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.

 

 

 

 

Wales: Reform on planning support for learners

Debbie Green, Policy & Campaigns Officer Wales

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

When I first started working for NDCS Cymru in 2008, there were mixed feelings as the Welsh Government vowed to change the way educational support is planned for learners with additional needs.

What we didn’t know then was that the Welsh Government was still a long way off making any change to the law… 8 years down the line and the reforms are still in progress, having been through numerous changes along the way.

Still, there’s the same sense of mixed emotion. There is excitement as we hope to overcome the flaws of the current system. But there’s also concern that the new system could come with a new set of flaws – in particular, a difficulty in accessing assessments by specialist professionals like Teachers of the Deaf.

A brief history…

Lobbying on the reforms has been a long rollercoaster ride with the Welsh Government’s proposed changes taking many twists and turns.

In 2009, I founded a lobbying group with a number of other charities, called TSANA (Third Sector Additional Needs Alliance). Through this group, we’ve given evidence to the Welsh Assembly on their proposals. We’ve also been part of two Welsh Government advisory groups, enabling us to make the needs of deaf learners known.

TSANA and NDCS campaigners lobbied hard against a proposal to restrict the right to appeal to the education tribunal. The proposal would’ve left many deaf learners in Wales unable to seek an independent challenge to important decisions about their educational support. As part of this lobby, more than 100 NDCS supporters wrote to the Welsh Government to call for the restriction to be rejected. It was dropped. Under current proposals, all families will ultimately have the right to appeal against decisions on a learner’s support needs.

While there are many promising aspects to the latest proposals, NDCS Cymru still has serious reservations about how the system will work in practice. The good news is that, after giving evidence with TSANA to the Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee, the Committee has urged the Welsh Government to address many of our key concerns and suggestions. We’ve also been part of a Welsh Government advisory group, where we have been able to talk to key officials about these issues.

Where are we now? This is what you should know about the proposed new system:

  • The Welsh Government wants existing Statements and Individual Education Plans (IEPs) to be replaced by an Individual Development Plan (IDP). IDPs will be a legal document setting out a learner’s support needs.
  • IDPs will be available to learners with additional needs aged 0-16, as well as those aged 16-25 in further education.
  • Currently, there are no changes to the law on planning for learner’s support needs. Some local authorities have been offering IDPs instead of Statements. However, IDPs do not currently have the same legal status as a Statement and families remain entitled to request a Statement.
  • Following the election on May 5, a new Welsh Government has been formed. First Minister Carwyn Jones has already identified that additional learning needs will be one of his Government’s first priorities. However, there is still much work for the Assembly to do before we see any changes in law.

What will be our Next Steps?

The Welsh Government will be writing a second draft of the new law and a new Code of Practice (this is the manual for how the new system will work). This is a crucial time for influencing the new system and, among other things,  NDCS Cymru will be calling for:

  • The new Code of Practice to make it clear that deaf learners are eligible for an IDP and the requirement to access specialist professionals, such as Teachers of the Deaf.
  • A standard format for the IDP, containing clear information on a learner’s support needs.
  • More detail on how the new system will work for deaf learners outside of the school setting (i.e. pre-schoolers and those in further education).

Watch this space for more details on how you can get involved in making sure these changes will work for deaf learners – we will need your help!

Read more (www.ndcs.org.uk/IDPWales)

Welsh Assembly elections – What happened?

Kate-Cubbage-cropped

Kate Cubbage, Policy and Campaigns Officer, National Deaf Children’s Society

On Thursday 5 May 2016, 60 Assembly Members were elected to the National Assembly for Wales.

40 Assembly Members represent constituencies like Bridgend or Wrexham and 20 Assembly Members represent bigger areas called regions, like North Wales or South East Wales.

In the election no political party got more than half of the seats in the Assembly.

Labour 29
Plaid Cymru 12
Conservatives 11
Liberal Democrats 1
UKIP 7

This has made choosing a new First Minister, and therefore a new Welsh Government, very difficult. Although the election happened a week ago, we are still waiting for a Government to be formed.

Assembly Members have until the 2 June 2016 to decide on a First Minister and Government or a new election will be held.

Why is this important?

Whilst some decisions are still made in the UK Parliament or by the UK Government, many important decisions that will impact on deaf children and young people are made by the Welsh Government and National Assembly for Wales including:

The Welsh Government is usually made up of Assembly Members from the party with the most seats in the Assembly. In this election that would be Labour. Sometimes, when A party doesn’t have more than half of the seats in the Assembly they will work with another party to form a coalition. This has happened before at the Welsh Assembly.

Once we have a Welsh Government their job will be to propose policy and laws and it is responsible for making sure that they are put in to practice. You can read more about the work they do on their website.

The National Assembly for Wales is what we call all 60 Members if the Assembly. They represent everyone in Wales. The Assembly’s role is to make the laws for Wales and to make sure that the Welsh Government is doing a good job by scrutinising their work.

What is going to happen?

We don’t know when the new Government will be chosen. However, once a Government is formed we will work hard to influence them to make sure that their policies, laws and any guidance they give to public bodies, like local councils, give the best deal for deaf children, young people and their families.

Regardless of who is in Government, there are 5 issues that our members have told us are most important to them:

  • Additional Learning Needs reform;
  • Emotional and social wellbeing;
  • Curriculum reform and educational attainment;
  • Supporting the development of early communication skills;
  • Getting the educational environment right.

Whilst we wait for our new Government we are continuing to work with civil servants to support changes to the way additional learning needs are identified and planned for. Deafness is an additional learning need.

We are also working with civil servants to influence changes to what is taught in school and how this is examined.

Where can I find out more?

You can find out more about the National Assembly for Wales on their website. Once a Government has been chosen you can find out about the Ministers on the Welsh Government’s website.

You can keep up-to-date with what NDCS Cymru Wales is doing to campaign at the Welsh Assembly on our website

If this campaign work is something you would like to get involved with we would love to have your support. Maybe you’d be interested in attending an event, have a story or some information to share or you’d like to write to your AM about the issues listed above. If you are interested in getting involved please email campaigns.wales@ndcs.org.uk