Three quarters of employers believe action is required to improve English and Maths skills with poor literacy and numeracy amongst employees having a negative impact on business according to reports. The last government took note. They introduced requirements for young people in England aged 16 to 18 who failed to achieve grade C in English and Maths to continue studying these subjects. This includes those on apprenticeships – advanced apprenticeships now require apprentices to pass Level 2 (equivalent to C grade GCSE) Maths and English in order to complete their qualification. Under the new majority Conservative government these requirements are not expected to change.
So far, so good many of you may be thinking. Nobody can deny that Maths and English are important skills that can provide a strong foundation to build on. However, are the new arrangements good for everyone? I came across a case recently where a young deaf apprentice was told he would not be able to progress to Year 2 of an advanced apprenticeship without passing Level 2 English. The student who uses British Sign Language (BSL) as his main language is doing very well at all other taught parts of his apprenticeship including a BTEC and Maths. His employer is very happy with his work.
The apprentice who is currently struggling to complete Level 1 English is worried he will now not be able to progress to Level 3 standard in engineering on the grounds of his written English not being good enough. He does however, have fluency in a recognised language of this country – BSL. NDCS believes that it is unfair for the government to lay down English requirements with no exemptions. The result of this is that some deaf students could be barred from achieving Level 3 qualifications within sectors of employment where a high level of written English is not strictly necessary. NDCS had successfully argued against English and Maths GCSEs being compulsory to start an apprenticeship in a government consultation a few years ago. However, the issue has come to the fore again.
Those taking vocational qualifications such as NVQs and BTECs in Further Education can face similar issues. It is not compulsory to pass English and Maths in order to achieve a qualification. However, I have heard of several examples of deaf students being prevented from progressing to Level 3 by colleges on the grounds of poor literacy. For those fluent in BSL it can be argued that their BSL skills compensate for weaker English skills.
Is it right that a student’s level of English should be the passport to progression to Level 3 and beyond? It is true that courses at Level 3 and above require greater independent study and the ability to read a range of resources. However, entry to courses should be considered on a case to case basis rather than automatically rejecting students based on English GCSE results. If a deaf student has proven that they are capable of completing vocational qualifications at Level 2, it only seems right they should be allowed to progress to Level 3. With the right support they can go a long way.
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