Right to Sign — What happens next?

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research, National Deaf Children’s Society

The Department for Education in England recently confirmed that it does not object in principle to the introduction of a GCSE in British Sign Language (BSL). The Department also said that it was open to considering proposals for this GCSE for introduction in the longer term. We think this is a positive step forward. Previously, the Government had refused to consider any new GCSEs.

However, it’s important to note that the process for delivering a GCSE in BSL will not be short or easy.

Any exam body, such as Signature, will need to meet the requirements set by the Department for Education and the exams regulator Ofqual. In addition, the Department for Education has also said that any new GCSE could not be introduced in this Parliament so that schools can have a period of ‘stability’. Assuming there is no early election, this means there can be no new GCSE before 2022.

We are frustrated by the delay and that the Department continue to prioritise ‘stability’ over the need to ensure fairness for deaf young people. At the same time, we want any GCSE to be of the highest standard and we recognise it will take time for it to be ready. It’s important that any new GCSE in BSL has the same credibility as other GCSEs.

We’re calling on the Department to do everything it can to support and expedite progress, so that a new GCSE is ready to go as soon as the next Parliament begins. We want to see evidence they’re taking a ‘can-do’ attitude towards making a BSL GCSE a reality.

We’ve already had lots of questions about how the BSL GCSE will work. Unfortunately, it’s still too early to say how it will work in practice and much will depend on the progress that the Department, Ofqual and exam bodies like Signature make. Watch this space! More information about Signature’s work in this area can be found on their website.

There’s still a long way to go but we could not have got to where we are now without all the hard work by our campaigners and supporters – thank you to all those who’ve supported our Right to Sign campaign. We’ll be keeping a close eye on progress and will keep you updated.

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