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Campaigns - Northern Ireland

Photo: We're here for you Northern Ireland

Coronavirus (COVID-19): campaigning update 

Due to the coronavirus outbreak some of our campaigning priorities have changed. During this time our campaigning response will focus on the immediate issues affecting deaf children and their families – these will inevitably change quickly. During this time we still need your support and input.

We want to hear from you about your current experiences of support, any concerns you have and about what matters to you at the moment. Together, we will make sure that deaf children and young people aren’t disadvantaged during this unprecedented time.

Email [email protected] to let us know how coronavirus is affecting you or if you need anything from the campaigning team. 

Read more about COVID-19 and support for deaf children.

Help us campaign

We want to make sure there is a powerful voice for change, demanding a fair deal for deaf children here. Our vision is to create a world without barriers for every deaf child - but we need your help.

Coronavius SEN changes: what does ‘best endeavours’ mean?

The Department of Education in Northern Ireland has issued a 'notice' that allows them to put into place new powers arising from the Coronavirus Act 2020. It means that it is possible to suspend a child’s Special Educational Needs statement.  

The Notice temporarily changes the duties of the Education Authority, Schools and everyone else with responsibilities under existing SEN legislation. The new duty is to make their ‘best endeavours’ to meet the original duties.

The new law gives the Education Authority the flexibility to suspend statements if they find that they need to but only if the inability to comply with the original duty is due to the outbreak of coronavirus in Northern Ireland and only on a temporary basis. The current Notice is dated 1 July and runs from 2 July for 28 days, although after review it can be extended for another period.

What does best endeavours mean and what can I expect from the Education Authority?

There is no single straightforward definition of what best endeavours means – and what is right in one situation may not be right in another. There will be a range of different factors to be considered in deciding if body has done the best that they could do.

In addition, coronavirus is a crisis where, for all families, public health needs must take precedence. For example, speech and language therapists are being redeployed to provide critical care in health in many areas. One-to-one SLT provision may therefore no longer be possible in many cases. Separately, a large number of specialist staff may be unwell themselves or forced to self-isolate as a result of coronavirus.

Ultimately, the final arbiter would be a judge in a court or Tribunal.

We would expect to see the following approaches taken when considering what best endeavours can be put in place:

  • Education providers must look at each case individually to see what could be provided if what is normally provided or required is no longer possible. Specific levels of need or vulnerability should be taken into account.  There should be no ‘blanket’ policies or wholesale cancellation of support, plans or statements across an area.
  • If what is normally provided or required is no longer possible, families should be given the reasons for this in writing, along with an explanation of what  endeavours have been used to ensure that the required support is still, as much as possible, provided, along with details of what will be provided instead
  • Consideration of how to respond to the individual needs of children in creative and flexible ways, as many education providers already are. This includes drawing on the wider skills of other staff or other families as appropriate.
  • Whether any best endeavours themselves are likely to be accessible to deaf children and young people. It’s important to recognise that the needs of deaf children will vary – what’s accessible to one child, may not be accessible to another.

Whilst each individual case is different, below gives some examples of alternative arrangements that could be put into place that we believe could fit the criteria of ‘best endeavours’:

  • Using video conferencing instead of telephone appointments, where deaf children and young people are known to have good use of their hearing for understanding spoken language, and/or known to have good lip-reading skills.
  • Providing remote communication support as needed. For example, if providing online teaching or doing any kind of online assessment, we would expect the Education Authority to consider funding the cost of a remote speech to text reporter or a BSL interpreter. Similarly, if a deaf child uses a communication support worker in the classroom, exploring if this support can still be provided remotely or in different ways to support a deaf child can complete homework tasks, etc.
  • Provision of radio aids in the home.
  • If staff can no longer provide support remotely, providing a range of suggested activities or interventions that families can chose to do if they are able to. Alternatively, considering if alternative staff who have some knowledge but not necessarily the right qualifications can be brought in to provide support.
  • Where appropriate and where it can be managed effectively, facilitating or making use of peer to peer support opportunities among families.

