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.

 

What do we know about communication support for deaf people?

Ian_Noon

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

Last week, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) published a monster 142-page document summarising the responses it received to a review on communication support for deaf people. The aim of the review was to try and identify what we know about the supply and demand of professionals (such as interpreters, speech-to-text-reporters, etc.) whose role it is to provide support to deaf people with their communication. We submitted evidence back in 2016 setting out what we knew then about communication support for deaf children and young people.

So what have we learnt from the DWP report? Here are my own top five take-home messages from the report.

  1. Nobody is quite sure how many deaf people there are. For example, we have a very rough ball-park figure on the number of deaf children from the Consortium for Research into Deaf Education – but we know that those figures, whilst the best available, are not 100% reliable.
  2. Nobody really knows how many communication support professionals there are out there either. It’s not something that any government department appears to be measuring.
  3. However, there is a lot of evidence that there the number of communication support professionals isn’t enough. Lots of respondents gave examples of unmet demand among deaf people. For example, there is evidence that too many deaf children are being supported by communication support workers who don’t have an advanced qualification in sign language.
  4. It became clear from reading the report that the term ‘communication support workers’ (CSWs) means different things to different people. We at the National Deaf Children’s Society would use the term to refer to a type of specialist teaching assistant, someone who would provide support to deaf children in the classroom, with signed support as necessary. However, we wouldn’t see them as “interpreters” because CSWs need to be able to do much more than just interpret what the teaching is saying by, for example, supporting deaf children with notes, explaining concepts, and so on. It’s clear though that in other areas, deaf people are being supported by a professional described as a ‘communication support worker’ when really they should be supported by an interpreter. The report points to a need for much more clarity on the role of CSWs and what skills they need in different situations.
  5. Lots of people feel that technology – such as remote sign language interpreters or speech-to-text-reporters – can really help deaf people. However, there was a unanimous view that this cannot be seen as a substitute for ‘real life’ communication support. Indeed, many people were concerned that new technology was being used as an excuse to reduce support inappropriately.

So what happens next? We’re not yet sure. The DWP report is literally just a summary of responses and doesn’t set out any recommendations or actions for the Government.

On our side, we’d be keen to see the Government take action to improve data on deaf children and also to ensure there are more, better-qualified, communication support workers for deaf children and young people. We’d also like to see speech-to-text reporters being more widely used, particularly for older deaf young people, including those at university. We’ll be pressing the Government to set out what action it’ll be taking in response to the report so watch this space.

 

Right to Sign Campaign

Sophia-James-cropped

Sophia James, Senior Participation Officer (Campaigns) National Deaf Children’s Society

After a lively debate at a residential event in 2015, a group of 16 deaf young people voted to campaign about British Sign Language. Now, 18 months later, following our charity’s largest ever consultation of young people, their campaign for a British Sign Language (BSL) GCSE and Scottish National 4/5 in schools has finally launched.

Our board are campaigning for the Right to Sign and we want you to give your support to this campaign. To explain what the campaign is about, Beth and Aliko have filmed this video.

There are lots of reasons to get behind this campaign and Frankie, from the YAB, explains in her vlog why she thinks it’s a good idea for young people to have access to learning sign language.

Here’s how you can get involved:

Read our report

Sign our petition

There is also a different action for each country in the UK, which you can find here.

So thanks for your support and let’s make the #righttosign a reality in schools.

Wales: I can fingerspell!

 

Debbie Green, Policy & Campaigns Officer Wales

Debbie Thomas, Policy and Campaigns Officer, Wales

Happy 2017! As all the seasonal festivities come to a close, I often find the first few weeks of January a bit bleak. But we have some good news to kick your January off with a smile….

 

The deaf young people on our Youth Advisory Board told us that they want more opportunities for people to learn to sign. In light of this, NDCS Cymru has been working with the WJEC to create a new option for Welsh Baccalaureate students across Wales.

The I Can Fingerspell challenge will be open as a Community Challenge option to pupils studying for the foundation level Welsh Baccalaureate. It invites students to learn to fingerspell the alphabet and then pass this knowledge on to younger pupils.

We are very grateful to Leam and Ryan from St Cyres School who helped us to create videos to assist students in learning the English/Welsh fingerspelling alphabet. We would also like to thank our Wales YAB members, Amy and Joab for helping us to come up with the idea for the challenge.

www.ndcs.org.uk/icanfingerspell

 

Lottery Injection For Scotland’s Deaf Children and Young People

Lois Drake, Policy and Campaigns Officer, National Deaf Children's Society

Lois Drake, Policy and Campaigns Officer, National Deaf Children’s Society

Hundreds of deaf children and young people across Scotland will be able to play a fuller role within their families and communities, thanks to a huge £445,202 cash injection of Lottery funding.

The Big Lottery Fund have announced 60 new grants across Scotland totalling £17 million.

The National Deaf Children’s Society will use its £445,202 award for its Scotland wide ‘Everyone Together for Deaf Children’ project, which will offer advice and training to professionals working in the field and will develop the skills and confidence of over 350 children up to the age of eight, and their families.

The project will help to support children like 2 year old Halle Rawlinson from Falkirk who has cochlear implants and uses both sign and speech. Halle’s Mum, Alyson, attended a Family Sign Language (FSL) course through the National Deaf Children’s Society in 2014.

Alyson said:  “Halle was born profoundly deaf, with no immediate prospect of being eligible for implants. So when she was really little we felt a bit at a loss as to what to do to communicate with her and stimulate her development longer term. We had bought some baby sign books which were useful, but limiting as there were often just signs for specific words and objects. We looked into signing courses but there seemed aimed at people wanting to talk to deaf adults or people to become interpreters. Nothing was aimed at hearing parents of under-fives to help us understand how best to communicate with our daughter. It felt as though I was not expected to have to make any adjustments for her deafness.”

Heather Gray, National Deaf Children’s Society Director (Scotland and Northern Ireland) said: “This innovative new project will mark a step change in the early years support available for deaf children and their families in Scotland. The funding will allow us to use an early intervention approach to address the unique barriers deafness can create at a vital point in a child’s life.

“By supporting deaf children, empowering their families and training the professionals that work with them, it will help give deaf children the best start in life. Following the historic passage of the British Sign Language (Scotland) Act (2015), the launch of this project is another fantastic example of how Scotland is leading the way in taking steps to empower the deaf community and help deaf children and young people access their rights.”