Deaf Children’s Society report makes a number of recommendations to help the Department for Education and local authorities keep their promises to parents of deaf children. At the top of the list is making sure that Ofsted hold local authorities to account. We’ve been long-promised a new inspection framework. But, one year on, there hasn’t yet been a consultation document on how this will work. And early indications suggest that any inspections will be fairly general and won’t have any specific focus on the specialist education services that deaf children rely and which are key to making sure these reforms work for deaf children.

You can support our campaign work in this area by emailing your MP and asking them to raise our concerns with the Government. And if you want to find out more yourself about these changes and your rights under the new system, take a look at the factsheets on our website.

The Government made a range of promises that children with special educational needs and disabilities would get better support. One year on, it’s time to hold the Government to these promises.

Latest SEN stats raise concerns about impact of SEN reform

NDCS - Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Last September, the Children and Families Act 2014 came into force, heralding big changes to how children with special educational needs (SEN) will be supported in education. The Department for Education made a big promise that no child would lose out of support as a result of these changes. One would therefore expect that the number of children getting legal statements of SEN or Education, Health and Care plans to have remained fairly stable over 2014. Instead though, new figures suggest a 6.8% drop in the number being issued over 2014. 20 local authorities have seen reductions of 30% or more.

Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans are replacing statements of special educational needs (SEN). They’re both legally binding documents which set out the support that a child with SEN may need to achieve their potential. EHC plans are intended to be an improvement on statements by ensuring more joined-up support. EHC plans are also available for children and young people up to the age of 25. All statements must be converted to EHC plans by April 2018.

The Department for Education suggest that the decline is partly due to ‘non-statutory’ EHC plans being introduced by pathfinders. These pathfinders are local authorities which volunteered to try out the changes in advance and were able to issue non-legal plans to see how they worked. We took a closer look at the stats to see if this was a potential explanation. But actually, when we stripped out the 31 local authority pathfinders, we found that there was still a 6.3% decline across all other local authorities.

One of NDCS’s biggest concerns from the start was that, whilst many of the changes might be sensible, it was a bad idea to introduce these changes at a time of widespread spending cuts and before a proper system had been introduced to hold local authorities to account for not following the law around SEN.

An NDCS survey of parents of deaf children published in 2013 showed widespread concern about the reforms, with only 6% believing that the changes would lead to better support and 72% thinking the real aim was to reduce spending.

Sadly, it now appears those concerns may be justified and, unless swift action is taken, promises to ensure no negative impact from these changes are at risk of being broken.

If you’re a parent of a deaf child looking for more information about the changes, the NDCS website has a range of factsheets and resources. There is also information for deaf young people on the NDCS Buzz website. For further support, parents can contact the National Deaf Children’s Society Freephone Helpline on 0808 800 8880 (voice and text), email helpline@ndcs.org.uk, or chat online at www.ndcs.org.uk/livechat

Education for deaf children – a review of the past five years

NDCS - Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Apparently, there’s a big general election coming up on the 7th May. One of the factors that voters may be taking into account is the coalition government’s record over the past five years. But in terms of support for deaf children, what do we know about what’s changed?

With this in mind, our next few blogs will explore a few key areas in relation to deaf children. Starting with education:

1. Have deaf children achieved better outcomes?

Yes and no. Because the Government has changed the way that they calculate their GCSE figures on how many deaf children achieve 5 GCSEs (including English and Maths) at grades A* to C (or “5 good GCSEs”), it’s difficult to make like for like comparisons over the past five years.

Back in 2010, 36% of deaf children achieved 5 good GCSEs. In 2014, the same figure was 36.3% under the government’s new methodology. So, on that basis, deaf children aren’t doing that much better. However, if the 2014 figures had been calculated using the same methodology as in previous years, the figure would have been 40%.

Between 2007 and 2010, the GCSE figures (also under the old methodology), the number of deaf children achieving 5 good GCSEs rose from 27% to 36%.

