Should English always be the key to progress?

Martin McLean Project Manager I-Sign

Martin McLean – Education and Training Policy Advisor (Post-14)

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.

What are your views? Submit a comment below – we would love to read your opinions on this issue.

For further information about apprenticeships:

Information for parents

Information for deaf young people

4 thoughts on “Should English always be the key to progress?

  1. Pingback: Written English: where does enabling stop being enabling? |

  2. I think having a fundamental grasp of English is essential. You need to be able to express yourself in writing in a way that can be understood and to be honest, as a deaf person, so many deaf people I have known/been taught alongside/encountered in written media have been nearly impossible to understand from what they post. To be fair, so are many hearing people, but simply being deaf should not be a free pass for subliteracy.

    I’m not saying you should be writing perfectly. I’m saying you should be able to make yourself understood in good, straightforward words at the basic level you are operating on. BSL is a language that does not have its own written equivalent so it is important to be able to write/communicate in this second language without contradicting yourself or becoming incoherent and excessively ungrammatical. Even if a job doesn’t need a lot of writing, you still need writing skills for other things – like form filling or reports. It will be impossible to truly advance without this ability.

    I think everyone should be encouraged to actively improve their reading/writing skills to meet the level at which they’re aiming to operate on. I don’t think it should be an automatic bar, but realistically, it is a pretty fundamental life skill and particularly given the threatened cuts to Access to Work and funding/support, it’s all the more important for deaf people to be encouraged and helped to develop these skills that will enable them to support themselves more and more.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am in the USA, and we do not have formalized apprenticeships until after graduation from secondary school (usually after age 18). However, my state did just remove a requirement for students to pass the HSAP test, which was a test of maths and English taken at the end of high school and required to get a graduation diploma. Students no longer need to pass the test to demonstrate English fluency. While this does allow many more of our Deaf students to graduate with a diploma, I am concerned. We are no graduating students who cannot read and write at a practical level. These are students who will be signing job contracts, apartment leases, receiving and being expected to return letters from businesses, etc, and they can’t read well enough to understand them. When we did have the HSAP, students would often stay on until age 21 trying to improve their English skills; now, many of them choose to go ahead and graduate without solid skills in reading and writing. While I am glad that good students are finally getting their diplomas, I am worried as to how they will be able to function in a literate world without solid English skills.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. These are good points made above. We live in a hearing world and need to be able to cope within it, for further education, training and in our careers.

    If I was to move to another country and needed to live life and work in that language, I would be expected to have a basic level of competency in that language. I would not expect to have everything translated for me. Yes, BSL is a recognised language, but it hasn’t been recognised long enough I think for it to be truly embedded in British culture. English is still the main language of the UK.


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