Reflecting on the Right to Sign campaignPublished Date: 29 Sep 2023
In 2017, our Young People’s Advisory Board launched the Right to Sign campaign, calling for a British Sign Language (BSL) GCSE. After years of campaigning from our members and supporters, we’ve almost reached our goal.
The Department for Education’s 12-week consultation on the draft subject content for a BSL GCSE has ended. The Department for Education will now look at the feedback and will use this to finalise the course content for pupils across England, with study beginning in September 2025.
View this blog in British Sign Language
What do we think?
We are pleased with the draft subject content. BSL is the first or preferred language of many deaf children in the UK and we know that around 1 in 10 deaf children and young people use sign language in their education.
A BSL GCSE will give these deaf children the opportunity to achieve a GCSE in their own, legally recognised language. We also know that many hearing children are interested in learning BSL. Doing so will allow them to learn a new language and communicate more effectively with their deaf peers.
There has been huge support for the BSL GCSE from deaf and hearing people, and their ongoing support has shown there’s a high demand for the course.
We look forward to continuing our work with the Department for Education to make sure that this qualification is successfully rolled out from September 2025 in England.
What did you tell us?
Almost 3,000 people took part in our survey, which we launched in January 2023. We wanted to know the reasons why people wanted to learn BSL, and why a BSL GCSE is important. Participants in the survey shared their experiences of learning BSL and their thoughts on the GCSE.
We found that:
- Out of the 599 teachers and head teachers who answered, 94% said they would like their students to be able to study BSL at GCSE.
- 95% of deaf students and 72% of hearing students said that they would like to learn BSL at GCSE level.
- Over 1,000 parents answered and regardless of whether their child was deaf or hearing, 96% said they would like their child to have the opportunity to study BSL at GCSE.
Here are some examples of what you told us in the survey:
“I believe that everyone should have an opportunity to gain a GCSE in BSL as this is a first language for some children. But [it] would also increase the number of children learning BSL.” Deaf young person.
“My daughter is in mainstream school, she can sign, but her friends can’t. It would really boost her confidence and help her feel included if her peers could communicate in British Sign Language too.” Parent of a deaf child.
What will happen next?
Within the next 12 weeks, the Government will review each consultation submission and will publish its own response, followed by the finalised subject content.
Individual awarding organisations will then decide whether to develop an examination specification, which will need to be accredited by Ofqual, the regulator for qualifications, examinations and assessments in England.
By September 2025, students across England should be able to study for a BSL GCSE. To reach this goal we need to see rapid progress towards the GCSE being introduced, backed by the Government.
Keep campaigning with us
Thank you again to everyone who has shown your support throughout the years and responded to the consultation. Your message is being heard, and you are making a difference.
If you’d like to keep up to date with our campaigns, join our Campaigns Network today.
Follow the conversation on social media
Tilly tells us three reasons why she learnt #BritishSignLanguage (BSL) for her deaf child.— NDCS (@NDCS_UK) September 6, 2023
Time is running out for you to fill out the @educationgovuk BSL GCSE consultation! The consultation closes this Friday, click the link to add your thoughts👇https://t.co/U7BeVLuPvk pic.twitter.com/BQkXXHUvro
Wow! We've been reflecting on the #BritishSignLanguage #GCSE campaign. In 2025, #BSLGSCE will finally be rolled out to schools across England. None of this would be possible without your support! More detailed timeline on our website: https://t.co/m2lrbA7Ah6 pic.twitter.com/sniTDdnTSD— NDCS (@NDCS_UK) July 15, 2023
The amazing @DJJillings shares why it's so important for you to feedback on @educationgovuk #BritishSignLanguage (BSL) GCSE consultation.— NDCS (@NDCS_UK) August 2, 2023
Let's ensure the #BSLGCSE is the best quality it can be for when pupils in England take the GCSE in 2025: https://t.co/U7BeVLuPvk pic.twitter.com/nrErzKNcps
We must show the @educationgovuk how the #BritishSignLanguage GCSE will help break down communication barriers between #deaf and hearing peers.— NDCS (@NDCS_UK) August 30, 2023
Make sure you take advantage of your chance to share your views on the draft subject content for the #BSLGCSE👇https://t.co/U7BeVLuPvk pic.twitter.com/LuVuxkM0NH
Our feedback on the government's consultation
On 15th June 2023, the Department for Education released the GCSE in British Sign Language consultation document. The consultation will last for 12 weeks and closes on 8th September 2023, anyone can provide feedback in written English or BSL and the feedback can be provided here:
The purpose of the consultation is to gain feedback on the proposed subject content requirements that will form the basis of the new GCSE in BSL.
These requirements are designed to become a regulatory document which will set out in technical language the minimum knowledge, understanding and skills needed for the GCSE. The subject content provides the framework for awarding organisations to create the detail of qualification specifications; these specifications will set out for teachers in more detail what students will study.
