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Deaf Children’s Services

Volume 646: debated on Thursday 13 September 2018

I draw Members’ attention to the fact that our proceedings are being made available for people who are deaf or hearing-impaired. The interpreters are using British Sign Language, and Parliament TV will show a live, simultaneous interpretation of the debate. We are also trialling live subtitling for the first time on channel 15 on I call Jim Fitzpatrick to move the motion.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered deaf children’s services.

It is a pleasure to see you presiding over today’s debate, Mr Stringer. I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for granting us time to raise this matter with the Minister. I look forward to his response and to those of the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck), and the Scottish National party spokesperson, the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley). I am also grateful to colleagues from the all-party parliamentary group on deafness, who supported the bid for the debate—it is good to see a number of them here. Finally, I am grateful to the House authorities for ensuring that, as you mentioned, Mr Stringer, the debate is transmitted live with signed simultaneous translation. Surely that is the future.

The title of the debate is “Deaf Children’s Services”. I intend to concentrate on educational support for deaf children, and I am grateful to the National Deaf Children’s Society for the briefing that will form the bulk of my comments.

Deaf children are 42% less likely to achieve the top grades than their hearing peers, but there is no reason a deaf child should do any worse than a hearing child if given the appropriate teaching. That is the historical perspective. The worry for the deaf community, and many colleagues here, is not only that the situation is deteriorating, but that it looks unlikely to improve.

In addition to their educational disadvantages, deaf children can be more susceptible to mental health issues. NHS England has said that around 40% of deaf children suffer from mental health problems, in contrast to 25% of hearing children. Continuing into adulthood, people with hearing loss are twice as likely to suffer from depression and anxiety-related issues. Investment in early life would likely lead to healthier adults, without the need for employment support or NHS attention.

The NDCS briefing predicts that more than a third of local authorities in England plan to cut £4 million from their budgets for education support for deaf children this year. At the same time, the number of teachers of the deaf, who provide vital support for deaf children, has fallen by 14% over the last seven years. Those figures are drawn from freedom of information requests, as detailed in the House of Commons Library briefing.

The NDCS “Stolen Futures” campaign is calling on the Government to step in and tackle that growing crisis. Cuts are putting the education of thousands of deaf children at risk, leaving their futures hanging in the balance. Vital services for deaf children must be adequately funded, both now and in the next spending review. That review has led to today’s debate.

There are more than 50,000 deaf children and young people in the United Kingdom. More than 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents who have no prior experience of deafness. Those parents rely on advice from specialist teachers of the deaf to support their child’s language and communication skills. Around 80% of deaf children attend mainstream schools, where they may be the only deaf child. Teachers of the deaf play a key role in helping all teachers to understand how to differentiate the curriculum and provide effective support.

Despite the fact that deafness itself is not a learning disability, deaf children underachieve throughout their education. That is demonstrated in the early years foundation stage, where only 34% of pre-school deaf children were reported as having achieved a good level of development, compared with 76% of other children. At key stage 2, less than half of deaf children achieved the expected standard for reading, compared with 80% of other children. At key stage 4, deaf children achieve, on average, a whole grade less in each GCSE subject than other children, and in recent years that attainment gap has widened. Finally, 41% of deaf young people achieved two A-levels or equivalent by the age of 19, compared with 65% of other young people.

Most deaf children do not have an education, health and care plan. The NDCS estimates that less than a fifth—19%—of deaf children have their support confirmed through a statutory EHC plan. The NDCS has been researching what is happening on the ground, and believes that services are clearly under threat. The NDCS has tracked local authority spending on specialist education services for deaf children since 2011. This year alone, more than a third of local authorities—37%—have told the NDCS that they plan to cut funding for those vital services. Deaf children in those areas will lose £4 million of support this year, with local authorities cutting 10% on average from deaf children’s services.

My own borough of Tower Hamlets, which is regarded as a model of excellence, has among the highest figures in England for hearing impairment and special educational needs and disability. It comments that it is difficult to make fair and equitable decisions for all children with special educational issues. The NDCS says that cuts are likely to affect my local services too, and believes that those cuts are being driven by wider pressure around SEND funding. I know that the Department for Education has protected high-needs funding to support children with SEND in cash terms, but I also know that the budget has not been adjusted to reflect several key aspects.

First, the number of children and young people requiring additional support is rising. Government figures show that more than 30,000 more children had statements or EHC plans in 2017 than in the previous year. Secondly, local authorities have greater responsibilities to support young people with SEND aged between 16 and 25, following the SEND reforms introduced through the Children and Families Act 2014. Since 2014, they have seen significant increases in the number of 16 to 25-year-olds with a statement of special educational needs or an EHC plan. Finally, there is a trend towards many more children being placed in special schools. The number of children in special schools rose by 12.5% between 2014 and 2017.

The NDCS has published more background material to back up its concerns, and the Local Government Association has also recognised the funding pressures, saying:

“we are calling for an urgent review of funding to meet the unprecedented rise in demand for support from children with special educational needs and disabilities.”

As we head towards the next spending review, the needs of some of the most vulnerable children in society must not be forgotten. A failure to invest in deaf children’s futures will likely result in a generation of lost potential.

The NDCS raised a number of issues with me that I know its representatives have already communicated to the Minister and his team. The Department responded that £6 billion is the highest budget on record. Nobody disputes that, but the demand outstrips the supply, and that is the fundamental question for the Minister to respond to. There is more money in the budget—it is the highest it has ever been—but the demand is even higher. I would be grateful if he would address those figures.

The NDCS has raised other issues and put forward some suggestions. For example, it wants to explore with the Department whether the ring fence on the schools block can be relaxed or removed. The national funding formula means that 99.5% of the schools block is now ring-fenced. The remaining 0.5% can be transferred to the high-needs block, which funds SEND support services, only with the agreement of the local schools forum.

That ring-fencing makes it harder for local authorities to move funding in response to growing SEND pressures, as evidenced by the large number of local authorities that have applied to the Department for permission to overrule the schools forum locally and/or go beyond the 0.5%. The NDCS understands that 27 local authorities made a formal request for disapplication of the ring fence, 15 of which were allowed to proceed. I would be grateful if the Minister could comment on those figures and on that principle. I would also welcome his views on whether there is more we can do to ensure that the local school forums include more representation around special educational needs and disabilities.

The NDCS wants the gaps in the specialised SEN workforce addressed. As I have described, teachers of the deaf play a key role in supporting deaf children, their families and other teachers. Where services are working well, they ensure that deaf children start primary school with age-appropriate language and communication skills and that they are effectively supported and included within mainstream schools. In 2017, there were 913 qualified teachers of the deaf working in a peripatetic role or in resource provision. That total has fallen by 14% in the past seven years. In addition, more than half of teachers of the deaf are over the age of 50 and hence are due to retire in the next 10 to 15 years. Many services are telling the NDCS that they cannot recruit. In 2017, 45% of services reported difficulties in recruiting new teachers of the deaf or arranging supply cover over the previous 12 months.

