Daniel’s campaigning for change
After beginning his campaign for a GCSE in British Sign Language (BSL) when he was just 12 years old, Daniel has become a prominent campaigner within the deaf community.
It was during Deaf Day at City Lit, an adult education college, that Daniel (now 16) first came across the idea of a GCSE in BSL. “We saw BSL awarding body Signature’s stall and they were talking about the prospect of a BSL GCSE,” remembers Daniel. “I thought, ‘I’d love that!’ When you look at the GCSE curriculum, you can learn subjects like Spanish, German, French or Welsh. Why not BSL? Deaf people should have the right to learn and achieve a recognised qualification in their own language.
“Signature were facing a lot of barriers. I realised the only way to move this forward would be to get other people behind the idea, to build enough momentum to challenge the educational system at a systemic level. It wasn’t that I wanted to start campaigning. I needed to.”
For Daniel, the idea of challenging the education system was nothing new. His mum, Ann, has been fighting for his rights in education since he started school.
“Daniel can’t benefit from hearing aid or cochlear implant technology,” explains Ann. “He’s full BSL but attends a mainstream school.”
During primary school, Daniel worked with a retired interpreter to access lessons but, when he moved to secondary school, the local authority struggled to recruit fully-qualified interpreters.
“I explained that his access to the curriculum is only as good as the interpreter working with him,” says Ann. “Interpreters are often paid the same salaries as teaching assistants, which doesn’t reflect the level of skill and experience that Daniel needs. Our biggest battle was convincing our local authority to pay Daniel’s interpreters the kind of salary which would attract qualified interpreters.” Ann’s hard work paid off, and Daniel now works with two interpreters, both of whom have Level 6 qualifications in BSL.
“They’re not just good interpreters, they’ve also built a fantastic rapport with Daniel,” explains Ann. “When you’re working closely together at school all day, that’s really important.
“Another battle was getting Daniel’s Teacher of the Deaf (ToD) in place. It was written into Daniel’s Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan that he needed to attend a school with a deaf resource base and a full-time ToD onsite, but when it was time to transition to high school, there were no deaf resource bases in the area.” After more campaigning by Ann, Daniel’s high school set up their own deaf resource base, which now benefits lots of other deaf children.
“Our local authority is definitely frightened of my mum!” laughs Daniel. “She’s assertive; she gets things done. She’s not afraid to stand up for her rights.”
Inspired by his mum’s success, Daniel raised the question of a BSL GCSE with his local MP and worked with the Minister for School Standards, Nick Gibb MP. Daniel then crowdfunded £6,000 to cover the cost of legally challenging the government’s failure to provide a GCSE in BSL, on the grounds of discrimination and unlawfulness. In 2018, the legal challenge was successful, and the Department for Education began working with exam boards to create the BSL GCSE.
“I’m used to advocating for Daniel, so it’s nice to see him learning to do that for himself,” says Ann.
However, despite Daniel’s successful challenge, a combination of cabinet reshuffles and the Covid-19 pandemic has delayed the development of the new qualification.
“It’s really frustrating,” says Ann. “It’s been four years since our legal challenge. Our MP regularly reminds Parliament about the issue, but every year the GCSE gets delayed, another cohort of deaf young people are missing out on the opportunity to take it.”
“It’s not just about supporting deaf people,” adds Daniel. “The GCSE would also help hearing people, not only to engage with the deaf community, but to develop deaf awareness from an early age. That’s why it’s so vital.”
In the meantime, Daniel’s continued to campaign for the rights of BSL users. During the BSL Bill rally outside parliament in January, Daniel stepped up to the podium and gave a moving speech about deaf identity.
“I think BSL is really important to deaf identity,” Daniel explains. “Some younger deaf people, especially those who are more oral, might not have such a strong deaf identity. Attending deaf events makes you feel part of the community.
“Addressing big events like that feels a bit strange because I don’t really want that much attention, but it’s not about me. The most important thing is raising awareness.”
In April, the BSL Bill, which recognises BSL as an official language of the UK, was given Royal Assent, passed into law and became the BSL Act. “I was elated!” says Daniel. “I know we need more legislation to be put in place, but it’s a step in the right direction. I hope the Act will improve our access to interpreters in healthcare and education, and lead to broader recognition of BSL in society. I think it gives BSL users a stronger footing.
“My advice to other young people who want to start their own campaign would be to have a clear idea of the people you need to target,” says Daniel. “For example, my campaign was in the context of education, so I targeted specific people in the education sector.
“My advice to parents is categorically, without a doubt, learn sign language! There have been huge advancements in technology like cochlear implants and hearing aids, but those things aren’t a guaranteed solution. I think it’s really important that deaf children have the opportunity to learn BSL and recognise their deaf identity.”
On Wednesday 21 September 2022, Kelly Tolhurst MP, who's a Minister of State in the Department for Education, answered a question about plans to launch a BSL GCSE in Parliament:
"The department is committed to developing the new British Sign Language (BSL) GCSE as quickly as we can, while also ensuring it can be completed to the highest standard. We are working closely with subject experts, stakeholders and Ofqual, the independent qualifications regulator, to develop the draft subject content for the BSL GCSE. The department plans to consult publicly on this draft content later this year. We will then make any necessary amendments in light of the consultation responses and finalise the high-level subject content next Spring.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, work to support the management of and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, including to ensure pupils could access the qualifications they needed to progress, was prioritised. This meant that the development of this GCSE was delayed. However, once the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic eased, we resumed work to develop the new BSL GCSE.
The development and introduction of a new GCSE is a complex process. It typically takes over two years from the publication of the department's high level subject content to the first teaching of a new qualification."