A key NDCS campaign is to close the gap in attainment between deaf and other children. The figures suggest a slight narrowing of the gap from 46% to around 42-44% since 2010. NDCS would hope to be seeing a much faster narrowing of the gap than that shown over the past five years.

NDCS’s website features more analysis of the government attainment figures

2. Have deaf children been getting the support they need?

The Government protected school funding for the whole of the five years and in 2014/15, the Government increased what’s known as the ‘high needs’ budget for those who need more support. They have also sent a clear signal to local authorities that they expect them to protect funding for the most vulnerable learners.

A less known detail is that the Government allowed funding for services for deaf children and other children with special educational needs to be kept by the local authority. The alternative – where schools were giving a slice of the pie and then expected to buy back support – could have led to the fragmentation of services so this was an important policy decision.

Disappointingly though, in our view, the Government has not done enough to ensure that local authorities do indeed protect funding for vulnerable learners. We know from the NDCS Stolen Futures campaign, that funding hasn’t been protected at a local level, or at least in relation to deaf children. We’ve had to campaign hard to prevent cuts to vital services for deaf children across the country.

There has also been a decline in the number of Teachers of the Deaf. Figures from the Consortium for Research into Deaf Education suggest a 3% decline in Teachers of the Deaf last year, with the number of qualified Teachers of the Deaf falling below 1,000 in England last year for the first time. This is despite the fact that that the number of deaf children has not gone down and that there is a still a significant number who are not achieving good outcomes.

3. Has the support that deaf children been receiving been good enough?

A big priority for the Government over the past five years has been to reform the special educational needs (SEN) framework, which outlines how deaf and other children should be supported to achieve their potential. This culminated in the Children and Families Act 2014 and new statutory guidance, the SEN and Disability Code of Practice. Key changes include:

  • A new requirement to publish a Local Offer, setting out what support will be available locally
  • More rights for young people over the age of 16, with a new joined up 0 to 25 system
  • New explicit principles around ‘co-production’ and involvement of parents and young people

More information about these changes can be found in the NDCS SEN reform FAQ.

These changes came into force in September 2014. The Government have been among the first to admit that it will be some time before these changes start to be felt in day to day practice and NDCS has yet to see a fall in demand for support from parents of deaf children to help them resolve issues concerning their child’s education.

There are a range of views over whether these changes were a good idea or not. NDCS was disappointed that the key question of how the Government would ensure that local authorities would actually follow these new laws was left until rather late in the day. Ofsted have now been invited to consider how local areas will be scrutinised for the quality of their provision but there is still considerable uncertainty over how Ofsted will do this and whether they will really look in detail into the quality of services of deaf children. A consultation is expected after the election.

One final area where the Government has taken action is around acoustics in schools. Prior to 2010, following a big NDCS campaign, the previous Government committed to a number of steps to improve the quality of acoustics in schools. These largely fell by the wayside when the new Government came into power and there were fears that acoustics regulations would be scrapped in a “bonfire of regulations”. Fortunately, the Government decided to keep them, sending a signal that schools should ensure they have the best possible listening environments. NDCS would still like the Government to go further, in introducing mandatory acoustic testing of new schools and ensuring that early year settings also have good acoustics too.

Trying to do justice to five years of education policy in a single blog is a challenge and the above does not attempt to cover everything or to touch on wider education changes that impact on all children, such as on curriculum and exams. We hope it provides some food for thought though. Let us know what you think about our summary evaluation by leaving a comment below.

Local Offers – have you been consulted?

Martin McLean Project Manager I-Sign

Martin McLean Project Manager I-Sign

Over the last couple of months we’ve seen the vast majority of local authorities in England publish their Local Offer. Basically, Local Offers are websites where information is published about services across education, health and social care for children and young people with SEN and disabilities in the local area. The idea behind them is that families and young people have access to information in one place which means they are better informed and have more control about the support they access.