The NDCS believes a national systemic approach is needed to address this growing crisis. There is little incentive for local authorities to be proactive in ensuring there are sufficient numbers of teachers of the deaf being trained to meet future needs. Many will not be able to meet the financial cost of training new staff while also employing someone who has yet to retire. In 2016, the Department for Education commissioned a report from the National Sensory Impairment Partnership on the supply of specialist teachers, which recommended a central bursary scheme. However, the NDCS is not aware of any action taken in response, and I would be grateful if the Minister could indicate if there is any progress in that regard.

The NDCS asks whether there is a way to incentivise or even require local authorities to work together to commission more cost-effective services for deaf children. Given that deafness is a low-incidence need, it is important that local authorities, and particularly smaller authorities, work together to commission specialist services and provision. There are too many services employing just one or two teachers of the deaf, who are trying to meet the diverse needs of deaf children in their area. There are just nine consortiums delivering education support services for deaf children in England—the largest is in Berkshire. There has been no noticeable increase in recent years in the extent to which services and provision for deaf children are regionally commissioned. I would be grateful if the Minister might comment on that suggestion.

The NDCS welcomes the fact that the Department has asked Ofsted how schools can be better held to account for how they support children with SEND, but it has concerns about whether more could be done to strengthen the accountability framework around specialist services for deaf children.

Finally, the NDCS raises the question of a review of post-16 funding. SEND funding for mainstream post-16 providers is given where a young person has been commissioned a place, using high-needs funding. In practice, that means that, in many areas, colleges will receive funding for young people only if they have an EHC plan.

Government figures suggest that more than 85% of deaf young people do not have an EHC plan. If SEND funding is, in practice, restricted to those with an EHC plan, a large number of deaf young people are less likely to get the support they need to access the curriculum, such as a radio aid to help with additional amplification, or notetakers. In further education, deaf young people are twice as likely to drop out as their peers, and one quarter do not gain any qualification. Teachers of the deaf are unable to provide advice to mainstream college staff or support young people there, as they are not funded. Again, I would welcome comments from the Minister, and I hope he would be prepared to look at that point.

A number of individuals have been in touch with me directly. I apologise for not being able to mention their cases, but there is just not enough time—there are so many colleagues who want to contribute to this important debate. The House Facebook post for the debate was seen by nearly 64,000 accounts, had over 6,000 post clicks and 1,700-plus engagements covering funding, accessing support, good experiences, geographical differences and lack of understanding. There are some very poignant accounts, especially from parents. I hope the Minister has a chance to view them, if he has not done so already.

There are some very able deaf young people out there who can be huge assets to UK plc. If we do not allow them to develop—if we do not encourage and support them as they mature—we are not just denying them their birthright, but robbing our country of a significant contribution from some highly skilled and intelligent individuals. We owe them more than that.

Order. Eight people wish to speak in the debate, and we have 45 minutes. I am not going to impose a time limit straightaway. I hope people will do the arithmetic and follow that. If not, I will have to impose a time limit. I call Peter Aldous.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on securing the debate and on the unstinting work he does on behalf of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. I also welcome the Minister to his place.

I start by raising some of the challenges faced by deaf children in Suffolk, where there is dissatisfaction with services in the north of the county. The National Deaf Children’s Society points out that the county has lost four teachers of the deaf since 2011. Suffolk County Council has also discontinued running an integrated specialist service for deaf children, which brought education and care together. The service was praised and singled out by Ofsted in a thematic review carried out in 2012 as being a good example of good practice, and no assessment appears to have been carried out of the impact on deaf children of removing the service. More widely, its removal goes against the emphasis on joint working and commissioning in the special educational needs and disability reforms.

There is a concern that local authorities across England are being put under pressure to reduce services as a result of short-term budgeting constraints at the cost of the long-term future of deaf children. I have raised those concerns with Suffolk County Council, which is aware of the problem. It highlights that all services for children with disabilities and special educational needs are significantly under-resourced nationally across both the education and health sectors and point to a projected 18% to 20% increase in SEN demand. The lack of funding impacts on resources for deaf children, alongside all others with SEN.

With the new national funding formula for SEND, Suffolk receives less funding than similar areas. Although the county has been awarded some additional funding, it has been capped at a rate that means that it receives only half of the extra that it should be receiving each year—a shortfall of £1.5 million per annum.

In terms of NHS speech and language services, which support deaf and hearing impaired children, there has been a 21% rise in demand in the last three years, but no significant change in the level of offer for community health services. That will only get worse, as a further 10% increase in demand is projected by 2020. That has a negative knock-on impact on the county council; where the NHS is unable to provide the necessary resources, the county council, as the local education authority, becomes the funder of last resort, thereby putting further pressure on its already under-resourced education budget.

Suffolk is looking to put resource bases into mainstream schools to address the needs of deaf children, which would enable a child with a specialist need to access a mainstream offer. Generally, I believe that is the right approach.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) for securing the debate. In my constituency, Knotty Ash Primary School provides such a deaf resource base for 14 profoundly deaf children. It is a huge boon for those children, but also for the hearing children in the mainstream school, all of whom learn British Sign Language.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. The resource bases in Suffolk, both in primary and secondary schools, are very popular and go down very well—the feedback from pupils who are not deaf is that they welcome the provision. They are incredibly proud of the young people in those units. The problem in Suffolk is that there are three resource bases at primary level—in Ipswich, Bury and Lowestoft—but at secondary level there is a resource base only in Bury St Edmunds. They need to be put out across the whole county, particularly in the north.

The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse is a champion for the deaf and the hard-of-hearing community, but it is important to highlight the sterling work of another such champion, Ann Jillings from Lowestoft, who has been working tirelessly with passion and determination to secure the best possible education for her son Daniel. In doing so, she is campaigning for other parents of deaf children in north Suffolk. Ann chairs the Waveney Deaf Children’s Society and, along with Daniel, has been campaigning for the introduction of a GCSE in British Sign Language as soon as possible. They made their case firmly and passionately but politely to the Minister for School Standards, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb), at a meeting in March. I hope that the Department for Education will continue to do as much as it can to support the development of the new GCSE, and I would welcome the Minister’s reassurance on that point.

Daniel was born deaf. Following a diagnosis through the newborn hearing screening programme, Ann receives support from a person she describes as a “fantastic” teacher of the deaf, who acted as an advocate for the family as Daniel grew up. Daniel has been able to make excellent progress throughout his education. Ann is very clear that that is because of the support he received from specialist teachers of the deaf and communication support workers. That confirms that, provided that deaf children receive the right support from the start, there is no reason why they cannot thrive and break through any glass ceilings that get in their way.

Getting support for Daniel has been a challenge. Ann comments that she has fought tooth and nail for it, which has put the whole family under incredible stress. She highlights that it took 50 weeks to complete the transfer from a statement to an education, health and care plan—more than twice the statutory deadline. She points out that initially the local education authority did not agree with the advice that Daniel would need to continue to have support from a teacher of the deaf in his school. Only when she stated that she would take up her right of appeal was it accepted that a full-time teacher of the deaf was needed. She says:

“Getting the support for your deaf child is a battle which parents should not have to fight, and I do wonder what happens to the children whose parents cannot persevere in the same way as we have.”

