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.

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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.

FE is under review

Martin McLean, Education and Training Policy Advisor (post-14)

Martin McLean, Education and Training Policy Advisor (post-14)

The further education (FE) sector often complains about being overlooked with education in schools and universities getting far more attention. However, for deaf young people it matters. Around two thirds of them attend FE colleges in comparison with around one third of hearing young people aged 16. FE provides deaf young people with the opportunity to obtain vocational qualifications and personal maturity.

The sector is in trouble with many FE colleges complaining of a funding crisis following large government cuts to the adult education budget and funding changes for students aged 16-19. The Government has set up a number of area reviews in England to look at FE and 6th form college provision with the aim of ‘restructuring’ the further education sector. They are likely to lead to college mergers in order to bring about greater efficiency. Currently being reviewed are the following areas – Birmingham and Solihull, Sheffield City, Greater Manchester, Tees Valley, Solent Valley, Sussex Coast and West Yorkshire.

Are the reviews relevant to deaf students? They could be. Provision for students with disabilities should be considered under each review. We know that there is a great variation in the amount of specialist support available for deaf students between different colleges. If a college with good support for deaf students is taken over by another college then that support could be at risk. On the other hand, the reviews could be an opportunity to achieve more consistent provision within an area – fewer colleges could mean less variation in the support that is available.

NDCS would like the review steering groups to consider the role of regional provision. This is when a service is used by more than one college rather than each college having its own separate service for deaf students. This could be a more efficient system and ensure that specialist knowledge is available to more students.

NDCS will be sending information to each of the review steering groups. Let’s hope their members take notice and that the reviews can be an opportunity rather than a threat.

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

Local Offers – have you been consulted?

Martin McLean Project Manager I-Sign

Martin McLean Project Manager I-Sign

Over the last couple of months we’ve seen the vast majority of local authorities in England publish their Local Offer. Basically, Local Offers are websites where information is published about services across education, health and social care for children and young people with SEN and disabilities in the local area. The idea behind them is that families and young people have access to information in one place which means they are better informed and have more control about the support they access.

Sounds great so far doesn’t it? However, I have looked at quite a few Local Offers recently and have still yet to find one that would be particularly useful for a parent of a deaf child. Where the Local Offer has a search box typing in ‘deaf’ tends to either:

  1. Come up with nothing or very little at all
  2. List every service known to man under the sun

(Ok, no. 2 is a slight exaggeration) Even if you don’t use a search box function and decide to go through the various menus that exist, it is hard to find any information specific to deafness as services tend not be categorised by type of SEN/disability.

By law, local authorities must consult with parents and young people when developing their Local Offer. How much did they consult with parents of deaf children?

Not much, you might think. Well, thanks to a Freedom of Information request we actually know the answer – 44% of local authorities told us they did not consult with parents of deaf children. Quite often consultation has not been specific to type of disability/SEN but rather a general consultation that may have included parents of deaf children. Families of deaf children are a small group and it could be very easy for their needs to be forgotten if only general consultations are carried out. Only 29% of local authorities consulted directly.

consultedwithparentsofdeafchildren

When it comes to consulting with deaf young people local authorities fare even worse with 68% having carried out no consultation with them. And it shows – I can’t imagine many young people being incentivised to explore their area’s Local Offer – they’d probably find flicking through the Oxford English Dictionary more interesting! Information tends to be very dull and far from ‘youth-friendly’ despite the fact they must be accessible to young people by law.

 

Chart2Consultedwithparentsofdeafchildren

 

 

 

 

We are worried that money and time has been spent on developing Local Offer websites without proper consultation having taken place. However, most local authorities would probably agree at the moment that their Local Offers are not a finished product and need a lot more development before they become useful to families of deaf children. This development should be informed by feedback from parents and young people. NDCS encourages parents and young people to look at their Local Offer and to submit comments to their local authority. E.g. How easy is it to find information? What services are missing? Local authorities are required to publish (anonymously) comments received from families and respond to them. Additionally, they must continue to consult with parents and young people to review and improve their Local Offer. This tends to be done through parent-carer forums and you can find your local forum here: http://www.nnpcf.org.uk/who-we-are/find-your-local-forum/

We would like central government to do more to hold local authorities to account for having poor local offers or failing to consult properly. Local Offers have the potential to be a valuable tool. However, once again, just like the old system; it comes down to parents and young people to take action. We urge you to get involved!

To download NDCS’s guide for families on Local Offers visit: www.ndcs.org.uk/sen

Martin McLean is the Project Manager of the I-Sign project which aims to improve access to BSL for families of deaf children and is developing case studies on local offers and BSL provision. www.ndcs.org.uk/isign

Attitudes towards BSL

Martin McLean Project Manager I-Sign

Martin McLean Project Manager I-Sign

I was around ten years of age having dinner with my family. My parents who were at the time taking British Sign Language (BSL) Level 1 started signing to me at the table. I screamed at them to stop, thumping the table. Why were they doing this? I didn’t need it. I wasn’t like those people who used it. They promptly stopped using it with me and the issue was not raised again for some time (Although they did thankfully go on to pass their Level 1s that year).

How ironic that the boy who produced such a furious reaction should years later be running a project aiming to improve access to BSL learning for deaf children and their families. What prompted me to do this?

I was born profoundly deaf in the late 70s but had taken well to hearing aids and my speech was clear enough to be easily understood. I went to a hearing school and had hearing friends. The world of sign language and the Deaf community was very distant. Things changed however. Secondary school was a tough environment – children are at the age where they start conversing a lot more in groups in school corridors and playgrounds. Group conversations were almost impossible to follow and as I felt more and more isolated it began to dawn on me that I might need another option in life.

When I was 15, the opportunity arose to start learning BSL through a class my local Deaf Children’s Society set up. From then on I mixed more with deaf BSL users. I became more confident with my BSL over the years and was eventually able to start using interpreters. It opened a lot of doors for me and there are so many people I would never have met if I hadn’t learnt. Nowadays, I happily switch between speech and sign depending on who I am talking to and the situation I’m in. In a noisy environment for example, using BSL is much more relaxing.

It is for this reason the attitude of some professionals towards BSL is frustrating. I came across one former Teacher of the Deaf of mine recently and I found it quite amusing how her face dropped when I told her I was running the I-Sign project. Perhaps she was disappointed one of her former star pupils was now working to improve access to BSL, not an approach she ever advocated. Often I find the most negative attitudes about BSL from those who have not learnt it themselves or found it ‘too hard’. On the other side of the spectrum there are people with very fixed ideas of how all deaf children should be brought up using BSL as their first and main language that I can find equally frustrating. It is not the role of teachers or audiologists to tell parents how their children should communicate but to ensure families have the knowledge and tools for their children to acquire a high level of language and be fully included within the family.

As much as possible, I believe that it is children that should have the choice. My parents tried to do this and perhaps as a ten-year old I wasn’t ready, for there had only ever been one way up to that point. That was thanks to the sensory support services who had warned my parents off learning BSL.

It was through NDCS that my parents were able to meet other parents with a range of perspectives and gain balanced information. With parents still reporting negative attitudes from professionals, NDCS has a vital role to play.  They believe families are the most important influence on deaf children and young people, and need clear, balanced information to make informed choices.

Martin McLean runs the I-Sign project which aims to improve access to BSL for deaf children and their families through the SEND reforms. See www.ndcs.org.uk/isign for more information.