It’s important to remember that the new laws do not give the Education Authority the power to amend the contents of a statement. This means that, once any suspension is lifted, a child’s statement will have the same legal status that it did before. This is the case even if a parent accepted that changes were needed in the short-term, in response to the spread of coronavirus.

Parents will also still have the right to request a statutory assessment for a statement and to appeal the contents of it.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is monitoring the implementation of the Coronavirus Act in Northern Ireland. It accepts that in the current public health crisis ‘severe restrictions of basic rights are allowed as long as the restrictions are necessary, proportionate, have a legitimate aim and are only used for as long as required to meet that aim’.

If you have any concerns or queries about how the ‘best endeavours’ duty is being applied, please contact the campaigns team for Northern Ireland.

Helping us campaign in Northern Ireland

All deaf children in Northern Ireland should be able to access the services they deserve - in health, education, transitions, transport and social care.

How you can help us

A stronger voice through working together - The Coalition on Deafness

This partnership of 8 organisations (including the National Deaf Children's Society) that represent deaf and hard of hearing people launched in 2015, and aims to:

  • Promote the rights of people who are deaf, deafblind, have a hearing loss or tinnitus
  • Raise awareness of the exclusion faced by people who are deaf, deafblind, have a hearing loss or tinnitus, as a result of the barriers they encounter
  • Recommend actions to address those barriers

The Coalition on Deafness launched its Manifesto at Parliament Buildings. The Manifesto lists key issues and proposals against relevant articles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Key articles for deaf children and their parent are Articles 7 and 24.

Reform of Special Educational Needs (SEN) provision

The Department of Education is proposing changes to the Special Educational Needs (SEN) system in Northern Ireland and we are campaigning for a better system for deaf children and young people.

There are approximately 1,400 deaf children and young people between the ages of 0 – 16 in Northern Ireland. Deafness in itself is not a learning disability and with the correct support a deaf child can achieve what any other child can academically. Yet in Northern Ireland a considerable gap exists between deaf children and their hearing peers.

We have been campaigning on the following Special Educational Needs issues in Northern Ireland: 

  • Inclusion of deaf children within the threshold of the new statements

    We are keen to make sure that deaf children remain within the threshold for Statements of Special Educational Needs.

  • Ensuring a stronger accountability framework for Special Educational Needs services

    We want to see the Education Training Inspectorate inspecting the specialist Special Educational Needs support services that are run by the Education Authority. Without this happening, we can’t be sure that the service is operating as intended and that quality does not vary in the different Education Authority regions. Currently specialist Special Educational Needs services in Northern Ireland are not subject to formal scrutiny and so parents and policy makers do not have information on the quality of the service that their child is availing of.
  • Provision of independent and robust appeals mechanisms

    We would like to see independent and robust appeals mechanisms provided for pupils with Personal Learning Plans as well as pupils with Statements. This is consistent with The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission advice to ensure the review provides: “an independent and impartial redress process available to parents of children at the school-based stages”, (NIHRC advice to the Education Minister 12/06/12).
  • Equitable provision of auxiliary aids and services

    Currently only disabled children in receipt of a statement can receive legally guaranteed access to auxiliary aids and services in school as a reasonable adjustment. Following the 2010 Equality Act, Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where all children with disabilities do not have this right.
  • Ensuring quantification and specification of the support a child should receive is detailed in statements

    Detailing in a statement the support a child should get is key to ensuring effective teaching and learning. The Education Authority is required by the Code of Practice to produce Statements that are “normally” quantified and specified, yet it is our experience that this often is not the case. We want to see Quantification and Specification retained in the new Code and want the Education Authority to ensure that this is usual practice. See the NDCS and Children with Disability Strategic Alliance publication The state of Special Educational Needs statements.