I have got a lot to say, Mr Stringer, but I sense I am preventing others from speaking.

To help the hon. Gentleman, there were roughly five and a half minutes for everybody if they self-allocated. He has now been speaking for six and a half minutes.

Thank you for guiding me, Mr Stringer. I will cut to the chase and conclude with what I said at the end of the debate on deafness and hearing loss in this Chamber last November. Many barriers have been placed in Ann Jillings’s way in her pursuit of better education for Daniel. It is our duty and the duty of Government and local authorities to remove those barriers as soon as possible. Thank you for bearing with me, Mr Stringer.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. It is also a pleasure to serve with the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), whom I have known for a long time, in the all-party parliamentary group on deafness. I congratulate him on securing this important debate.

I have got five minutes, so I will try not to repeat anything that has already been said, other than to thank the National Deaf Children’s Society for its “Stolen Futures” campaign, which is a key reason why most of us are here. I also thank Willingdon Community School in my constituency, which is a fantastic institution with a unit for deaf and hard-of-hearing children. I have been there many times and have always been a big fan of it.

Deafness is a funny disability. I say that as someone who has been hard of hearing since I was about six. I have been involved with this issue for many years in various areas, including as a trustee of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, patron of the British Society of Audiology and loads of other things in between. At the ripe old age of 61, I have concluded that it is still an interesting disability. I do not mean that facilely. At my age, and given my involvement over the years in many areas of deafness, I would have thought that there would have been a quantum leap—an improvement— in the opportunities for deaf people. In some ways that has happened, and in other ways there has been almost no advance at all. When I say “deaf”, I mean either profoundly deaf or severely hearing impaired. The situation is very different for people like me—I am hard of hearing but have a hearing aid, so relatively speaking it is almost no barrier at all—and for people who are profoundly deaf or have severe hearing loss. Our world is one of communication, and if you cannot hear what people are saying to you, or they are not able to communicate with you, it is an enormous barrier.

Teachers of the deaf play an important role. Over the years, I have seen children who have had good teachers of the deaf or adequate provision go on to lead fulfilling, successful lives and have good careers. Others who did not have that opportunity have, through no fault of their own, mostly spent their lives on benefits or in low-paid work. That is not a reflection on their intellect or ability; it is because of the barriers of deafness and because they were not helped at the right time.

The fact that, for various reasons, the number of teachers of the deaf is dropping, and that a substantial percentage of them are over 50, which means they will be approaching retirement in the next few years, worries me greatly. I look forward to hearing from the Minister about how the Government propose to deal with that. I can say with conviction, based on years of experience, that if profoundly or severely deaf children are not supported at the right time in early years, they almost have no chance at all. We must bear it in mind that 90% of the time profoundly deaf children are born to hearing parents, and if the parents have no experience of deafness it is an absolutely shattering blow. I am not exaggerating; I have seen that so many times. A good trained teacher of the deaf not only helps the child to acquire communication skills so that they can maximise their ability to communicate, but plays a crucial role in supporting the parents, because when that happens to hearing parents it is like hitting a wall.

I am keen to support this terribly important campaign. In the limited time I have left, I want to focus on one particular ask: the review of post-16 funding. In theory, there will be enough funds to support deaf children from 16 to 18 if they go into further education. I urge the Minister to look at the report, because there is a clear anomaly—a gap between what is supposed to happen and what is happening. If a profoundly deaf young person goes into FE at 16 and there is no support, they immediately go backwards—I have seen it many times—and that is a terrible waste. I urge the Minister to consider the review of post-16 funding.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. As others will do throughout the afternoon, I congratulate my former colleague—now my colleague in this House—the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). We agree on so many things, and we agree yet again on this issue. He based his brilliant speech on the summary that the National Deaf Children’s Society, which I congratulate, sent out. Its timing is perfect, as we are now looking at the funding formulas and the allocations that will be given out.

At this stage I must declare that I have for many years been the patron of the Hertfordshire Hearing Advisory Service. It is not something I am new to, because I was asked just after I became an MP. I had mentioned in passing one afternoon that I had a hearing impairment from my military service, which I must admit I did not tell the fire service about when I joined it—fortunately I am now out of the fire service.

I will not go over the many issues that have been raised, but I agree with nearly everything that has been said. SEN provision is a real difficulty in all our constituencies—how people are assessed, how long it takes for them to be assessed—and getting an EHC plan in place is massively difficult. Such provision carries on now, because the Government have rightly extended it to 25. The report clearly shows the anomalies and issues there.

In the short time I have, I will talk about a couple of things. For this country, British Sign Language is a language, the same as any other language we are lucky enough to use—for some people, it is their only language—but no one can get a formal qualification in it. That is fundamentally wrong, and discriminatory against people whose language it is, through no fault of their own. Yes, we have 80%—that is a fantastic figure—of those with deafness, profound deafness or hearing disabilities in mainstream schools, but teachers get nothing in the way of training.

I declare an interest again: I have a daughter who is a primary school teacher. She took her PGCE, her postgraduate certificate in education, four years ago, but in a whole year of training she had only half an hour on physical education to teach her how to take PE lessons, and absolutely nothing on deafness in young people even though, with that 80% in mainstream schools, she is obviously likely to be teaching them. I have not asked permission to speak on her behalf today, but I speak on behalf of lots of other teachers.

It would cost the Government absolutely nothing if British Sign Language was included as part of a degree in education, the post-qualification PGCE or any of the new ways of becoming a teacher that have come through, not because teachers necessarily have pupils in their school, but because they will do so later—almost certainly. At the moment, if a school does not have someone who can provide that sort of help, a teacher might be sent away, or people train in their own time, at their own cost, offering their own provision. That is fantastic, but surely in the 21st century, when we train a diversity of teachers and want more and more people to be in mainstream schools, we must understand what the needs for provision are.

The figures are shocking, and not to give basic support to a young person in school is fundamentally wrong. That basic support is not as a replacement for a deaf adviser, but just so people can communicate, “Good morning”, “How are you?”, or “Did you watch the football?”, the sort of normality that we all take for granted. That would not cost the Department for Education a single farthing, because it could be added into the curriculum, perhaps taking something else out.

Ninety per cent. of the education training for teachers—especially in the PGCE—is done in schools, but that provision does not ensure that the teachers go into a special needs school as part of the one-year course. Why not, Minister? It seems logical to me that they should do that. Why do we have to retrain them further should they need it when so many children have those special education needs under an EHC plan?

For me it is fundamental. If this House and this Government—which I am very proud of—want to treat people in a civil way, looking at them equally, with equalities in mind, then young people who need help should at least have the basics to be able to take a qualification. It is fundamentally wrong that in this day and age they end up less qualified than their peers sitting next to them simply because the provision was not excellent. That is wrong.

