Sign language recognised as English equivalent for deaf apprentices
5 January 2017
Deaf young people who use British Sign Language (BSL) will have equal opportunities to complete apprenticeships, following policy changes announced today by Robert Halfon MP.
Apprentices currently all have to pass English functional skills tests before they can complete a course, which has proven problematic for many deaf young people. However, the Skills Minister has pledged that BSL qualifications will soon be accepted as an alternative to these tests.
18-year-old engineering apprentice and BSL user Max Buxton is celebrating the announcement, having struggled to progress from an intermediate to advanced course because of the English functional skills tests. After 18 months of intense studying and exam retakes, Max passed – but now faces further tests to complete his advanced course.
Max said: “Being deaf and dyslexic, I find English tests really hard. It’s very difficult to translate BSL into English and for it all to make sense. My employer has said how well I’m doing and doesn’t think my language skills are an issue, but I still can’t complete the apprenticeship without passing that test. It’s an unfair, unnecessary rule that has created a lot of stress, so I’m very pleased things are changing now.”
The Buxton family has campaigned with their MP, Graham Allen, and the National Deaf Children’s Society for BSL to be formally recognised so that Max and other apprentices like him can thrive.
Brian Gale OBE, Policy and Campaigns Director at the National Deaf Children’s Society, explained: “We’re delighted that the Government has committed to these changes, because it was making it very challenging for some deaf young people to complete their courses.
“BSL is a totally different language, so for users to meet this kind of academic standard is a much bigger challenge than it would be for a native English speaker. We heard from parents whose deaf children who were doing brilliant work in their apprenticeships but being held back by that, which they understandably felt was unfair.
“Most deaf young people move to vocational education at 16, and apprenticeships are a much-needed route to employment. For those whose first language is BSL, this simple change will mean they truly have equal opportunities to achieve their potential.”
The announcement has also been praised by the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf (BATOD), the Association of Deaf Education Professionals and Trainees (ADEPT) and Signature – all of whom campaigned to change the system, which they said discriminated against some deaf people.
Skills Minister Robert Halfon MP commented: “I am committed to breaking down barriers to ensure people of all ages and all backgrounds get on the ladder of opportunity through an apprenticeship.
“For those whose first language is BSL, this simple change will allow them to achieve their full potential. I look forward to implementing more changes like this to make sure apprenticeships can work for as many people as possible, whatever their background.”
Notes to editors
 About deaf apprentices
• Most deaf young people move to vocational education at 16. For many, an apprenticeship is a much needed route to employment and opportunity to develop vocational skills. Around 1000 deaf people under the age of 25 are active apprentices every year.
• Level 1 English and maths (GCSE grade D/E equivalent) are required to pass an intermediate apprenticeship, and Level 2 English and maths (GCSE grade A-C equivalent) are required to pass an advanced apprenticeship. This is regardless of whether these skills are essential for the course’s particular line of work.
• Deaf people often experience difficulties with literacy and working memory, due to the impact of delayed language development and earlier barriers to education, so many deaf students struggle with English and maths. They may opt to communicate in BSL instead - an indigenous language of the UK, with its own grammar and syntax, which can be assessed as with any other language.
About the National Deaf Children’s Society
• The National Deaf Children’s Society is the leading charity dedicated to creating a world without barriers for deaf children and their families.
• There are more than 45,000 deaf children in the UK. The National Deaf Children’s Society helps deaf children and young people thrive by providing impartial, practical and emotional support to them and their families, and by challenging governments and society to meet their needs.
• The National Deaf Children’s Society believes that every deaf child should be valued and included by society and have the same opportunities as any other child.
• For more information visit www.ndcs.org.uk. For further support, parents can contact the National Deaf Children’s Society Freephone Helpline on 0808 800 8880 (voice and text), email firstname.lastname@example.org, or chat online at www.ndcs.org.uk/livechat