Sounds great so far doesn’t it? However, I have looked at quite a few Local Offers recently and have still yet to find one that would be particularly useful for a parent of a deaf child. Where the Local Offer has a search box typing in ‘deaf’ tends to either:

  1. Come up with nothing or very little at all
  2. List every service known to man under the sun

(Ok, no. 2 is a slight exaggeration) Even if you don’t use a search box function and decide to go through the various menus that exist, it is hard to find any information specific to deafness as services tend not be categorised by type of SEN/disability.

By law, local authorities must consult with parents and young people when developing their Local Offer. How much did they consult with parents of deaf children?

Not much, you might think. Well, thanks to a Freedom of Information request we actually know the answer – 44% of local authorities told us they did not consult with parents of deaf children. Quite often consultation has not been specific to type of disability/SEN but rather a general consultation that may have included parents of deaf children. Families of deaf children are a small group and it could be very easy for their needs to be forgotten if only general consultations are carried out. Only 29% of local authorities consulted directly.

consultedwithparentsofdeafchildren

When it comes to consulting with deaf young people local authorities fare even worse with 68% having carried out no consultation with them. And it shows – I can’t imagine many young people being incentivised to explore their area’s Local Offer – they’d probably find flicking through the Oxford English Dictionary more interesting! Information tends to be very dull and far from ‘youth-friendly’ despite the fact they must be accessible to young people by law.

 

Chart2Consultedwithparentsofdeafchildren

 

 

 

 

We are worried that money and time has been spent on developing Local Offer websites without proper consultation having taken place. However, most local authorities would probably agree at the moment that their Local Offers are not a finished product and need a lot more development before they become useful to families of deaf children. This development should be informed by feedback from parents and young people. NDCS encourages parents and young people to look at their Local Offer and to submit comments to their local authority. E.g. How easy is it to find information? What services are missing? Local authorities are required to publish (anonymously) comments received from families and respond to them. Additionally, they must continue to consult with parents and young people to review and improve their Local Offer. This tends to be done through parent-carer forums and you can find your local forum here: http://www.nnpcf.org.uk/who-we-are/find-your-local-forum/

We would like central government to do more to hold local authorities to account for having poor local offers or failing to consult properly. Local Offers have the potential to be a valuable tool. However, once again, just like the old system; it comes down to parents and young people to take action. We urge you to get involved!

To download NDCS’s guide for families on Local Offers visit: www.ndcs.org.uk/sen

Martin McLean is the Project Manager of the I-Sign project which aims to improve access to BSL for families of deaf children and is developing case studies on local offers and BSL provision. www.ndcs.org.uk/isign

What deaf children need from SEN reform #5: Regional commissioning

NDCS - Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

We’ve been blogging all week about SEN reform and the key things that local authorities in England need to do to make sure it delivers for deaf children. The 5th and final issue we want to see action on is: regional commissioning and working together across local authorities to improve services.

Regional commissioning sounds like a very geeky policy thing. But it’s also something really important for services for deaf children. We all know that deafness is a low incidence disability, compared to other conditions. Deaf children have a habit of popping up randomly all over the place. Deaf children are also a remarkably diverse bunch. Some are oral, some use sign language. Some wear hearing aids, some wear cochlear implants. Some come from families where English is an additional language. Others have additional complex needs. In short, we’re complicated.

The question is: why would any local authority try or even attempt to meet these diverse needs all by themselves? Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to work together across local authorities and pool resources? It’s certainly led to better economies of scale – an important consideration in these times of austerity and spending cuts.

Even though it’s common sense and even though new guidance from the Department for Education highlights the value of regional commissioning, there are still very few examples of local authorities pooling resources and working together for the benefit of deaf children. Until they do , there’s a real risk that all the  changes to the special educational needs system will come to nothing.

NDCSNursary-32

You know the drill by now. We want local authorities to take action on this and the other 4 key issues we’ve been highlighting all week. You can help us by emailing our campaign briefing – that we’ve produced with Blind Children UK, RNIB and Sense – to local authorities and asking to act on it. Our website makes it simple and straightforward for you to take action and make local authorities take note. You can also join our campaigns network for the latest on our campaign actions.