It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, my Select Committee colleague.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on securing this debate and for so comprehensively and effectively setting out the issues facing deaf children. I know how passionate he is about the issue, and he is a great advocate for the deaf community in this place.

It is important that the focus of today’s debate is services for deaf children. Children’s voices are not heard often enough in this place, and it is right for us to talk about them. I am also absolutely delighted that Parliament is making the debate accessible for all those who might want to follow it live. I hope that will be rolled out more widely.

There are 282 deaf children in the city of Nottingham. The majority attend their local mainstream school, supported by the sensory team at Nottingham City Council. Firbeck Academy in Nottingham, a mainstream primary school in the north of the city, has specialist provision for 12 deaf children—the school is actually in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris)—but all the children in the school are surrounded by British Sign Language in classrooms and assemblies, and many of the hearing children grow up signing and can communicate with their deaf classmates using BSL.

In addition to ensuring that deaf children get an excellent education at school, many parents require support from outside agencies, whether that is the BSL teacher, speech and language therapists, doctors, social care or audiology services, to name but a few. Managing those relationships adds to the increasing extra workload of the two full-time teachers of the deaf at Firbeck Academy. They increasingly spend more time out of the classroom, juggling budgets and timetables, because the school’s overall budget has been reduced. Those at the school told me that

“it is the same old story, if the Government want an outstanding education system, there needs to be more funding for schools.”

They are concerned that many SEN children’s needs are not being met due to lack of funding. Firbeck has been set up with specialist deaf provision and it is struggling. I am concerned for those schools that do not have the same set-up but provide education for a deaf child. How can the Minister be confident that such children and their families are getting the support that they need to thrive?

Looking to the future of deaf children’s education, as my hon. Friend said, 57% of peripatetic teachers of the deaf are over the age of 50, and insufficient new trainees are being brought through. The training itself to become a teacher of the deaf has been reduced from one year full-time or two years part-time, which is less than in many other countries. As a result, some topics cannot be covered in detail and others not at all. There is no requirement for continuing professional development and very little budget to support it. I hope that the Minister tells us in his response what is being done to recruit more teachers of the deaf and to ensure the quality of their training. Also, will he reassure us about the mainstream training of all teachers; that it properly alerts them to the needs of deaf children and how to meet those needs?

Some children cope well in mainstream education, but others struggle in that setting. Nottinghamshire Deaf Society tells me that, in its experience, too many children do not get the specialist support that they need, find communication difficult and, of course, then leave school with lower attainment. The society told me that those children can lack a sense of identity, so missing out on the support and richness of deaf culture. That is worth addressing.

Deaf children do not need access just to deaf services; they rely on health services too. The NICE—National Institute for Health and Care Excellence—guidelines on acceptable criteria for cochlear implants are now out of date and out of step with those in most other developed countries, such as the USA and Australia. Lots of parents are understandably frustrated by that. The children might not be reaching their potential with a hearing aid, but they do not meet the UK criteria for implants. Over the past year the Ear Foundation, a charity in my constituency, has lobbied NICE to review the guidance so that clinical discretion may be applied in the best interests of the children. I hope that the Minister will liaise with his colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care about what benefits access to that technology could bring for deaf children.

I am conscious of the time, but I hope that the Minister will also tell us a little about what is happening to ensure that deaf children and young people get access to proper careers information, advice and guidance, to help them as they enter the world of work. As we know, poorer educational opportunities mean poorer opportunities for life, and that impacts on things such as mental health and isolation, as my hon. Friend said. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

I too congratulate the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on securing the debate. Some things we disagree about, but there is a whole lot more that we agree about, and this subject is one of them. I look forward to supporting him in this debate, as I often do in many of the debates that he secures—likewise, to be fair, he often supports me.

Nothing is more frustrating than not being understood. At times, most especially at the beginning of my Westminster journey, I spoke to people in this place only for them to look at me searchingly, trying to get past my accent. Perhaps that is still an issue—I am not sure—but I hope everyone present can understand me. As the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) says, Jim Shannon gets more words to the minute than any other MP. I am not sure what she means, but I suppose I know what she is saying, so over the past few years I have tried to slow it down.

My point is that it is frustrating in the extreme not to be understood. I cannot imagine the frustration of deaf people who find it difficult to understand and to be understood, and there is also the frustration of those who love them, knowing how little help and support is offered through the education system or, as the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) said, the health system.

I know that Northern Ireland is not the Minister’s responsibility, but I want to give a flavour of what is happening there. There are 3,500 British Sign Language speakers and 1,500 Irish Sign Language speakers in Northern Ireland, but just 30 registered interpreters. That tells us immediately that deaf people have a problem being heard in Northern Ireland. There are 1,400 children —46 deaf children per teacher—who have moderate to profound hearing loss. The numbers do not add up, so it is impossible to deliver a system.

I read an interesting article in the Belfast Telegraph six months ago on this very topic. It reported that the prognosis was not good. It stated that,

“despite a 25% increase in the number of deaf children in the last seven years, the number of specialist teachers of the deaf has reduced by 16%.”

Of those teachers, 61% are due to retire in the next 10 to 15 years, which is an issue that the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and others raised. The Scotland and Northern Ireland director of the National Deaf Children’s Society said:

“In Northern Ireland we’ve got around 1,400 deaf children…out of those children, 71% of them are currently educated in mainstream school. In those schools, the staff require support from teachers who have the specialism to be able to deal with those deaf children.”

The article added:

“Additional support would allow trained staff to educate teachers on the awareness and communication needed for deaf children.”

The director continued:

“It would also allow for one-to-one tuition, if required, and organise specialised technology for the pupils. Those teachers help the children to integrate and they help the teachers to help the children to integrate, so it’s a dual support.”

We must remember that it is not just about being heard but about being part of the group of pupils. She further said:

“There’s a great opportunity here because of the five education and library boards recently consolidated into one Education Authority so we can take a Northern Ireland-wide approach in addressing this situation. We would like to see a plan to train new teachers of the deaf so we have new teachers coming through to replace those who retire in the near future, and we would like a recruitment drive to get more of them into the classroom. At the moment, because of the increase of children who are deaf along with the reduction in teachers…we will soon have in the workforce, we would like to see education for deaf children recognised.”

I could not agree more.

The numbers are increasing and we do not have capacity to handle them. We do not have a Minister in office either to bring about policy change, but we look forward to the possibility that that might happen. When we return on 15 October, some things will come before the House. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is beginning the process of bringing new legislation to this place to allow senior civil servants to make policy decisions. That cannot come soon enough.

A recent study found that deaf children are falling behind their hearing classmates due to funding cuts. Unfortunately, only 40% of deaf students achieve two A-levels, compared with 65% of hearing students. The National Deaf Children’s Society attributes this attainment gap to “year on year cuts”. Only 9% of deaf students attend a Russell Group university, which indicates where the fall-down is. We are failing to understand their needs, and that must change. Thomas Edison, thanks to whom this Chamber is lit with electric light bulbs, had scarlet fever in his youth and therefore was severely hearing impaired, but look what he did and what we have today thanks to him.

