97% of young people support for BSL in GCSE

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National Curriculum with BSL - Petition

 

97% of young people support the idea of a GCSE in British Sign Language (BSL). A petition (currently at 22,008 signatures) calls for BSL to be on the National Curriculum. So what are the government’s thoughts on this?

Once the petition for BSL being included in the National Curriculum reached 10,000 signatures, the Department of Education issued the following reply:National Curriculum with BSL - Petition

BSL was recognised as a language in its own right by the UK government in 2003. Whilst it is not a mandatory part of the curriculum, schools are free to teach it if they choose to do so.

We recognise and acknowledge that British Sign Language can be a beneficial subject that schools can choose to teach. However, we don’t have plans to make BSL part of the national curriculum.

The national curriculum sets out which subjects local authority maintained schools (but not academies or free schools) must teach. In addition to meeting their statutory duties to teach the national curriculum, maintained schools are free to teach any other subject or topic they deem relevant for their pupils. Schools can therefore teach BSL as part of their wider curriculum.

The teaching of a foreign language is statutory at key stages 2 and 3 for pupils in maintained schools. Even though BSL is recognised as a language, the national curriculum programmes of study for languages contain a number of requirements that could not be met through BSL; for example at key stage 2 the requirement to describe people, places, things and actions in writing. A maintained school would be unable to meet the curriculum requirement solely by teaching BSL. Therefore, BSL is a subject that schools have freedom to teach in addition to foreign languages.

…so all in all, they’re saying ‘NO.

Here’s a quick breakdown on their response…

BSL was recognised as a language in its own right by the UK government in 2003.

While BSL is now recognised as a language, it does not have the same legal protection as other languages in the UK, e.g. Welsh, Gaelic and Cornish. This means that deaf people continue to struggle with lack of communication support in their day-to-day lives, and are excluded from having the same access and quality of service as hearing people.

Whilst it is not a mandatory part of the curriculum, schools are free to teach it if they choose to do so.

We recognise and acknowledge that British Sign Language can be a beneficial subject that schools can choose to teach. However, we don’t have plans to make BSL part of the national curriculum.

The national curriculum sets out which subjects local authority maintained schools (but not academies or free schools) must teach. In addition to meeting their statutory duties to teach the national curriculum, maintained schools are free to teach any other subject or topic they deem relevant for their pupils. Schools can therefore teach BSL as part of their wider curriculum.

How many local authority maintained schools do teach BSL as part of their wider curriculum though?

The National Curriculum is meant to cover what all pupils in local authority maintained schools should learn. While learning a foreign language is part of the National Curriculum, not all pupils will ever go to the country where that language is spoken. But anyone can be, and become deaf. Anyone – whether hearing or deaf – can meet someone who’s deaf and want to communicate with them.

The teaching of a foreign language is statutory at key stages 2 and 3 for pupils in maintained schools.

A leading university – where each undergraduate must have a GCSE in an additional language – have announced that BSL will now be considered as meeting their Modern Foreign Language (MFL) criteria.

Despite BSL not being a ‘foreign’ language, per se, this is still good news for BSL-users. University College London (UCL) hopes that this will increase awareness and access to the language. If UCL (the only UK institution that requires all of its undergraduate students to hold at least a C at GCSE in another language) counts BSL as a foreign language, so can the Department of Education with the National Curriculum.

BSL GCSE

Even though BSL is recognised as a language, the national curriculum programmes of study for languages contain a number of requirements that could not be met through BSL; for example at key stage 2 the requirement to describe people, places, things and actions in writing. A maintained school would be unable to meet the curriculum requirement solely by teaching BSL. Therefore, BSL is a subject that schools have freedom to teach in addition to foreign languages.

While it’s true that one can’t write in BSL, there are still possibilities to explore, such as:

  • drawing/explaining the signs required (making notes on expression, pose, action, etc.) to describe people, places, things and actions
  • writing about issues that the deaf community face
  • comparing how grammar in BSL differs from English grammar
  • investigating regional slang and dialects within BSL.

Another MFL requirement in the National Curriculum means that pupils are expected to participate in and listen to conversations: responding and answering questions. Does that mean that deaf pupils can’t learn another language? Seeing as some deaf people whose first language is BSL also understand English (e.g. can lip-read, read, write), this is clearly not the case. Instead of assessment being based on speaking and hearing, pupils can follow BSL being used. Pupils can still communicate in BSL: like they’d converse in any other spoken, additional language. Whether pupils answer questions on a report communicated in British Sign Language or analyse a poem, teachers and the Department of Education needn’t rule out BSL being part of the National Curriculum.

Considering the government’s written response and lack of support from teaching unions, it’s understandable to be disheartened. However, the petition is still live and can receive signatures. If it receives 100,000 signatures, it will be considered for debate in parliament.

The petition can receive signatures up until 12th March 2018. You can sign the petition by clicking here.

See earlier related article here: “Let’s get BSL into the National Curriculum” – 27/01/2017

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