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GCSE British Sign Language: Consultation Launched in England

sign language

Students are one step closer to the British Sign Language (BSL) GCSE being taught in schools, as the government launches a 12-week consultation on the content of the new qualification.

Over the next 12 weeks teachers, employers and the deaf and hearing communities are being asked for their views on what should be taught as part of the qualification.

The Department for Education is aiming for the British Sign Language (BSL) GCSE to be taught to pupils from September 2025. This will be the first of its kind and will teach students how to communicate through sign language.

The plan

In 2018, the Government said it would consider introducing a GCSE in BSL after deaf schoolboy Daniel Jillings campaigned for the new qualification and his family launched a legal challenge to get one instated as quickly as possible.

The Department for Education (DfE) says it has been working closely with subject experts, stakeholders and schools to develop proposed content to ensure that this new GCSE is internationally recognised and accepted in school and college performance tables. In line all qualifications, the GCSE will be knowledge-rich, diverse and as challenging as any other GCSE.

The qualification will include students being taught to communicate effectively with other signers for use in work, social and academic settings, providing them with valuable life skills welcomed by employers.

SEND and alternative provision improvement plan 

The recently published special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and alternative provision (AP) improvement plan set out how all children and young people, including those who are deaf or have a hearing impairment, will get the support they need to succeed in their education.

British  Sign Language was recognised in law as a language of Great Britain in the BSL Act (2022) and the new GCSE will be key to advancing inclusivity within education. It is hoped that the study of BSL will promote inclusivity and enable students to develop ways of expressing and negotiating meaning through visual spatial language, communication and visual memory skills that will be an advantage to them for the rest of their lives.

As well as learning how to sign effectively, the GCSE will also give students an understanding of the history of sign language in the UK. This will provide a solid foundation for students’ understanding of how the language has reached its current form.

Responses

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said that teaching BSL will be a “fantastic” initiative. She also stated that “this new qualification will break down barriers, advance equality of opportunity, and celebrate the history and rich culture of British Sign Language”.

Susan Daniels OBE, Chief Executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society, said that BSL is a native language used by tens of thousands of people so “it’s only fair and right that BSL users should have the opportunity to achieve a GCSE in their own, legally recognised language. This qualification will help to breakdown communication barriers between deaf and hearing people and educate more people about the deaf community and culture”.

Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Tom Pursglove MP, said the BSL Act is making “our society more accessible, opening doors to better communication for more deaf people. A BSL GCSE is a fantastic step in the right direction, encouraging more students to learn BSL to help increase the number of BSL users that Deaf people can speak with, making the UK an even more inclusive society”.

Final thought

Including BSL within GCSE education would demonstrate a milestone moment to many as the recognition of the importance of BSL symbolises a positive move towards equality and inclusion. Surveys have also found that teachers overwhelmingly believe sign language would be a useful skill for both deaf and hearing students to learn.

Curia’s Levelling Up Commission

Curia is holding the Levelling Up Commission this year, seeking to implement the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper and find pragmatic solutions to regional disparities across the UK.

Through roundtable meetings with MPs and senior leaders of local and regional government from across the UK, quantitative data analysis and regional sprints, the Commission intends to set out a series of recommendations to consider how regional inequalities can be reduced from the perspective of public services in four key areas:

  • Health and Social Care
  • Housing and Homelessness
  • Education, Skills and Training
  • Crime, Justice and Rehabilitation

To hear thought leaders discuss levelling up in health and social care, signup to the Commission first inquiry session here.

If you are interested in working with the Levelling Up Commission, please reach out to our policy lead Shivani Sen at shivani.sen@chamberuk.com

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