Current progress/latest update

Substantial improvements have been made to the system that the Minister originally proposed to introduce. For instance, children who currently have a statement may have their existing statement maintained for longer than proposed. The five stage Special Educational Needs framework will be reduced to three levels of support rather than the two levels originally proposed. It appears that deaf children will remain with the threshold for a statement.

The Special Educational Needs Act was passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly in January 2016. The Department of Education has still not issued the Regulations or the Code of Practice.

In May 2018 we responded to Education Authority proposals on a Framework for early years Special Educational Needs provision.

We want parents to share their experiences of the SEN system with our team.

Age discrimination in accessing goods, facilities and services

We are in favour of extending age discrimination legislation on accessing goods, facilities and services to cover minors. This move could significantly improve access to services for deaf children.

Current problems that result from age discrimination against deaf children include:

  • Auxiliary Aids and Services

    Currently only children who are failing in school are guaranteed help from the Special Educational Need system. Children who are not failing academically may not receive specified services.

    Legally, services called “Auxiliary Aids and Services” are excluded from Special Educational Needs and Disability (Northern Ireland) in schools. However, once the same young people reach the age to enter further and higher education colleges they are entitled to auxiliary aids and services. This does not seem consistent with the recent priority given within the education system to early intervention.
  • Paediatric Audiology

    Paediatric Audiology is a crucial service for all deaf children. However, it as a specialism continues to piggy-back on Adult services.

    In Great Britain modernisation of audiology services included funding for digitalising hearing aids and the development of paediatric services. In Northern Ireland we only received digitalisation. Deaf infants have to share waiting rooms, and have hearing checks in sound booths designed for adults. Great Britain has had paediatric standards for some years now; no such standards exist in Northern Ireland.
  • Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) Funding

    Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are very much the 'cinderella' service within the mental health field, with substantial additional finance required to offer adequate services to our young people. Our lobbying led eventually to the development of a CAMHS for deaf children two years ago. Tier 3 and Tier 4 services are now developing, but in comparison to Adult services there is a lack of preventative (Tier 2) services. Age discrimination legislation that included children would require that resources were more evenly allocated.

Recent legal opinion

The Equality Commission and Children’s Commissioner have undertaken considerable research and sought legal opinion on the importance of extending Age Discrimination legislation to under 16s.

Do Northern Ireland's schools sound good?

A campaign to make education more accessible for deaf children and young people in Northern Ireland.

We want Northern Ireland's schools, nurseries and colleges to not only look good but sound good as well. Noisy, echoing school buildings create a barrier to learning for all children, but particularly for deaf children so we want to see robust building regulations for new nurseries, school and colleges.

Northern Ireland schools are required to be tested acoustically to ensure that the requirements in a recently revised Building Bulletin 93 have been met. Should the requirements not be met schools are required to pursue remedial measures until the standards are met at a subsequent re-test. The department will not meet the cost of these adjustments or re-tests and they can often be very expensive. It is imperative therefore that the acoustics of school builds are got right from the beginning. Pre-completion testing can ensure this at the lowest cost.

We would like the Northern Ireland Executive to:

  • Ensure that acoustic standards are being met.

    We need compulsory pre-completion testing for compliance with standards and require that when buildings fail these tests, that they then receive remedial action.
  • Extend the standards to cover all nursery buildings.

    It is important that deaf pupils of all ages can listen and learn effectively. We need the NI Executive to ensure that educational settings, including all nursery buildings, are legally obliged to comply with the regulations.
  • Extend the standards to cover Further Education buildings

    It is important as young people progress through their education that all of the buildings they are taught in are made as accessible as possible.

Sounds good petition

We are asking local politicians to sign a petition committing them to help:

1. Ensure standards are met through pre-completion testing.

2. Ensure acoustic standards are extended to cover nursery buildings.

3. Ensure acoustic standards are extended to cover Further Education buildings.

Currently 25 senior politicians have signed the petition.

