Right to Sign campaign update: Minister says no

Ian_Noon

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

Earlier this year, the National Deaf Children’s Society Youth Advisory Board, after months of hard work, launched their new Right to Sign campaign, calling for young people to have more opportunities for young people to learn sign language in schools.

They surveyed over 2,000 young people – deaf and hearing – and found that a whopping 92% thought schools should offer British Sign Language (BSL) as a GCSE. They published a report setting out the results in full and the case for action.

And the response from the Government? No.

Yesterday, when asked if the Department for Education in England would encourage exam boards to offer BSL as a GCSE, the Minister, Nick Gibb, said: “At present, there are no plans to introduce any further GCSEs beyond those to which the Government has already committed.”

To our knowledge, this is the first time the Government has ruled out introducing a BSL GCSE since the campaign was launched. It’s a massive disappointment and a real slap in the face for all of the hard work done so far by the Youth Advisory Board.

It’s hard not to feel angry about the response. It’s simply unfair and unjust that BSL, an official language in the UK used by thousands of people, is being treated in a way which implies it has a lower status and importance than other languages already being taught as GCSEs. It could even be seen as discriminatory to deaf people.

We’re not going to be deterred and will keep pressing the Department for Education in England for action – our briefing sets out some of the arguments we’re using. Two members of the Youth Advisory Board will also be asking MPs to support their campaign when they head to party political conferences later this month.

If you want to show your support for our work, please sign the Youth Advisory Board petition. More information about the different ways you can support the campaign can be found on the Buzz website.

 

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.

What happens after GCSEs?

Martin-Mclean-cropped

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

When GCSE results get released each year for deaf students, the statistics receive a lot of attention as they are an important measure of how well deaf children perform in education. However, what do we know about what happens after GCSEs in school sixth forms or in colleges? Arguably, this is even more important because few people go straight from taking GCSEs into employment these days.

Last week the Government released several tables of statistics on the achievement of those aged 16 to 19 in England including breakdowns for deaf students. I am probably a bit odd to get very excited about a set of numbers but the amount of data available to us on the progress deaf students make after the aged of 16 is pretty limited. So, I spent several hours poring over these tables to work out what they were telling us about the progress of deaf students.

What did we find out?

Firstly, it is important to understand that students take a wide variety of qualifications after the age of 16. It is not just A-levels but NVQs, BTECs, diplomas, functional skills courses, etc at different levels. We split students into two groups:

  • Those that have achieved Level 2. This is the equivalent of having five GCSEs at grades A* to C.
  • Those that have achieved Level 3. This is the equivalent of having at least two A-levels (of any grade).

The main findings were:

  • Less than half of deaf students* (43%) achieve Level 3 by the age of 19 compared with 66% of students without SEN.
  • 77% of deaf students achieve Level 2 by the age of 19. This compares with 92% of students without Special Educational Needs (SEN). This suggests that the attainment gap at Level 2 has narrowed by the age of 19.
  • However, when we look at whether students have achieved Level 2 with English and Maths the attainment gap increases to a massive 38%. This suggests that deaf students are particularly struggling to make up ground in the core subjects of English and Maths.
  • It’s not all bad news. Attainment rates have increased significantly in the last decade. For example, the Level 2 pass rate was 58% in 2007 and it is now 77%. However, large increases have also been seen for students without SEN meaning attainment gaps have stayed roughly the same.

On the whole, disappointing reading when we know that deaf students are capable of doing just as well as hearing students with the right support through their lives.

Earlier barriers to education and language development can have a knock-on effect that makes academic progression very challenging for some students. However, questions do need to be asked of post-16 providers. A recent Ofsted report into further education for learners with high needs found great variation between colleges in the quality of their support. Also, progress in Maths and English was found to be too slow.

NDCS will be looking to engage more closely with the further education sector and apprenticeship providers to make sure that they have access to information and resources to ensure that deaf students are properly supported. What happens after GCSEs? We want make sure the answer is a positive one!

*The statistics show the results for deaf students who are described as having ‘Special Educational Needs’ (SEN) in secondary school with deafness as their main type of SEN. This is not all deaf students. For example, students with mild or moderate deafness are more likely to not be recorded as having SEN. It also includes students who have additional needs that are considered secondary to their deafness.

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

Deaf children are being failed by the education system

Susan Daniels, Chief Executive

Susan Daniels, Chief Executive

Imagine a world where nearly two thirds of children were leaving school without getting good GCSEs. Parents would rightly be furious that their child hadn’t got the right support at school. There would be outrage and a clamour for urgent action.

But when it comes to deaf children, this is the reality that we face. The latest figures from the government, published today show that just 36% of deaf children achieved the government’s benchmark for GCSE success, compared to 65% of their hearing friends.

This is happening despite the fact that deafness is not in itself a learning disability. At the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), we strongly believe that, providing that the right support is provided from the start, deaf children can achieve just as well as anyone else.

But in too many areas that support is being denied to deaf children. We regularly hear from families who are concerned and anxious for their child’s future. For example, a mother of 16-year-old Jodie told us:

“Jodie has never received any kind of formal support with her education. Time and again I’ve raised concerns and begged for help, knowing how badly she was struggling and failing to keep up with her classmates and that when crunch time came she’d be falling off the edge of a cliff.

“If Jodie had received the extra help that I was fighting for, who knows what she could have achieved and where life could have taken her.”

That so many deaf children are being set up to fail is a tragedy. But worse still, is the very real possibility that in coming years, the situation will get worse, not better. Recent government initiatives to support children with special educational needs and disabilities will come to nothing if we don’t recognise the realities on the ground.

For example, a recent report issued by NDCS on behalf of the Consortium for Research into Deaf Education (Cride) raises serious concerns that deaf children will have less access to specialist support in future years. It found that the number of specialist Teachers of the Deaf – who provide expert support to deaf children – is actually going down, falling below 1,000 for the first time last year. A retirement crisis is also looming – over half of all Teachers of the Deaf are due to retire in the next 10 to 15 years.

All of this is happening at a time when local authorities are cutting back on the support that deaf children need, leaving families desperate for support and worried for their child’s future.

It’s heart-breaking to see deaf children like Jodie being failed because they haven’t received the right support. But unless we see urgent action from the Government to address these failing local authorities, we are likely to hear more stories of heartbreak from parents of deaf children.

This is not the future that any parent wants for their child.

This article was originally posted on The Huffington Post.