An update on British Sign Language in Wales

I’ll never forget one particular phone call with a mother of a newborn baby who had just been diagnosed as deaf. Like 90% of families with a deaf child, her family had no previous experience of deafness. Her baby’s diagnosis had come as a huge shock. She broke down in tears and said: “I just want to know that I will be able to talk to my baby.”

Debbie Thomas, Policy and Campaigns Officer Wales, National Deaf Children’s Society.

Being able to develop communication with your baby is something many of us take for granted. And yet it is so fundamental – both in terms of establishing a bond and developing language.

For many families, sign language is one option they would like to pursue to help establish communication with their child. And yet, too many families are struggling to access support to learn to sign. British Sign Language (BSL) courses are often costly or do not cover the type of vocabulary required by a young family.

Earlier this month, I was contacted by the BBC to comment on the story of a Monmouthshire couple who have resorted to fundraising in order to access BSL classes to sign with their daughter.

I was also in touch with Assembly Members, who debated BSL access issues in the Assembly (a video and transcript is available on the Welsh Assembly’s website). During this debate, the Welsh Government promised to review availability of BSL classes across the country. This review is much needed and the National Deaf Children’s Society Cymru will be following its progress closely.

The Education Minister also stated that she’d consider developing a national charter for the delivery of services and resources for deaf children, young people and their families. The National Deaf Children’s Society Cymru has been in touch with the Minister to express our support for such a charter. We feel it could be used to drive forward improved support in a number of ways, including access for families to learn BSL.

Fingers crossed that this review will be the first step to addressing this important issue.

The Debate in the Assembly also covered other BSL issues…

The debate also covered calls to offer a BSL GCSE in Wales; an issue that the National Deaf Children’s Society Cymru has often raised. The Education Minister confirmed the new curriculum would enable schools to opt to teach BSL.

In the meantime, Qualifications Wales (the body responsible for GCSEs on offer in Wales) has expressed willingness to adopt a BSL GCSE developed in England once it becomes available.

The National Deaf Children’s Society is aware that discussions are ongoing in England around developing a BSL GCSE, so we will keep watching this space!

Wales’ new Youth Parliament — Are you excited?

Debbie Green, Policy & Campaigns Officer Wales

Debbie Thomas Policy and Campaigns Officer Wales

Something exciting is happening in Welsh politics. And not just exciting for old politic geeks like me – exciting for young people across Wales.

A new youth parliament is being set up. A proper parliament with members elected by young people aged 11-18.

Welsh Youth Parliament Members will take up post for two years. There will be 60 in total – 40 will be elected by young people in their area and the other 20 will be selected by partner organisations. The Welsh Youth Parliament Members will meet three times in Cardiff Bay’s Senedd and will also attend regional meetings – with the Welsh Assembly covering travel costs.

Working as Policy and Campaigns Officer for the National Deaf Children’s Society Cymru over the past ten years, I’ve met many inspiring young deaf people who are keen to make a difference. These passionate individuals rarely consider themselves to be politics enthusiasts, but they do have an interest in bringing down barriers and making lives better. And although some might disagree, I’ve always felt this is what politics is fundamentally about (or at least what it should be about!)

This is a chance for young people to speak out about the issues that matter to them. Having met so many deaf young people who are keen to do just that, I’d like to think their voices will be represented in this new parliament.

More info on how to register to vote or stand for election is available here and key dates are below. Exciting times!

Voter registration:
28 May 2018 – 16 November 2018
Elections:
5 November 2018 – 25 November 2018
Apply to be part of the Welsh Youth Parliament:
3 September 2018 – 30 September 2018
Election results:
Announced in December 2018

Wales: Mind the Gap!

Debbie Green, Policy & Campaigns Officer Wales

Debbie Thomas Policy and Campaigns Officer Wales

Every year, a pile of statistics finds its way into my inbox. I’ve never been a fan of stats and spreadsheets, but nevertheless, I am always grateful to receive these ones on the attainment of deaf pupils in Wales.

Just a few years ago, there was no published data on the number of deaf pupils in Wales – let alone information on their attainment.

Such data is a key part of the picture when looking at how well our deaf learners are supported in Wales and NDCS Cymru campaigned for the data to be available.

We know that deaf pupils face challenges, but with appropriate support they can achieve on a par with their hearing peers. Unfortunately, the stats show significant attainment gaps between deaf learners and their peers. Last year, deaf pupils were 30.2% less likely to achieve A*-C GCSE grades in the 3 “core subjects” (English/Welsh, Maths and Science.)

Whilst this paints an upsetting picture, it is important to consider what it actually means. It certainly isn’t an indictment of our Teachers of the Deaf! We know we’re lucky to have many dedicated and talented Teachers of the Deaf working across Wales. But we also know that these professionals are often working beyond capacity with sky-high caseloads. We know that we desperately need to ensure new professionals are trained up for the next generation, especially since many of our current Teachers of the Deaf are nearing retirement.

But we also need to look beyond the Teacher of the Deaf. We need to find ways of addressing the numerous barriers and challenges that deaf pupils can face – barriers that deaf young people themselves tell us about. To name but a few these include the need for; greater deaf awareness among educational staff generally, improved classroom acoustics and more support workers with BSL skills.