Emotional health and wellbeing of deaf children and young people

In Northern Ireland we have been campaigning on the emotional health and wellbeing of deaf children and young people.

Deaf children are four times more likely than other children to experience emotional health and wellbeing issues. This often arises from communication difficulties within the family and with peers. To develop and maintain good mental health and emotional wellbeing, and to deal with any difficulties that arise, deaf children and their families require access to the full ‘four-tier’ spectrum of mental health provision, ranging from early support at a primary level to specialist expert services.

Campaign objectives

  •  Early intervention

It is vital that appropriate support is in place during the early years to address the emotional health and wellbeing needs of deaf children. We want to see a holistic package of early intervention for young deaf children and their families.

The Coalition on Deafness Manifesto (2015) proposals on Early Intervention are:

Health and Social care should offer Family Signing Classes to parents and families of deaf children, aged 0-4, who wish to communicate through Sign Language (BSL).

Early years staff should be trained in working with deaf and deafblind children.

Health and Social Care should introduce specialist family support for the families of deaf children in every part of Northern Ireland.

Deafness is a low incidence disability (there are just over 1,400 deaf children and young people in NI) and around 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents. This means that most parents and many key practitioners will have little experience of childhood deafness. There is, as a result, a need for specialist support in the early years to help parents with deaf awareness / communication and to support practitioners.

  • Family Sign Language

    Providing parents with the opportunity to learn age-appropriate sign language would boost the childhood development of many deaf children. However, within Northern Ireland there is minimal provision of Family Sign Language as departments have not agreed who is best placed to fund it. We would like to see the Northern Ireland Executive commit to providing the family of every deaf child with the opportunity to attend a free family sign language course.
  • Specialist Emotional Health and Wellbeing support for deaf children in Northern Ireland

    Sometimes in a deaf child’s life there will be a need for specialist support. We are usually able to advise professionals to contact a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAHMS), who have some knowledge of supporting a deaf child. However, in Northern Ireland, there is no dedicated Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAHMS) to support deaf children. We are working very closely with relevant services to make this happen.

Supporting deaf children’s wellbeing

In Northern Ireland we support a Northern Ireland working group to ensure appropriate support and effective referral pathways can respond to deaf children's emotional wellbeing and mental health. 

The group is composed of Social Services, Audiologists, Speech and language therapists, Counselling Representatives, CAMHS and Voluntary Organisations.

We recently responded to the Service Framework for Mental Health and Wellbeing to stress the need for specialist support for deaf young people, and the importance of ensuring a smooth transition to adult services for young deaf people who continue to need access to mental health services. 

Campaign action – Family Sign Language

We have been asking Campaigns Network members in Northern Ireland to contact the Health Minister about Family Sign Language funding. We want a commitment to permanently provide family sign language classes for parents of deaf children.

Currently we offer some provision through temporary Department for Communities funding but there is a need for this to be made permanent, offered to all families with deaf children and include the opportunity to continue learning after completion of an addition course.

Join our Campaigns Network

Paediatric Audiology

In 2011 the Minister for Health agreed that Audiology Quality Standards should be introduced in Northern Ireland. Quality Standards for adult services were introduced in 2013 and the understanding was that paediatric standards would quickly follow.

Years later, we are still waiting for action.

Paediatric Audiology services are critical to ensuring that deafness is identified, diagnosed and responded to as early as possible. When the service works well, children with a hearing loss are enabled to develop good language and communication skills from their earliest years. This is vital if they are to achieve their educational and social potential.

We are working to support the introduction and monitoring of quality standards so that every deaf child in Northern Ireland can expect the same quality of service, regardless of where they live.

Improving Education for Deaf Children

The Consortium for Research into Deaf Education (CRIDE) carries out an annual survey of specialist educational services for deaf children. A tailored report looks specifically at services in Northern Ireland.

You can find the reports for Northern Ireland, including the most recent report, here.