Any awarding organisation that offers the GCSE will provide resources to support schools, and stakeholder organisations can also support its teaching.
Following a review of the consultation document and a meeting between key stakeholders (Signature, the National Deaf Children’s Society, British Deaf Association, BATOD, ABSLTA), the stakeholders have agreed to publicly share the feedback that has been agreed between the co-op of organisations.
Department for Education Consultation feedback
Q1 – 11 – Personal information
Q12. Are the subject aims easy to understand, clear and unambiguous?
The aims of developing the ability to communicate using BSL on a range of themes and topics and to allow students to demonstrate accurate use of BSL is similar to the aims of current Level two qualifications available.
Enabling students to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the history and development of sign language enhances the learning and use of the language by understanding the culture.
Q13 – Q19: Subject content
The following seven questions are about the requirements set out in the subject content.
Q13. Overall is the proposed subject content easy to understand, clear and unambiguous?
The subject content is similar to that of current BSL qualifications available and already being delivered in centres around the country.
Q14. The GCSE assumes no previous knowledge of BSL. With this in mind do you agree that the proposed subject content is at an appropriate level of difficulty?
The current Level 1 and Level 2 BSL qualifications that are being taught at centres around the country is delivered to students with and without prior knowledge of BSL.
Q15. Paragraph 8a of the proposed subject content details the requirements for the comprehension of BSL. Do you agree with these requirements?
The information provided in Paragraph 8a can be compared to the receptive elements of currently available Level 2 BSL qualifications.
Q16. Paragraph 8b of the proposed subject content details the requirements for the production of BSL. Do you agree with these requirements?
The information provided in Paragraph 8b can be compared to the productive elements of currently available Level 2 BSL qualifications.
Q17. Paragraph 8c of the proposed subject content details the requirements for interaction in BSL. Do you agree with these requirements?
The information provided in Paragraph 8c can be compared to the conversational elements of currently available Level 2 BSL qualifications.
Q18. Paragraph 9 of the proposed subject content requires that specifications in BSL should enable students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the history of BSL. Do you agree with the requirements on BSL history?
Do you agree with the requirements on BSL history?
The history and development of BSL should be part of teaching at this level. Including the history of BSL ensures students understand more about the language, the culture, and the community. This knowledge will also enhance communication skills and improve equality and awareness.
Q19 – Q20: Annex A – BSL Terminological Definitions and Parameters
The following two questions are about Annex A.
Q19. Are the proposed terminological definitions and parameters, set out in Annex A, easy to understand, clear and unambiguous?
Signature have added additional definitions to their website which may provide more information and alternative explanations to some of the terminological definitions and parameters as well as comparisons to some of the terms used in the current Signature qualifications.
Q20. In order to understand, produce and interact in BSL at GCSE, students will be expected to know:
- at least 750 signs from the established lexicon;
- the 26 letters of the British two-handed manual alphabet and numerals, both cardinals and ordinals (in addition to the 750 signs).
Do you agree with these proposed requirements?
These requirements are similar to those required by the current Level Two BSL qualification available.
Q21. Annex B – Grammar Requirements for British Sign Language at GCSE
The following question is about Annex B.
Are the proposed grammar requirements, set out in Annex B, easy to understand, clear and unambiguous?
Signature have added additional definitions to their website which may provide more information and alternative explanations to some of the grammar requirements as well as comparisons to some of the grammar used in the current Signature qualifications.
Q22: Annex C – BSL Vocabulary
The following question is about Annex C.
Q22. Annex C provides a list of 1000 commonly used BSL signs from the established lexicon. The Department has proposed this is an advisory list for which awarding organisations can use to help select vocabulary when writing GCSE specifications.
Do you agree that this list should be advisory?
This is similar to current Signature qualifications dependant on Themes and Topics required to be covered within the qualification.
The following question is general and allows you to provide feedback on anything that you wish to, which has not been asked.
Q23. Is there anything you would like to feedback that is not covered in the questions above?
It is not stated but the teaching of deaf Awareness should be included alongside the history of BSL and learning the language.
In addition, we feel the content and proposals in this consultation provide a strong foundation at GCSE level on which further knowledge, increased ability to communicate, and greater and deeper understanding into history and culture can be developed at A Level.
Q24. Do any of the proposals have the potential to have a disproportionate impact positive or negative, on specific groups, in particular those who share a ‘protected characteristic’ (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation)?
Q25. How could the proposed subject content of the GCSEs be altered to:
better eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct prohibited by the Equality Act 2010; better advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a protected characteristic and those who do not; better foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.
The proposed subject content addresses these areas well, dependant on the assessment methodology in the Ofqual consultation.