Have you enjoyed our week of blogs on SEN reform? Obviously, SEN reform is not just for Christmas so this is going to be a topic which will stay on our minds for a long time. And the five issues we’ve picked out are just the start. It’s a period of big risks but also opportunities too. We’ll be keeping an eye on what local authorities are up to and keeping you updated on things you can do to help. We’re all determined to make sure deaf children benefit from these changes and, importantly, get the support they need.

If you’ve got any questions about SEN reform and what it might mean for deaf children, our website – www.ndcs.org.uk/sen – has lots more information. Or you can have your say by leaving a comment below.

What deaf children need from SEN reform #4: Better assessments

NDCS - Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

We’re on day 4 of our special week of blogs on special educational needs reform and what needs to happen if implementation is going to be a success for deaf children. Today, we’re highlighting the need for better assessments of deaf children’s needs.

Another positive of the big changes is the Government has really emphasised the importance of high quality assessments. In the classroom, assessments are seen as the bedrock of SEN support. All teachers are now meant to follow a cycle called “assess, plan, do review” when working with children with SEN.

And if children need more support, through an Education, Health and Care Plan, then a full and rigorous assessment to identify children’s strengths and weaknesses and where support is needed, is highlighted as vital.

This is an area we’re keeping a close eye on as some of the earlier Plans that we saw in the pilot were not great, to put it mildly. I saw a few that were vague on the child’s needs. I came to call them “fluffy happy-smiley” documents. Information about the child’s likes and dislikes are important – but not at the cost of detailed information about their abilities, strengths and weaknesses.

NDCS. Deaf children at Hacton primary school in Hornchurch, Essex, in class with othed deaf children and also hearing children, being helped by signing assistant and teachers with sound field mic's and visula aids.

Happily, there are lots of great resources that professionals can use to make sure assessments are high quality. Top of the list is a resource developed by the National Sensory Impairment Partnership called Better Assessments, Better Outcomes, Better Plans, which outlines all the questions that should be considered when carrying out assessments. Our new campaign briefing for local authorities, co-produced with Blind Children UK, RNIB and Sense, highlights this resource and others.

You can help us make sure that local authorities follow best practice on this and other issues by taking part in our new campaign action. We’re asking our campaigners to take action and forward our campaign briefing to local authorities. If you haven’t already, pop to our website for an easy thingybob that works out who to contact in your local authority, making it easy to get in touch and ask them what steps they’re going to take to make sure deaf children benefit from these reforms. You can also join our campaigns network for the latest on our campaign actions.

Our week of SEN reform blogging comes to an end, tomorrow, sadly. Tune in again for tomorrow for what the 5th key issue on SEN reform and deaf children is.

What deaf children need from SEN reform #3: The Local Offer

NDCS - Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Has your local authority made you an offer yet? Under the big changes to the SEN system, which we’re blogging about all week, each local authority in England is now required to produce a ‘Local Offer’  of the provision it expects to be available for children with special educational needs and disabilities in their area.

There’s been a lot of rhetoric from the Government about what the Local Offer is not. For example, it’s not meant to be a directory of services. Or a kind of SEN Yellow Pages. Instead, it’s meant to be a process whereby the local authority reviews how good its provision is, in consultation with families, and then improves it. In other words, the Local Offer is meant to lead to a virtuous cycle of better support.

The Local Offer has the potential to be something really positive. Many families have told us over the years that they have struggled to find relevant information about support for their child. If the Local Offer can make that a thing of the past, all the better.

Unfortunately, there is a but. The Local Offer will only deliver for deaf children if it includes specific information about support for deaf children which is easy to find. Again, our worry is that deafness will be lumped together with other needs and disabilities and that the Local Offer only ends up containing very generic information.

Alfie _7_

Our campaign briefing with Blind Children UK, RNIB and Sense calls on local authorities to make sure this doesn’t happen. It also signposts to a number of key resources such as advice from the National Deaf Children’s Society on what we think should go in the Local Offer if it’s going to be relevant to deaf children. Take part in our new campaign action to help make sure that local authorities act on our advice and come up with a good Local Offer for deaf children.