The Minister has had a hard week; he has been in this place three times to respond to debates. We need an impetus from his Department, here and back in Northern Ireland. The hearing impaired can excel if effort is put into the process. I want to be heard and understood; deaf children need to be, too. Everybody has that right. We must do better.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer.

On 5 March I had the great privilege of presenting a debate in response to the e-petition on making British Sign Language a part of the curriculum. Much of that debate was about giving deaf children the best possible chance of communicating with other people and the best educational outcomes. Sadly, attainment evidence shows that is not happening at present.

I want to talk about services for deaf children at a much earlier stage in the education system. I am sorry to have to do that; the latest figures show that services for deaf children are reducing across England. That means that their futures are being “stolen”, as the National Deaf Children’s Society puts it, because without the support, intervention and specialist skills that they need, they will not be able to make the best educational and social progress compared with other children who are not deaf or hearing impaired. That cannot be right.

There are more than 50,000 deaf children and young people in the UK. As we have heard, more than 90% of them are born to hearing parents who have no prior experience of deafness. Some 80% of those children attend mainstream schools, where they may be the only deaf child in their school. Figures from the National Deaf Children’s Society show a stark difference in educational achievement as it is. In the early years foundation stage, 34% of pre-school deaf children were reported as having a good level of development compared with 76% of other children. At key stage 2, less than half of deaf children achieved the expected standard for reading, compared with 80% of other children. At key stage 4, deaf children achieve, on average, a whole grade less in each GCSE subject than other children. In recent years this attainment gap has widened. As we have heard, 41% of deaf young people achieve two A-levels or equivalent by the age of 19, compared with 65% of other young people. This is not a gap of intelligence but of the support and the tools to communicate and understand as other children do.

Where do deaf children sit in the special needs system? Most of them do not have an education, health and care plan. The NDCS estimates that less than a fifth of these children have a plan that sets out their supported needs. Most schools do not have the knowledge or skills to support deaf children themselves. Access to specialist support is essential for their learning and development. Because deafness is a low incidence need, that support is best provided by teams of experts, especially teachers of the deaf, centrally organised in education services, who can go out and provide support and advice to teachers, families and the children themselves. Research from the Department for Education just last year showed that specialist education services for deaf children play a crucial role in advising mainstream teachers and ensuring that the needs of deaf children are met. Those services are funded through the high-needs block of the dedicated school grant. It is essential that that service is provided centrally to help deaf children achieve in school.

As the National Deaf Children’s Society says, it is essential that services are funded in a way that allows early intervention not just at school but at pre-school, so that families and children can be given the best advice. It is worrying, as we have heard, that local authority spending on specialist education services for deaf children has been reducing since 2011. That includes my authority of Gateshead, where the budget for this year has reduced by 17%. Like many councils, Gateshead has done its best to protect funding for specialist services.

We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) about the pressures on funding and the asks of the National Deaf Children’s Society. I endorse those asks, but as we approach the comprehensive spending review we also need additional funding for local authorities, to provide these essential education services. I have met some incredible people in the course of the last year, from Erin, who I met last year, who is pushing for a GCSE, to Ella, who messaged me this week. It is important to give them the time they need.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on securing this important debate.

I pay homage to the work of the National Deaf Children’s Society in its “Stolen Futures” campaign. Earlier this year I had the honour of being invited to visit the Sunnyside Academy in Middlesbrough, where some of my constituents are employed and where deaf or hard of hearing children from Hartlepool receive an excellent education. Sunnyside is a mixed-sex primary school that services more than 350 children aged between three and 11. To say that my eyes were opened when I visited the place is an understatement. It truly was a magnificent experience to interact with the children, to visit their classrooms and to talk to teachers and support staff. I particularly enjoyed the magical experience of a signed storytelling and book reading session provided by one of my constituents. I was blown away by the experience and impressed by the enthusiasm of both staff and pupils.

The learning environment at Sunnyside is without question happy, comfortable and inclusive, but it made me think of two things: first, what experiences will the children have when they move to secondary school; and secondly, are there sufficient resources for sign language users and teachers of the deaf in our school system to support pupils? Sadly, according to the “Stolen Futures” campaign, the answer to the latter question is no.

Around 615 deaf children in Hartlepool receive support from the specialist education service for deaf students. The borough is part of a group of local authorities that jointly provide and commission services, but more than a third of local authorities in England plan to cut £4 million from their education support budgets for deaf children this year. That is likely to have a significant detrimental impact. The service is being reviewed this year, and it is vital that the feelings of parents and young people are taken into account. To help my constituents get the best education, that review must lead to improvements and factor in the growing demand for support from children with special educational needs.

What I saw at Sunnyside enthused me. I can only hope that the work of the teachers there is not in vain. It is important that we get the right resources and support in place to help students throughout their school career. That is why I fully support the National Deaf Children’s Society’s campaign.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) for securing the debate, not least because it gives me an opportunity to present the cases of the many constituents who have been in touch about this issue. They and I are grateful for that opportunity.

I am privileged to have Elmfield School for Deaf Children in my constituency. It provides specialist services to early years and primary pupils in a specialist setting, but it has plans to integrate those into a mainstream setting. It also provides a secondary service, which is already integrated into Fairfield High School, a mainstream school in my constituency. Elmfield provides a full range of services, with signed bilingual educational approaches and an individual language profile for each pupil. I will say in a second why that is so important. However, like other schools, Elmfield struggles to meet demand. In the south-west, where there are more than 3,000 deaf pupils, there has been a 16% drop in the number of fully qualified teachers of the deaf and a 12% drop in the number of teachers training for that role. That is why, in Bristol and other places with vacancies, there are no guarantees that those specialist positions will be filled.

I picked two sets of constituents—Mr and Mrs Ward, and Mr and Mrs Bolton—at random from a number of families who got in touch with me. I thank them for doing so, and I will spend the rest of my speech telling their stories. Ella is the daughter of Mr and Mrs Bolton. She is in year 1 and is six years old. She has moderate hearing loss, which was diagnosed at birth, and wears hearing aids in both ears. I have met Ella, and her mum rightly describes her as a

“confident, creative, brave girl, who loves learning.”

She is bright and is expected to do well. However, because of the level of her hearing loss and the fact she appears to cope well in school, her disability is often overlooked when she is in a mainstream setting. The perception that it is not a serious condition or that she is coping or performing well means that the provision she requires to fulfil her potential is often missed. Ella has to put extra effort into hearing in the classroom, which gives her concentration fatigue. Because she has to focus so much on her teachers to be able to engage, on most days she is exhausted when she comes home. Her mum says it takes Ella until Sunday evening to fully recover before she starts again on the Monday morning.

