Who is celebrating today?

Martin-Mclean-cropped

Martin McLean, Education and Training Policy Advisor (Post-14), National Deaf Children’s Society

Today is A-level results day. This means lots of TV footage of young people opening an envelope and then crying tears of joy as they pull out the sheet of paper that tells them they got the grades they need to get into their chosen university. Certainly for many, today will bring good news but what about deaf young people — how many will be celebrating?

One thing that irritates me about the media’s coverage of A-level results is that it completely ignores the fact there are many young people taking other qualifications than A-levels. Many students are also receiving BTEC and Level 3 diploma results on the same day or a bit earlier but you wouldn’t know it. Were their achievements not worth celebrating too? I think they are.

Sadly, too many deaf young people are not achieving what we call ‘Level 3 qualifications’; these are A-levels, BTECs, diplomas and other qualifications that will enable them to move onto higher education or widen their employment choices. According to Government data in 2017 only 41% of deaf young people in England achieved 2 A-levels or equivalent qualifications by the age of 19. This is a figure we believe is too low (65% of young people without disabilities achieved 2 A-levels or equivalent).

So what were the other 59% doing between the ages of 16 and 19? Most were continuing to work towards Level 2 qualifications (equivalent to GCSE) or below. This is important progress to make in order to be ready to take a Level 3 qualification or to move onto an apprenticeship. In 2017, 74% of deaf young people had achieved the equivalent of 5 GCSEs by the age of 19.

What happens after the age of 19 — do they continue studying or do they go into work? This is where Government data runs out.  We just don’t know and this is why we are commissioning research that will track young people over a period of 5 years, beyond education into employment. Watch this space — we will be releasing more info about this research soon.

If you have achieved your A-levels, BTECs or diploma today then a big congratulations! However, let us spare a thought too for those deaf 18 year olds who are not quite there yet or taking other routes. With the right support to gain the skills they need, some focus and ambition, they too can have bright futures.

General Election 2017. Deaf young people matter.

Martin-Mclean-cropped

Martin McLean, Education and Training Policy Advisor (Post-14), National Deaf Children’s Society

Less than half of young people aged 18-24 are expected to vote on June 8th. Personally, I think this is a tragedy as it means that politicians may be less focused on trying to win young people over because this will not be the key to winning elections. It can be argued that policies on housing, benefits or higher education, for example, might be different if more young people voted.

We at the National Deaf Children’s Society want to make sure that the needs of young people are high on the agenda. We have some key asks for each of the parties to help ensure deaf young people have bright futures. For this year’s general election they are:

    1. Ensure deaf young people receive access to specialist careers advice. Imagine as a deaf young person thinking about what you want to do in the future but you did not know you had rights under the Equality Act or that there was funding for communication support and technology in the workplace (Access to Work). Sadly, this is the reality for many deaf young people and we believe it influences their subject choices at school and college. We want all deaf young people to have access to specialist careers advice so that they are better informed to make choices about their futures.
    2.  Revamp the Access to Work employment support scheme. As a user of the Access to Work I can say I probably could not do my job without it – it pays for the communication support I need to access meetings and training. However, when applying for the first time you will need to very clear about what support and how much of it you need. We don’t believe the application process is friendly for young people and would like to see specialist advice from dedicated champions when they apply for the first time, as well as support that it is flexible and tailored to their needs.
    3. Make it easier for deaf young people to complete apprenticeships. The main political parties are keen on apprenticeships. So are we. High-quality apprenticeships can be a good way of ensuring deaf young people gain vital work experience alongside achieving qualifications. We believe the funding system for additional support on apprenticeships is currently unsatisfactory and needs to be improved and simplified.

Help us put the needs of deaf young people on the agenda by asking the parliamentary candidates for your area what they would do on the above issues if elected to parliament. Also, if you know any deaf young people over 18, encourage them to register to vote- they do matter!

BSL and apprenticeships

Martin-Mclean-cropped

Martin McLean, Education and Training Policy Adviser (Post-14), National Deaf Children’s Society

In January there was quite a bit of press about a decision by the Government to allow BSL qualifications to be accepted as alternative to the English requirements for apprenticeships in England. This is something that the National Deaf Children’s Society campaigned for along with other deaf organisations.

Since the announcement in January, there have been quite a few questions asked about how the new policy will work. I am going to tell you what I know so far.

Click here for a BSL version of my blog.

Why was this change made?

Currently, if you are taking an intermediate or advanced apprenticeship in England you will need to pass English at Level 1 or 2 (functional skills or GCSE) to complete the apprenticeship. For some deaf people this makes completing an apprenticeship much more difficult. We believe it is also unfair for those who use BSL as their main language.

Who is eligible for this change?

People who are deaf and use BSL as their main language.

Which qualifications will be accepted?

For intermediate apprenticeships, the Level 1 certificate in BSL.

For advanced apprenticeships, the Level 2 certificate in BSL.

Can be the Signature, iBSL or ABC qualification.

Is the Level 1 or 2 certificate in BSL the appropriate qualification?

The Level 1 and 2 BSL qualifications are primarily aimed at beginners learning BSL. For a deaf first language BSL user and already fluent are they appropriate? Maybe not but what is the alternative? The Level 3 or 6 courses are much longer and there are fewer teachers. Ideally, we would have a functional skills BSL qualification which would allow BSL users to apply their BSL skills to workplace scenarios.

What if a deaf apprentice does not have a BSL qualification?

They can take the required qualification as part of their apprenticeship. Their training provider will receive the same funding as they receive for providing English tuition. For most people this will just mean taking the Level 1 or 2 BSL assessments with a bit of coaching beforehand.

When does the new policy start?

There is a change in apprenticeship regulations required which is a legal change. The Government expects to do this this April. Fingers crossed.

What about those who do not use BSL?

Some who are oral will find it difficult to pass English and Maths functional skills qualifications for the same reasons as BSL users- delayed language development impacts reading and writing skills. The Government plans to set up a pilot where apprentices with disabilities that impact on learning can work towards functional skills qualification at a level appropriate for them. We don’t know when this will happen or how big the pilot will be.

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