The attainment statistics upset me, but they also keep me passionate about my work – campaigning to make a difference for deaf young people in Wales.

NDCS Cymru has been campaigning hard on behalf of deaf learners. Although there is still much to be done, some good changes are happening.

Even as positive steps are taken, it will be essential that we keep accessing this attainment data to monitor the attainment gap and ensure it closes. Essentially, we need to mind the gap. That’s why NDCS Cymru is calling on the Welsh Government to make sure this valuable information is not lost as it reviews the way in which attainment data is collated across Wales. It may sound like a boring topic, but it is vitally important!

So, when it comes to this year’s attainment data, let’s not read it and weep. Let’s read it and:

  1. be grateful for the fact that we have it;
  2. recognise the work of fabulous professionals who work hard to support our deaf learners;
  3. keep campaigning to ensure all deaf children can have the support they need.

Live in Wales? Here are 4 reasons why you should take our General Election campaign action

Debbie Green, Policy & Campaigns Officer Wales

Debbie Thomas Policy and Campaigns Officer Wales

NDCS has recently launched a campaign action– the action enables supporters to get in touch with their local general election candidates and make them aware of key issues affecting deaf children.

The core services that deaf children and young people encounter (education, health, social services) fall within the power of the Welsh Assembly and its Assembly Members. The MPs elected on 8 June will sit in Westminster and won’t be part of the Welsh Assembly. Why, then, does our general election action include Wales?

  1. Westminster still has power over some areas that have an impact on deaf children and young people. In particular, laws made in UK parliament about welfare benefits and Access to Work directly affect us in Wales.
  2. MPs are appointed to represent you. As well as attending parliament, they should also spend time meeting their constituents and helping to raise issues that local people draw to their attention. MPs, as well as Assembly Members (AMs) and local councillors, can help make sure that issues with local services are addressed.
  3. Deaf children in England need our help too. It is true that laws made in Westminster around areas such as education, health and social care will be for England only. However, our Welsh MPs are able to contribute to these discussions and hopefully help deaf children in doing so.
  4. Dealing with issues in one area of the UK can help to put pressure on the other nations in the UK to look into the issues too.

Taking part in our online action is really easy to do and should only take a minute. Click here to take part.

Wales: Q&A on new education law

Debbie Green, Policy & Campaigns Officer Wales

Debbie Thomas, Policy and Campaigns Officer Wales

Wales ALN QA noteWales ALN QA noteThe first thing that most people find out about me is that I am the biggest chocoholic ever. But the second thing is generally that I can be a bit of geek – especially about politics and changes to the law.

 

So it’s of no surprise to my family and friends that I’m closely following a draft law making its way through the political passages at the Welsh Assembly.

I admit “The Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Bill” is not a catchy title. Nevertheless, once approved by the Assembly, this new law will shake-up systems and structures that have been in place for years.

It’ll change the way learners with additional needs are supported in the early years, at school and at college. It will affect thousands of children, young people and their families across the country.

We know it’s not the norm to replace the latest best-selling novel with a copy of a draft law on your bedside table (ahem, guilty as charged!) So we’ve compiled a Q&A document to help those who may have questions about the reforms. Please get in touch if you have any other questions we’ve missed off – you can email us at campaigns.wales@ndcs.org.uk.

NDCS Cymru has been busy campaigning to ensure the new law will work for deaf learners. We’re pleased that some changes have been made, but still have ongoing concerns, so our campaigning continues. You can find out more at www.ndcs.org.uk/IDPWales. Watch this space for details of how you can help us in the coming weeks.

Wales: I can fingerspell!

 

Debbie Green, Policy & Campaigns Officer Wales

Debbie Thomas, Policy and Campaigns Officer, Wales

Happy 2017! As all the seasonal festivities come to a close, I often find the first few weeks of January a bit bleak. But we have some good news to kick your January off with a smile….

 

The deaf young people on our Youth Advisory Board told us that they want more opportunities for people to learn to sign. In light of this, NDCS Cymru has been working with the WJEC to create a new option for Welsh Baccalaureate students across Wales.

The I Can Fingerspell challenge will be open as a Community Challenge option to pupils studying for the foundation level Welsh Baccalaureate. It invites students to learn to fingerspell the alphabet and then pass this knowledge on to younger pupils.

We are very grateful to Leam and Ryan from St Cyres School who helped us to create videos to assist students in learning the English/Welsh fingerspelling alphabet. We would also like to thank our Wales YAB members, Amy and Joab for helping us to come up with the idea for the challenge.

www.ndcs.org.uk/icanfingerspell

 

Your chance to improve communication with health services in Wales…

Debbie Green, Policy & Campaigns Officer Wales

Debbie Thomas, Policy and Campaigns Officer, Wales, National Deaf Children’s Society

In my eight years with NDCS Cymru, I have heard many stories about a shameful lack of deaf awareness at doctor surgeries and other health services. For example, deaf people being called verbally for their appointment and missing it, patients missing key information about their illness because their doctor is not deaf aware, and parents being asked to act as an interpreter for teenagers who would really prefer to keep their appointment private. 

But it is not all doom and gloom – the good news is that Public Health Wales is keen to do something to address this issue. In fact, it is setting up a group to advise on how best to collect information on patient communication needs.

 Do you (or does someone you know) fancy joining this group to have your say and make a difference? Find out more here.