Mrs Bolton says that deafness is not naturally understood by teachers, even with the best will in the world. Ella is an example of why specialist provision is required so much. However, as has already been said, this issue is not just about young people; it is about their families, too. Mrs Bolton told me how teachers of the deaf had helped the family come to terms with having a child who was deaf and with how best to support Ella at home and school. She wrote that teachers of the deaf played

“a pivotal role in providing and coordinating support and promoting deaf awareness”

among other staff and providers to Ella, and to the family.

Oli, the Ward family’s son, is much older and further down the track. They wrote that he had “a very mixed journey”, and that it felt like his choices narrowed and became more limited as he got older and progressed through the system. Mrs Ward says that specialist teachers of the deaf made a huge difference to Oli everywhere he went, not just in terms of education provision but in the way he navigated life socially in a mainstream setting. She says that teachers of the deaf were his lifeline on many occasions.

Oli moved around between specialist and mainstream provision while he was in secondary school, which caused him difficulties. Mrs Ward said she was told by a teacher that her son had outstanding GCSE results “for a deaf child.” She rightly makes the point that that should not be a distinction—just because someone is deaf does not mean a C is an outstanding grade for them if they have the potential to achieve an A. Mrs Ward wrote:

“Teachers of the deaf navigate schools and classrooms…in no end of subtle and clever ways”

to get the best out of her child, Oli, and so many other children, whom we want to flourish and do well.

I look forward to the Minister’s answers. There is cross-party support for getting this right. He has heard the stories of my constituents and those of local authorities on the frontline, which are really struggling to do the best, not just for children who are deaf but, as we have heard, for children with special educational needs. Many of my constituents face a struggle to get EHC plans in place, and schools cannot really afford to top up the money they get. This is a real slog. Parents, teachers and local authority staff are passionate about getting the best provision for deaf children and children with special needs to allow them to flourish, and I look forward to hearing how the Minister will help them do that.

The restraint on interventions and speeches means that we have gained a couple of minutes, so the Front-Bench spokespeople will have a generous 10 minutes each. I call Angela Crawley.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on securing the debate, and on his sustained and dedicated campaigning on this matter. I welcome the fact that the House has made suitable accommodations so that the debate is accessible for everyone, and I welcome everyone watching, both here and at home. That should be standard practice, and I hope we can look at doing it for all debates.

The debate is important because we are looking at a section of society with particular needs that require specialist support. Where support for children and young people is available, they can achieve just as much as their hearing counterparts. However, as we heard, there is evidence that, where support is not provided, children can lag behind. That simply is not good enough.

Let me acknowledge some of the notable contributions to the debate. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse outlined the statistics, and the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) highlighted his own experience, which was welcome. The right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) rightly highlighted the issue of equalities. This is an issue of equalities of outcome, which we should always strive to do more about. As ever, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) represented Northern Ireland and spoke about his constituents—indeed, everyone who contributed did their constituents a service.

We have clear evidence of the effect of young people not being provided with support. Studies of educational attainment prove conclusively that we must pay more attention to this area. The debate has focused primarily on provision for deaf children in England, but as my counterpart the hon. Member for Strangford outlined, education powers have been devolved to Scotland and other areas.

In Scotland, there are 57,000 people with severe or profound deafness, and 701,000 with mild or moderate deafness. Many of them are people over 60 whose hearing has deteriorated with age, and the figures also include the estimated 2,000 deafblind people in Scotland.

Some 75 babies are born deaf in Scotland every year, of whom around five are born with severe to profound hearing loss. There are an estimated 3,000 children and young people under 25 with severe to profound deafness in Scotland, and approximately 34,800 in the whole UK. Nine out of 10 deaf children have hearing parents, many of whom have no experience of deafness, which shows just how important the existence of specialist services is to those children.

As in England, there is a fear that educational attainment in Scotland will fall due to the declining numbers of specialist teachers. We have already heard about the constraints on local authorities and funding services. There is a clear attainment gap for children from the deaf community across the UK, and while deaf pupils can achieve as much as their hearing peers with the right support, evidence shows that pupils with any degree of deafness score below the average academic scores, particularly in language subjects.

Early years education is crucial for children’s development, and it is important that deaf children are supported through the additional barriers that can delay development. One such challenge is the development of age-appropriate language for children as they experience communication barriers, because deaf children may struggle with social interaction in everyday communication. While most children pick up such skills during their early years through exposure to the language around them, deaf children can be three to five years behind other children. That can make it difficult for them to understand and recognise simple things such as sarcasm and humour when their hearing peers begin to develop such language and understanding.

As the National Deaf Children’s Society has outlined, there has been good progress in Scotland, particularly with the British Sign Language (Scotland) Act 2015 and the implementation of “Getting it right for every child”. However, I recognise that there is always more to do, and we must do more across the UK to tackle this issue.

Many of the deaf children in my constituency are lucky enough to be able to attend the Hamilton School for the Deaf, situated in the neighbouring constituency of Rutherglen and Hamilton West. The school is run by the South Lanarkshire local authority, which has a commitment to deaf children in our community. Pupils work in classes of no more than six, allowing intensive training specifically tailored to each child’s needs. Each class is led by a qualified teacher of the deaf and supported by classroom assistants with excellent signing skills. The school campus is shared with the neighbouring Glenlee Primary School, allowing some of the curriculum to be shared with hearing peers. This means that the children are not secluded from other children their age.

It is deeply important that children with additional needs are given the requisite support to allow them all the opportunities of their hearing peers. I join hon. Members and colleagues across the House in supporting calls for funding for deaf children’s services, as outlined by the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank the House for making BSL interpreters available to help people to follow today’s debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) not only for securing this important debate on deaf children’s services, but for his sterling work chairing the all-party parliamentary group on deafness. I also thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken.

Many of us, I hope, will have fond memories of school, but we probably take for granted the fact that being able to hear facilitated our learning and socialisation during that time. We are living in an era when advances in technology and teaching mean that deaf children need not be isolated. Nor should they be missing out on this vital part of learning and interaction, but the tragedy of this debate is that they are.

That failure can be laid at the Government’s door. A toxic combination of Government-imposed local authority cuts, education cuts, the shambolic roll-out of SEND reforms and unfettered off-rolling have led to what the National Deaf Children’s Society rightly refers to as “stolen futures”. Local authority spending on services for children and young people has fallen in real terms by almost £1 billion since 2012, with a £3 billion shortfall predicted by 2025. Just last year, the APPG for children found that 89% of directors of children’s services were struggling to fulfil their statutory duties towards children in need of support.

In that environment, it is no surprise, as my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse noted in his opening remarks, that over one third of local authorities in England plan to cut £4 million from their budgets for education support for deaf children this year. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) rightly said, all that will do is exacerbate current issues.

The recent steps to ring-fence SEND funding represent an inflexible policy, where strict rules mean that only 0.5% of a school’s overall budget can be transferred to the high-needs block. The policy is also not working, as evidenced by the 27 authorities that have appealed, asking that it be relaxed to meet their local need. Interestingly, the majority of successful appeals have all been in Conservative-led authorities—I sincerely hope the Minister is not playing politics with deaf children’s services and education.

