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Sign language recognised for deaf apprentices

Published Date: 05 Jan 2017

Deaf young people who use British Sign Language (BSL) will have equal opportunities to complete apprenticeships, following policy changes announced by Robert Halfon MP.

The Skills Minister announced today that BSL qualifications will soon be accepted as an alternative to English for apprentices. Apprentices currently all have to pass English functional skills tests before they can complete a course, which has been problematic for many deaf young people.

We're really pleased as we have been campaigning with Signature, the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf (BATOD) and the Association of Deaf Education Professionals and Trainees (ADEPT) to change the previous system, which we felt discriminated against some deaf people.

Brian Gale OBE, our Policy and Campaigns Director, said: “We’re delighted that the Government has committed to making these changes, because the requirement for apprentices to achieve Functional Skills English 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 that they truly have equal opportunities to achieve their potential.”

18-year-old engineering apprentice and BSL user Max Buxton is also 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 then faced further tests to complete his advanced course. The Buxton family supported our campaign for BSL to be recognised as an alternative to English, so that Max and other apprentices like him can thrive.

Max commented: “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.”

Skills Minister Robert Halfon MP added: “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.”