The £50 million announced earlier this year to help local authorities create new places or improved facilities for SEND pupils is also nowhere near good enough. Not only is it not new money, but it is a one-off cash injection, not the sustainable funding that people are crying out for.

Up in the north-east, my hon. Friend and I are in neighbouring constituencies, so I am sure she will be aware of the situation in Sunderland. We have 236 deaf children in Sunderland, yet the local authority has had its budget to provide the services for those children cut by 10%. Does she agree that, at a time when we see an increase in the number of deaf children and when deaf children are to be supported up to age 25 through the reforms to SEND, which is good, we should be seeing more money put in to support these children, rather than cuts?

The SEND reforms are a topic I will refer to later in my speech, but my hon. Friend leads me aptly to my next point. When funding and support are denied in cases such as the ones we are talking about today, education is also denied.

In his response, the Minister will likely refer to the funding given to the National Sensory Impairment Partnership and other bodies, but that money does not address the falling number of teachers of the deaf. Having British Sign Language-trained teachers is vital to deaf children, a point that was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), but some areas have only one specialist teacher per 100 students. I was sorry to hear from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) that that scarcity of teachers is the same in Northern Ireland, although I should say to him that I always follow every single word he says, and I love listening to his speeches.

None of that should come as any shock, since our schools are facing the first real-terms funding cuts in 20 years, with £2.8 billion cut from their budgets since 2015. As always in these austere times, specialist provision is the first to go. Bamburgh School is a specialist school in my constituency, which is now in the unenviable position of having to pay out of an existing budget for its existing teachers to learn BSL level 1 on a 30-week course, which will take the school into a deficit. On top of that, these dedicated teachers are completing the course in what little free time they have. However, their equally dedicated headteacher, Peter Nord, told me that he has a duty to the children he teaches, who, without BSL, would not get the full learning experience they deserve.

Not every deaf child or school will have a head and teachers as dedicated as we have at Bamburgh or the Elmfield School for Deaf Children in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones). I wonder what will happen to those children. I appreciate that a review of the SEND workforce in schools is under way, but a report commissioned by the Department and published over two and a half years ago has already identified a drastic shortage of deaf teachers. Instead of yet another review to give the appearance of doing something, can the Minister please advise us when there might be a response to the review that was done nearly three years ago, and what the timescales are for the current ongoing review?

The decrease in support is taking place against the backdrop of an increasing number of children requiring it. In just the last year, the number of deaf children increased by 11%. Earlier this year, it was shown that the attainment gap between deaf children and hearing children has widened—the figures were ably shared with us by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist).

Sadly, Government neglect of deaf children continues throughout their education, with post-16 funding bearing no resemblance at all to the number of deaf pupils without an EHC plan. Just last year, it was revealed that some county councils in England charge 16 to 19-year-old SEND students £1,500 a year for their transport. Since 2015, students have been required to pay a £200 contribution towards the cost of certain essential equipment that used to be covered by the disabled students’ allowance.

Parents have told me that support often only comes with an EHC plan, yet we have heard that most deaf children do not have such plans. Those who do, as outlined by the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), have to fight, and suffer the exhaustion of taking on, the might of their local authorities. A recent damning report by the local government and social care ombudsman found that children and young people were missing out on provision, with health often a missing factor.

As we heard, 80% of deaf children and young people are not on EHC plans and rely on SEND support from their local authorities, which authorities struggle to provide following savage cuts that have resulted in up to 40,000 deaf children in England having no support at all. Deaf children and young people also remain stubbornly over-represented in alternative provision and exclusion figures. Schools, headteachers, support staff and parents work tirelessly every day under ever-challenging circumstances to give our deaf children the very best education, which they deserve. The Minister should be doing the same, and I look forward to his letting us know his plans.

I will end with a quick quote from Thomas Bailey, a 16-year-old pupil from Bamburgh School in South Shields. He sums up far better than I or anybody here could the damaging impact of the Government’s policies:

“Being deaf makes me feel depressed and very frustrated. Having no support in school is very mean. When I don’t have support, I don’t have that person to repeat and break down that information for me and to sign important key words, so I am not able to learn the same as other children in class. I feel left out. Improving equipment would make the sound easier and clearer for me to hear, but having no equipment makes everything very quiet and unclear. This means I’m not getting any important information, leaving me feeling annoyed and again left out. My life and learning becomes a blank.”

The Minister should know that, unless he takes urgent action, the despair and emptiness so well articulated by Thomas will continue to be felt by more and more deaf children across our country.

Before I call the Minister, I remind him that it would be helpful if he left a couple of minutes for the debate’s sponsor to wind up.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and congratulate him on securing this important debate. Much of his speech rightly advocated for the National Deaf Children’s Society. I let him know at the outset that I will meet the NDCS on 29 October.

I thank the many colleagues who participated in this important debate, including the shadow Minister; they really brought home the voices of the different stakeholders. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) talked about his daughter, who is a teacher; the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) spoke of the Bolton and Ward families; and the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) spoke of his personal experience.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and the hon. Members for Blaydon (Liz Twist), for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley). The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) reminded us that Thomas Edison achieved so much with such a disadvantage. I also thank my good friend, the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), for her intervention.

The debate is timely, following my recent meetings with members of the all-party parliamentary group on deafness. I am grateful for the opportunity to set out the Government’s position on supporting children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, including those who are deaf and hearing-impaired. It was great to see the percentage of pupils with a hearing impairment getting good GCSEs in English and maths increase last year, from 38% in 2011-12 to 46% in 2016-17. I congratulate those young people who received their results in August.

As the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse pointed out, there is more to do, and I am determined that all children and young people who are deaf or have a hearing impairment receive the support that they need to achieve the success that they deserve. I think hon. Members will agree that the 2014 SEND reforms were probably the biggest change to the system in a generation. They are about improving the support available to all children and young people with special educational needs and disability. I am clear that this vision applies equally to deaf and hearing-impaired children and young people.

I think we all recognise that we are only part way to achieving our vision of the reformed SEND system. We know that there has been a steady movement of children with special educational needs out of mainstream schools and into specialist provision. We also recognise that the significant consequence of this trend of moving away from mainstream schools into specialist provisions is extra pressure on councils’ high needs budgets, as we have heard from many colleagues.

The Secretary of State recently spoke at the Association of Directors of Children’s Services conference, where he set out his core mission, which I absolutely share, to provide every child with world-class education, training and care, whatever their background or needs. Our plan to build on the 2014 reforms includes equipping and incentivising mainstream schools to work with all pupils— I will say more about that in a few moments—and supporting and challenging local authorities and clinical commissioning groups to become more effective planners and commissioners of provision.

In the current financial environment, both central and local government continue to face difficult choices. Local authorities are best placed to judge local priorities and to make local funding decisions, in consultation with local people and having regard to the range of statutory responsibilities placed on them. However, I fully appreciate that that is not easy in times of financial constraint. To support local authorities, the core school funding that the Government provide will rise to a record £43.5 billion by 2020—a 50% real-terms, per-pupil increase since 2000. Within that total, the high needs budget for young people with more complex special educational needs in schools and colleges is £6 billion this year, as the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse mentioned.

In answer to the hon. Gentleman, we will keep this level of funding under careful review and will of course discuss it with ministerial colleagues in the Treasury as part of the next spending review. I and my officials in the Department engage with local authorities and schools so that we understand what drives the increasing costs of provision and how we can support them in managing their high needs and wider special needs budgets.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the ring fence on the schools block and whether we can allow more flexibility for local authorities to fund schools more. I am sure he will agree that there is a balance to be struck in protecting spending on mainstream schools and making sure that local authorities have enough for high needs. We are keeping that under revision, as I mentioned. We are particularly interested to ensure that the financial incentives in the current system do not lead local authorities and schools to make decisions that are not in the best interests of their children and young people with special educational needs.

As the hon. Gentleman recognised, local authorities play a crucial strategic leadership role, both in managing the special educational needs provision in their area and in overseeing high needs budgets. Those responsibilities are discharged most effectively when there is a strong partnership between the local authority and education providers, good engagement with parents and young people, and a shared understanding of where different types of need are best met.

The Department has committed £23 million of additional funding to support local authorities to conduct strategic reviews of their SEND provision, and we are investing £265 million of additional capital funding specifically aimed at helping local authorities to develop provision for children and young people with education, health and care plans.

To respond to the hon. Gentleman’s specific point on funding for FE colleges, they also receive disadvantage funding, which provides funds to support students with additional needs, including moderate learning difficulties and disabilities. Disadvantage funding is not ring-fenced, which means that institutions are free to use that element of the funding to choose the best way to attract, retain and support those with additional needs.

I appreciate the reassurance that has just been given, but as the money is not ring-fenced, if the NDCS or anyone else can find any evidence that it is not being used properly for profoundly deaf students between the ages of 16 and 18, will the Minister be prepared to review the matter?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. I will take up that point with the NDCS in our meeting on 29 October to understand the evidence in relation to that. In addition to high needs funding, colleges receive disadvantage funding, which provides funds to support students from areas of economic deprivation, based on the index of multiple deprivation—the IMD—and with additional needs, including moderate learning difficulties and disabilities. As I said, that funding is not ring-fenced and can be moved.

I am very supportive of local authorities working together and I know that many will be considering how best to support the sensory impaired children and young people in their area, including by working closely with neighbouring authorities to provide joint services. My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney asked about joint working. To support that, we have established a national network for designated clinical officers, funded a local authority-led regional network and developed resources to support joint self-assessment and peer review. We have also funded a SEND leadership programme and legal training for all local authorities and their health partners to ensure that they are clear on their statutory responsibilities.

I understand that many local authorities have provided information to the National Deaf Children’s Society, setting out their plans for sensory support services in the future. My hon. Friend raised particular concerns about provision in Suffolk. We have provided an additional £140 million in high needs funding this year and will provide an additional £120 million next year. In Suffolk, the local authority will receive £59.9 million in high needs funding this year. I understand that Suffolk has not indicated cuts to funding for deaf services this year.

Also this year, we have contracted with the Whole School SEND Consortium to deliver a two-year programme to help to embed SEND in school improvement and help schools to identify and meet their training needs in relation to SEND. That will of course include ensuring that schools, including mainstream schools, know where to access the expertise that they need to support pupils with a hearing impairment.

In addition, a team from University College London will be working with the SEND sector to understand better the supply, demand and drivers for SEND training and continuing professional development. That will enable us to target resources at addressing those areas, too. The National Sensory Impairment Partnership will feed the views of the sensory impairment sector into that work, and we will review the NDCS report on local authority funding as part of that work. We have also asked Ofsted to consider how our accountability system can sufficiently reward schools for their work with pupils who need extra support, and encourage schools to focus on all pupils, not just the highest achievers.

As the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse stated, the vast majority of deaf children are born to hearing parents who have no prior experience of deafness. That is why the Government have separately invested in a number of programmes to support children and young people with hearing impairments, and their families. We have funded the development of an early support guide for parents of deaf children, available through the Council for Disabled Children website. In addition, we have funded the NDCS’s I-Sign project and the development of a family-orientated sign language programme, which is available free on the family sign language website.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether more can be done to ensure that school forums include more representation in respect of SEND. Local authorities are required to include at least one representative from a maintained special school, and a special academy, in their area. Many extend the representation of specialist providers by creating SEND subgroups to look specifically at issues relating to children and young people with SEND across the whole age range to 25. In some areas, there is strong partnership with parent groups so that they are engaged as well. We need to learn from those areas and spread that good practice.

I want to touch on a few issues that colleagues mentioned. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead and the hon. Member for Nottingham South talked about the lack of teachers for deaf and hearing impaired children. To be awarded qualified teacher status, trainees must satisfy the teachers’ standards, which include a requirement that they have a clear understanding of the needs of all pupils, including those with SEN, and are able to use and evaluate distinctive teaching approaches to engage and support them. Also, as the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) pointed out, we provided £900,000 of funding to the National Sensory Impairment Partnership between 2016 and 2018 to equip the school workforce. The new SEND schools workforce contract with the Whole School SEND Consortium, led by nasen—the National Association for Special Educational Needs—aims to equip schools to identify and meet their training needs.

There was a question on the specialist workforce and the report by the Consortium for Research into Deaf Education that there has been a 14% reduction in the number of teachers for deaf children over the past seven years. That is based on annual surveys of local authority specialist educational services, and we will look at it very carefully, especially in my discussion with the NDCS. As I understand it, the figures do not include teachers of the deaf in special schools, but I will take that up with the NDCS.

The hon. Member for Blaydon and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead spoke about British sign language and the curriculum. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for School Standards has written to the NDCS. We are open to considering a proposal for a new GCSE at this stage—for possible introduction during this Parliament. The development of a new qualification is of course a lengthy process, but we are certainly open to that.

I shall conclude now to allow my very good friend the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse to wind up the debate.

I am very grateful for and appreciate the responses from the Front Benchers. I hope that when the Minister has the opportunity to meet the NDCS in October, he will have good news for it. I have been somewhat encouraged by some of his responses to the questions that I have asked today, but he has heard appeals from everybody who has spoken. He knows the pressures that have been described, and the hope is that he can champion the deaf community in Government.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for our opportunity to have this debate; the signers for their sterling work; the House authorities for providing them with this opportunity; and all colleagues who have contributed to the debate. Many of them made kind comments about me, and I am grateful for them, but they apply to everybody who has participated in the debate and all the members of the all-party parliamentary group on deafness, who work with and for deaf people and with great organisations such as the National Deaf Children’s Society, Action on Hearing Loss, Auditory Verbal, The Ear Foundation and so many others.

Deaf people do not want charity. We know that. They want fairness. This debate demonstrates that we here collectively get that, and the hope is that the Government get it, too.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered deaf children’s services.

Sitting suspended.